Aaron Sanchez was on the mound for Toronto. Colby Lewis for Texas. It wasn’t supposed to be a fair fight.
Yet, it took extra innings for the Blue Jays to dispatch the Rangers in the third and final game of the ALDS. There were some tense moments and high drama but the Blue Jays worked around Sanchez’s struggles and handed things over to the big bats, who combined to score the winning run in the bottom of the tenth. The Toronto Blue Jays are going to the ALCS. The Texas Rangers are going home.
Texas took their first lead of the series without the benefit of a hit thanks to a leadoff walk to Carlos Gomez, a steal and two groundouts. The Rangers, desperate for something good, hoped to give themselves even a brief respite from the Toronto onslaught that dominated the first two games of this series. The lead was a sign of something positive finally breaking Texas’ way and they turned to Colby Lewis in need of a shutdown inning. Even a one run lead headed into the second would present some forward momentum for the beleaguered Rangers.
Lewis made that lead last for all of 12 pitches. Ezequiel Carrera punched a leadoff single up the middle before Edwin Encarnacion delivered another moonshot into the second deck to give the Jays a 2-1 lead. Russell Martin finally got off the schneid two batters later, knocking a home run into the home bullpen for his first hit of the postseason and Toronto’s third run of the inning. The bullpen phone was ringing before Lewis recorded three outs.
After a quiet second inning, Elvis Andrus connected for Texas’ first homer of the postseason, putting a nice swing on a pretty good Sanchez heater and scorching it over the wall. The Rangers entered the bottom of the third with the deficit down to one and some positive vibes if not signs of life.
Much like the first inning, Toronto responded quickly. Carrera collected another hit and stole second as Josh Donaldson curiously tried to lay down two bunts. He was swinging on the third pitch, slicing a high fly just fair down the right field line that bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. With four runs in and no outs in the third inning, Jeff Bannister went into the bullpen and Tony Barnette emerged from right field. Barnette, making his third appearance of the ALDS, avoided major damage on two healthy cuts from Encarnacion but conceded a single into center field that cashed in the reigning MVP.
Sanchez continued to struggle with his command, issuing a leadoff walk to Carlos Beltran and giving up a two run homer to Rougned Odor two batters later. Sanchez walked Mitch Moreland later in the frame but would exit the fourth with a five to four lead intact. The Blue Jays failed to continue the “call and response” pattern of the game’s early innings and couldn’t get anything out of a leadoff walk to Michael Saunders. Sanchez popped out of the dugout with tensions high in need of a quick inning and Joe Biagini loosening in the bullpen. The fireballer responded with three strikeouts and a little emotion to close the top of the fifth.
The Blue Jays got two runners on in the bottom half of the inning but former Blue Jays reliever Jeremy Jeffress coaxed a ground ball double play from Bautista to end the threat. Sanchez started the sixth with Brett Cecil warming in the bullpen behind him. The young righty picked up two quick outs before walking Odor and giving up a single to Jonathan Lucroy. That was enough for Gibbons to remove his starter and bring in Joe Biagini to take on lefty Mitch Moreland. Gibbons opted for Biagini vs. Moreland over Cecil vs. presumed pinch hitter Ryan Rua in a move that also preserved his lefty reliever for future at bats against Beltran and Odor.
It didn’t work, as Moreland cranked a double into the left-center gap just off the glove of a diving Kevin Pillar. Both runners came around to score on the play, closing the book on Sanchez and restoring a Texas lead.
All in all it wasn’t a particularly good start from Sanchez, who struggled mightily with command in his first career postseason start. His four free passes on the night led to three of the six runs scored and he allowed Texas to chip away at healthy leads on multiple occasions. To his credit, the fifth inning was a much needed shutdown frame and he struck out five but the Jays are surely disappointed by the evening’s performance from their ace. Five and two thirds innings with just three hits but four walks and six runs.
The Blue Jays tried their damndest to get the lead right back. Troy Tulowitzki singled to right, prompting Bannister to call on lefty Jake Diekman out of the bullpen. Gibbons countered by replacing Saunders with Melvin Upton Jr., who delivered with a first pitch double. Tulowitzki had a shot at scoring when Gomez bobbled the ball in the corner but was held up by third base coach Luis Rivera. With two runners in scoring position and one out, Kevin Pillar was intentionally walked to set up the double play with Darwin Barney at bat. Bannister plucked hard-throwing Keone Kela to take on the fill-in second baseman in a huge spot.
