TORONTO – Ballsy. Reckless. Bold. Aggressive.
Call it whatever you want, but Josh Donaldson’s decision to round third and attempt to score on a ball in the dirt that was laying at the feet of Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland was certainly not your run of the mill play.
As Donaldson laid out, doing his best Superman impression, he touched the corner of home plate with his outstretched left hand to score the decisive run and win the ALDS for the Toronto Blue Jays.
“That’s a baseball player man,” Kevin Pillar said after the game as he and his teammates celebrated the Jays’ 7-6 walk-off win in Game Three of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers. “He’s got great instincts. Everyone wants to talk about what he’s able to do with his bat, or what he’s able to do with his glove, but what makes him an MVP type of player is his ability to run the bases.
“That’s a guy whose playing banged up. Probably not at 100 percent, but his instincts took over and he wanted it more than they did. That’s a play where someone can’t tell you to go, you just got to go on your own and he reacted, and boy it worked out.”
“Everyone wants to talk about what he’s able to do with his bat, or what he’s able to do with his glove, but what makes him an MVP type of player is his ability to run the bases.” – Pillar
That it certainly did, as the Jays won the game on what was arguably the boldest baserunning decision in franchise history. When Donaldson broke for home, the Rogers Centre crowd held their breath as the play unfolded. Even last year’s MVP wasn’t sure he was going to make it home safely.
“That situation in the game, if he ends up throwing me out, making a great play you kind of have to tip your cap to him,” Donaldson said. “But I’m banking on the fact that I’m going to make it more times than not.”
While Donaldson was relatively sure his gamble was going to pay off, Michael Saunders was certain the game was over then and there.
“His instincts are off the charts. I had no doubt that he was scoring,” Saunders said. “When he makes up his mind on the base path it’s usually the right decision. He was aggressive. He understood the way the game was going that we needed to take our chances. The guy is an MVP for a reason.”
What may be more surprising than Donaldson’s decision to break for home in that situation was the fact that it’s no secret he’s nursing an assortment of ailments, some of which certainly affected his swing during a September where he hit .232 and only managed three home runs, but the 30-year-old looked awfully spry as he bolted for home.
“When you have 50,000 fans screaming it kind of numbs the pain a little,” Donaldson said. “It gives you that little extra jolt of adrenalin.”
“When you have 50,000 fans screaming it kind of numbs the pain a little.” – Donaldson
While the end result was what the Jays hoped for, the game itself wasn’t perfect. Few things in life are.
Aaron Sanchez struggled with his command all game – allowing six earned runs in his first postseason start, Kevin Pillar just barely missed a diving catch to end all diving catches that gave the Rangers a brief lead in the sixth, and the Jays only had two hits with runners in scoring position, scoring two of their seven runs on a wild pitch and an error.
That no longer matters. What matters at this time of year is simply the end result and that’s what the Jays are focused on.
“In the playoffs it’s all about getting wins,” Pillar said. “We just executed better and that’s what it comes down to in the postseason. We just played better baseball. We executed better.
“We’re going to enjoy the rest. It’s a long season. A lot of us are beat up. A lot of us are hanging on by threads. We’re going to enjoy the couple days off and take care of our bodies and we’ll be ready to go.”
Thanks to Donaldson’s bold baserunning decision the Jays get four days off before returning Friday for Game 1 of the ALCS against the winner of the Boston/Cleveland series – something that’s critical for the team at this time of year with so many bodies hurting.
“It’s been a long year. The extra days off will definitely benefit us as a team, I can tell you that,” Saunders said. “We’re just going to keep this momentum going. We’re going to enjoy some days off and come back ready to go.”
When they do come back the Jays will be looking for their seventh-straight victory, which would tie the club’s best mark of the season. Those types of streaks are awfully rare this time of year, but Toronto might be playing its best baseball at the most critical time.
Pillar talked before the Wild Card game about team’s who win that game tend to “ride that wave” of momentum into their next series. Thanks to Donaldson and company the Jays are still riding that wave and will look to continue to do so when the ALCS starts.
Friday. Be there.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports