Pearce's walk-off grand slam clinches Blue Jays' sweep of A's
Steve Pearce of the Toronto Blue Jays homers to left field to defeat the Oakland A's at the Rogers Centre on July 27, 2017. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)
TORONTO — Kendrys Morales did his best Aaron Judge impression and Steve Pearce belted a walkoff grand slam in the 10th, powering the Jays to a wild 8-4 win during a wacky matinee on Thursday.
Like the Yankees slugger, Toronto’s designated hitter Morales showed an abundance of pop in launching a pair of moon shots to centre, the second tying the game to leadoff the bottom of the ninth.
A day earlier, Morales had hit a walkoff shot following a Justin Smoak blast to stun the Athletics. This time, left fielder Pearce battled back against ex-Jay Liam Hendriks to work a full count. Hendriks had to throw a strike and Pearce was ready, drilling a frozen rope into the second deck in left.
Toronto’s win streak stretched to four games — all over Oakland — even though starting battery Marcus Stroman and Russell Martin were tossed in the fifth, along with manager John Gibbons earlier, by home plate umpire Will Little in a bizarre sequence.
Coming off of a start that saw him walk a season-high five batters, Stroman again had issues with his command. He gave up two free passes and a pair of singles to put the Jays down 3-0 in the first and clearly wasn’t happy with some of the calls, then surrendered two more free passes in the second and six in all in 4.2 innings of work.
The jawing of multiple Jays with Little began early and never really stopped. This Toronto group has not been shy about expressing its opinion and catcher Martin had a long chat with Little after striking out looking in the bottom of the first.
“It was one of those borderline pitches, not all of them are going to go your way. It’s definitely frustrating when you feel like it’s happening over and over again,” Martin explained.
Marcus Stroman and Russell Martin are both ejected on the same pitch!!! pic.twitter.com/ocMoSvt9pT— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 27, 2017
Martin struck out again, this time swinging, in the fourth and the fireworks began shortly after that.
Though a fifth-inning leadoff walk by Stroman was erased by a double-play ball, Gibbons got ejected while arguing balls and strikes during catcher Bruce Maxwell’s at-bat. Three pitches later, after Maxwell was also judged to have walked, Stroman was set off.
The diminutive bundle of energy came rushing in from the mound to confront Little. Martin spread his arms to keep Stroman, who had quickly been tossed, back, then, acting manager DeMarlo Hale had to restrain the starter.
Martin was also tossed in the exchange.
It was quite the scene, with the umpire seemingly flinging Jays over the top rope, Royal Rumble wrestling-style, left, right and centre.
“Anytime an umpire just steps toward you and takes his mask off, it’s never a good sign and it’s kind of like, he was asking, kind of instigating,” Martin said.
“I didn’t feel like at that moment it was the proper call. There wasn’t really no drama at that moment, he kind of created the drama there, so, it’s definitely frustrating when the umpires get in the way.
“I don’t know what’s in their heads or how they are feeling. I just feel like in this situation, he didn’t have to throw (Stroman), or myself out.”
Stroman declined to discuss the incident.
“When it comes to umpires or anything like that, I’m not going to be making any comments about that, I want to make my next start,” Stroman said.
The pitcher did say that he will not rein in his intensity or change the way he operates on the mound.
“I’m emotional, that’s how I pitch, that’s what I pride myself on, that’s what allows me to be my best out there and that’s how it’s going to continue to be day in and day out,” he said. “If you don’t like it, that’s OK.”
Oakland manager Bob Melvin was more concerned about his horrendous bullpen, but defended Little as “a good guy, works hard, he’s a young umpire.”
Order eventually was restored, but not before the thousands of school children dotting the sellout crowd likely learned a few new swear words from other fans taking in the game.
All of the action appeared to energize the Jays, who had only managed a single hit, Josh Donaldson’s 10th home run of the year, through four.
Morales hit the bullseye bunting in centre to lead off the bottom of the fifth, but a two-out Kevin Pillar double was wasted.
Jose Bautista was cashed in an inning later by a two-out single to centre by Wednesday’s other hero, Smoak.
However, Toronto’s first opportunity to take a lead was snuffed out when slow-footed Troy Tulowitzki tried to score from second on a Darwin Barney single.
Tulowitzki was easily cut down by Matt Joyce.
The visitors answered off of a shaky Ryan Tepera, who threw a pair of wild pitches in the eighth. Marcus Semien scored Jaysob Brugman with a single to give Oakland back the lead. The run was the first Toronto relievers had allowed against the Athletics in the series and looked like it would hold up.
But Morales had other plans, and the big man forced extras with another shot, this one off of Blake Treinen.
Oakland starter Shawn Manaea struck out seven. Roberto Osuna worked a 1-2-3 10th for the win as the Jays bullpen only allowed three hits, one run and a pair of walks over the final 5.1 innings.
Ironically, given all of the angst over Little’s strike zone, the Jays had only drawn a single walk before the three in the 10th set up Pearce’s heroics.