Sports Baseball

BUFFERY

Back to back: Blue Jays walk-off A's in thrilling comeback

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Toronto - 

The roof was closed at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night, but the Blue Jays raised it slightly in the bottom of the ninth inning with back-to-back home runs to beat the Oakland A’s 3-2 in a walkoff.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin brought in closer Santiago Casilla to try to wrap it up for the A’s, who led the Jays 2-0. But Casilla walked the first batter he saw, Josh Donaldson, and then gave up a two-run blast to Justin Smoak, who deposited his team-leading 28th homer of the season into the second deck in right.

The next batter, DH Kendrys Morales, then ended the game on the next pitch, much to the delight of the 41,984 fans at the Rogers Centre by hitting a moon-beam that just cleared the fence in right. The victory was the third in a row for the Jays.

Smoak said that watching Casilla throw his curve ball wildly against Donaldson (twice almost hitting him on the head) changed his approach to his at-bat.

“(He threw) a lot of curve balls at Josh there, and I felt like he really didn’t have much control with it. He  was missing big time with it,” said the Jays’ first baseman. “So I went up there dead-red, looking for the heater and ... got a good pitch to hit and was able to put it out of there.”

Morales’ game-winner — his 18th homer of the season — marked the sixth time this year the Jays have gone back-to-back, with the three most recent occasions all being provided by Smoak and Morales.

“It just happens that way, but I feel like with him going up there after me ... I just felt like it was going to happen, and it did,” said Smoak.

The home runs also marked just the second time the Jays have ever hit back-to-back home runs with the second one being a walk-off. The other time was June 14, 1986 against the Detroit when Cliff Johnson and Buck Martinez did the trick. Martinez had come into the game as a pinch hitter. Both of those came off Willie Hernandez.

Of the 18 homers Morales has hit, 10 have either tied the game or given the Jays the lead. He also posted a walkoff homer on April 15 against Baltimore.

The victory made a winner out of relief pitcher Joe Biagini. Toronto starter Marco Estrada gave the team five innings and gave up three hits — one of them a homer by Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien to put the A’s ahead 2-0 in the fifth. He also walked four and is winless in his past 10 starts. Estrada settled down after the first inning, retiring seven hitters in a row before Yonder Alonso hit a double to right in the fourth with one out. But the Jays’ starter got out of that jam by striking out the next two. 

With the Jays down 2-0 in the sixth and Donaldson on second, Smoak hammered a Paul Blackburn offering to the .500 level in right, but just foul. Smoak ended up lining out to short to end the threat.

The Jays stranded Jose Bautista at third base in the first inning. Bautista opened the inning up with a double to left and moved to third on a fly by Donaldson to right. But with Smoak on first, Morales hit into a double play to end the inning — the 18th time this season the club’s DH has hit into a DP (tied for the most in the AL).

In the eighth, with Kevin Pillar on first, Bautista hit a missile to centre field that Oakland outfielder Rajai Davis managed to corral at the warning track. 

The Jays bullpen was lights out again, allowing only one base runner in the last four innings of the game, Biagini walking Matt Chapman with two out in the ninth. Reliever Dominic Leone, who pitched two innings, has not allowed an earned run in his last 11 games.

“They’ve all stepped up,” said manager John Gibbons of the bullpen. 

“It’s tough because we’ve been having some short starts, so they’ve had to cover a lot of innings and usually that catches up with you. But they’ve been on a nice little roll and it doesn’t matter who it is. They kind of understand the role now and it varies night to night, but they’re all doing a good job.”

ESTRADA GETTING BETTER, BUT WALKS STILL IRK HIM

When Marco Estrada last won a game, the Toronto islands were still above water. 

It was May 27, to be precise, the last time the Blue Jays right-handed starter picked up a ‘W.’ In his 10 starts since, Estrada has gone 0-5 with five no-decisions. On Wednesday night at the Rogers Centre, the 2016 all-star went five innings and gave up three hits, including a two-run home run to Marcus Semien in the fifth inning. A decent outing, but he also walked four. Fortunately for Estrada on this night the Jays came back to beat the Oakland A’s 3-2. 

“I’m not happy with the way I threw the ball. I don’t necessarily walk guys and I’ve been walking a lot of guys so it’s something I’m working on,” said Estrada. “It was a little better today but I still don’t like the way I’m throwing the ball. It’s not me. I don’t walk people. That’s the only thing I’m upset about is walks. The (Semien) home run, those things are going to happen. But if I stop falling behind so often and walking guys I wouldn’t get hurt so much. I’m working on that.

“But I do feel like I took a step in the right direction.”