There’s nothing quite like the excitement of a do-or-die baseball game.
The anticipation started to build as soon as the Blue Jays clinched the AL Wild Card spot, and hit a fever pitch sometime around 5:30 pm ET on Tuesday afternoon. Despite the game not starting for another two and a half hours, and the gates not opening for another 30 minutes, fans filled the areas around the stadium, anxious for their chance to be part of history.
The energy was palpable, but it was also nervous energy. These were the Baltimore Orioles.
Once upon a time, the Blue Jays would have counted the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, or even the lowly Rays among their greatest foes. No longer. Over the last few seasons, a legitimate hatred has grown between these two AL East powers. Whether it’s Marcus Stroman vs. Caleb Joseph, Manny Machado and his issues with Josh Donaldson, or Jose Bautista and his seemingly endless problems with Buck Showalter, Darren O’Day, and the entire Orioles roster; the bad blood between these two has grown to a boil.
As such, the prospect of losing to such a foe resonated with each of the 49,933 fans in attendance (and the one clown who deigned to throw a beer on the field and who should be banned for life from attending Major League Baseball games).
From the first pitch, the crowd was into it, trying to will the team to victory. The blue towels were waving, and the people were loud. When Marcus Stroman went through the first two innings without allowing a baserunner, hopes began to rise. They rose higher still when Jose Bautista added to his Blue Jays lore, launching a solo home run to left field leading off the bottom of the second inning. By the time Kevin Pillar made yet another diving catch to save a run in the fourth, the fans were in a frenzy.
It wasn’t made to last.
One pitch later, Mark Trumbo deposited a two-run homer into the left field corner, and the Orioles were ahead.
But when the Jays went scoreless in the bottom of the fourth, a funny thing happened. Given recent events, fans could be forgiven for losing faith; only Jose Bautista had managed to reach base, and it was beginning to look like yet another futile September offensive performance. But the fans didn’t give up. They got even louder.
The Blue Jays responded to the hometown faithful when Michael Saunders and Kevin Pillar hit back-to-back doubles (Saunders had to hold to see if Bourn would catch it), and then Ezequiel Carrera flared a one run single to centre field. They were denied more when Travis hit into an inning-ending double play, but the Jays had answered. They had done what had eluded them so often this season, and had not let a game get away from them.
After six very solid innings, it became a battle of the bullpens. The numbers suggest that this should have favoured the Orioles, but anything can happen in one game of baseball. The beleaguered Jays setup corps rose to the challenge, and both teams continued to put up zeroes, heading into the bottom of the 9th inning.
Josh Donaldson led off with a double, and then Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked to get to Bautista. It felt like this was their time; the Orioles were not going to ace closer Zach Britton, and Last season’s postseason hero was at the plate. Sadly, it was for naught. Bautista struck out, and then Darren O’Day got Russell Martin to ground into the Jays’ third double play of the game.
With the inning squndered, the game moved into the 10th. Then the 11th. Francisco Liriano shut down the Orioles in the top of the inning…and then it happened.
There are certain moments in baseball that resonate with you as they’re occurring. The seventh inning of Game 5 and the Bat Flip. Dave Steib’s numerous no-hit bids. Halladay vs. Burnett in the latter’s return to Toronto. Joe Carter’s walkoff against the Phillies.
This was one of those moments.
After back-to-back singles by Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson off a relieving Ubaldo Jimenez (with Britton still conspicuously absent), the Blue Jays were left with runners on the corners and one out for Edwin Encarnacion.
The star slugger then guaranteed that he would don a Jays jersey for at least a few more games, as he launched a ball into the night and rounded the bases to a chorus of fans chanting “EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!”
It was a surreal end to an absolutely immaculate game, and one worthy of the spotlight under which it was placed.
It did not come without its cost, as Roberto Osuna left the game with an injury in the 10th inning and could miss some action (though no update has been provided).
But that is tomorrow’s problem. For today, the Blue Jays are winners, and Edwin Encarnacion is a hero.
Bring on the Rangers.
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports