So, you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance?
That was the sign on the outfield railing in the Rogers Centre yesterday, posted by a fan who has some belief in this late push by the Toronto Blue Jays. As over 31, 000 of T.O. faithful attended the match against the Tampa Bay Rays, it looks like that fan is not walking alone in the sentiment.
Sep 13, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) delivers a pitch against Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
R.A. Dickey, winner of his last two appearances as a starting pitcher, was on the mound against righty Jeremy Hellickson, who posted a 3.63 ERA in 11 games. Dickey has looked more like the Jedi Master of the knuckleball that he was before being brought to Toronto a couple years ago. In his last ten games, Dickey went 5-2 with a 3.84 ERA in 57.2 innings of work. He struck out 46 batters and only gave up 16 walks to dominate opposing lineups. For a man whose performances have made Jays fans be tempted to the Dark Side, Dickey’s been keeping his team in many ballgames.
Part of those feelings stemmed from the lack of run support many Blue Jays starters have felt on the bump in the second half of the season. While Edwin Encarnacion’s injury greatly hurt the Jays’ ability to cash in runs, Adam Lind’s time on the shelf with his own injury hurt the team’s chances to create scoring chances.
In baseball today, especially with the media and fans concentrating so much on home run production, the view is that the long ball wins you games. Not true, although it certainly helps. The most important thing is to keep innings alive by finding ways to get on base. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, in yesterday’s press conference alluded to that ‘hype’ when asked about Lind’s ability to hit home runs, saying, “he doesn’t need to get caught up in that. Against right-handers, there’s not a better hitter in baseball.” Gibbons also said, “if he catches it right, he’s got great power to all fields,” suggesting that the home runs come from his ability to hit the ball well. Like anything in life, when you try to succeed, good things will happen if you don’t overcommit to one skill or result.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Lind demonstrated the willingness to swing with ‘the flow’ to win games. Tied with three runs apiece, Lind homered, his fifth of the season, over the left-center field fence against Brad Boxberger, who relieved Hellickson to start the inning. A third 80-mph changeup sitting fat outside Lind’s wheelhouse did not phase him. Why would a batter, who is hitting .328 with a .394 on-base percentage and slugging .492, worry about a one-out plate appearance in a tie game and the playoffs on the line? The blast scored Jose Bautista to take the lead.
Sep 13, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) is greeted by third base coach Luis Rivera after hitting a home run against Tampa Bay Rays in the seventh inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Encarnacion, wanting in on the fun, hit his 31st home run of the season. He was clearly sitting on a first-pitch fastball when the move was made to bring Steve Geltz into the game to relieve Boxberger. New relief pitcher. Wants to get out of the inning after his team just gave up a home run. Who wouldn’t be thinking fastball?
Any foreshadowing or irony that Edwin’s home run went right over that fan’s sign from earlier?
That run support was all that the Blue Jays needed, as Brett Cecil took over for Dickey, who pitched 7.0 innings, giving up only four hits, three earned runs, and two walks. Dickey earned his 13th win of the season by striking out five Rays batters, while the home run by all-star Evan Longoria was his only major mistake. Casey Janssen took over for Cecil in the ninth inning, shutting out the side and striking out a batter for his 23rd save of the season.
Rogers Sportsnet announcer Buck Martinez was so enthusiastic when he referred to Encarnacion’s pulled home run as a “pretty home run swing.” Yet, the game was won on excellent pitching and solid hitting when it counts, even when the ball leads you to the opposite field. As Gibbons said, “not a lot of guys can hit the ball with authority to opposite fields.” It was not just a pretty swing; it was a pretty win by the Blue Jays.