Kela overpowered Barney with three fastballs before inducing a popup to Adrian Beltre in foul ground. Ezeqiuel Carrera stepped to the dish looking to stay hot in one of the highest-leverage spots of the year. But Carrera needn’t even swing the stick, as a passed ball to open the at-bat brought Tulowitzki home from third and knotted the game at six. Carrera connected on the next pitch, sending a ball into the right field corner that looked good off the bat. Nomar Mazara ran it down, robbing two bases and two huge RBI from Zeke and the Jays.
Biagini and Kela worked clean sevenths and Jason Grilli came on for the eighth. The wily veteran got a first pitch pop up from Beltran and struck out Beltre on three pitches. Grilli’s four pitch night came against some tough batters but Gibbons didn’t dare risk leaving him in to face a second lefty. Brett Cecil came in and did the job, getting a pop up to the middle of the diamond. Matt Bush entered for Texas and struck out the side on just 13 pitches, preserving the tie and pushing the game into the ninth inning.
Enter Roberto Osuna. The closer, amidst discussion over whether or not he’s being overworked, took the bump and made quick work of Texas’ hitters. Bush stayed in and did the same, sending the game to extra innings. Gibbons, rather than turn to Scott Feldman and the Bisons, sent Osuna back out for another inning of work. Fresh off some kind of cupping treatment, Osuna retired three more with two strikeouts to set the stage for Toronto’s biggest boppers.
They delivered off Matt Bush in his third inning of work. Donaldson’s third hit of the night was a leadoff double and was followed by an intentional walk to Encarnacion. Bautista struck out on a full count and Russell Martin poked a ground ball to Elvis Andrus at short. Andrus fielded the ball and tossed to Odor at second for the first out and it looked like the old double play monster would rear its ugly head. It wasn’t to be, as Public Enemy #1 and centerpiece of the series, Odor, threw a ball in the dirt that Moreland couldn’t pick at first.
Josh Donaldson- the reigning MVP, the Bringer of Rain, the hobbled heartbeat of the Toronto Blue Jays- never stopped running. He crossed home plate on an error charged to Rougned Odor and the Blue Jays are on to the ALCS.
One time for Josh Donaldson. This was an unbelievable performance that built on his Toronto legacy. Donaldson had three hits, drove in a run, scored the game winner on a tremendous aggressive read and made a pair of fantastic defensive plays. For all the talk of Toronto’s thunder, Donaldson won this game without leaving the yard. Josh Donaldson is a Toronto Blue Jay.
Two times for Ezequiel Carrera. Zeke stayed hot, getting two more hits, a stolen base and a pair of runs in addition to a hard hit ball that would’ve fallen for a two RBI double against a lesser outfielder. Zeke’s perfectly timed hot streak contributed a ton to the Blue Jays efforts this series, and he will hopefully continue them over the rest of the month.
Three times for the bullpen. Joe Biagini allowed two inherited runners to score but very nearly got out of the jam. Truthfully, and it may speak to how fortunate we are, many likely assumed that Pillar would run down that double in left center. Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil and Roberto Osuna all turned in fabulous performances without the safety net of Francisco Liriano and will get some well-deserved rest. Osuna in particular was marvelous, carving through Texas hitters with no troublesome contact. For all the guff they caught at the end of the season, the bullpen has been lights out in the playoffs.
The Toronto Blue Jays now wait with packed bags for some resolution in the Cleveland vs. Boston series. The rest days they’ll get from completing the sweep could pay off huge, as the nicked and bruised among them should get some time to relax following tonight’s champagne celebration.
For the second year in a row, the Texas Rangers will be sent packing with a long flight out of Pearson International and a laundry list of questions. The Rangers now have nothing to show for the second best regular season in franchise history aside from the memories of a right hand that was thrown in frustration following 2015’s embarrassing playoff departure. Some spoke warily of a potential comeback similar to the one Toronto delivered last season, but that narrative was whipped into the dirt in front of Moreland’s outstretched glove.
Some knockouts are better than others. Happy Thanksgiving.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports