Blue Jays Win In Fundamental Fashion


Sep 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Steve Tolleson (18) sacrifice bunts to advance left fielder Kevin Pillar (11) to third base against Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it took the Toronto Blue Jays almost the entire season, but they finally won a game in unusual fashion: fundamental baseball.

Too many times over the last few seasons, the Blue Jays have looked silly either at the plate or on defence, relying on their big sluggers to power some home runs over the fence to get them back into ballgames. Rogers Sportsnet commentators Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler then ultimately pull out the same home run statistic every game to prove to Toronto’s fans that the long ball is very important to the team’s success. And if Ty Cobb were around, he would undoubtedly spit on that stat page and show everyone how it’s done. He, too, was asked about the importance of home runs, and drove three of them over the wall in one game in which his team lost. If players don’t get on base, a homer is just a really loud single run.

Last night at the Rogers Centre, in front of over 27, 000 people, the Blue Jays played sound fundamentals early against the Baltimore Orioles, which proved to be the difference in the game. The crowd, which was a decent size considering it was the second last game of another season well out of the playoffs, cheered greatly for a couple bunts and a slide.

The game, at first, didn’t seem any different than any other game, as both teams swung hard and big with no success from their big bashers in the first inning. In the second inning, Nelson Cruz hit hard against the center field wall to record his second triple of the season. Delmon Young then singled to right field to score Cruz. And, as last night’s starting pitcher J.A. Happ took a new ball from the home plate umpire, Blue Jays’ fans hoped that this wasn’t a sign of another game where the opposing team executed a few big hits and win because the Blue Jays can’t produce runs of their own.

The fans didn’t have to wait too long for their fortunes to change. However, it was not the Blue Jays they were expecting to come through for them. In the bottom of the third inning, Kevin Pillar swung on a first-pitch fastball from Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, who played to tune up for his expected start in the second game of the American League Divisional Series later this week. The ball went sharply to left field for a base hit, as Pillar seemed to expect every first pitch to be a fastball. That trend continued most of the night, to the Orioles’ detriment. Steve Tolleson then doubled to left field, scoring Pillar, who was as aggressive on the base paths as his outfield partner, Dalton Pompey, was last night. Jose Reyes also got in on the scoring party by taking his first pitch a double to left himself, scoring Tolleson speeding across the bases himself. The key was that their swings were shorter and ready for impact, driving the ball where they wanted to go, instead of trying to hammer the ball over the fence and striking out because of it.

The Orioles then seemed to take a page out of the Blue Jays’ playbook from their August collection. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Reyes reached on a throwing error from Orioles third baseman Alexi Casilla. After Jose Bautista put the ball in play to move Reyes to third, Edwin Encarnacion reached on a defensive error, as the ball hit off of Chen’s glove, causing shortstop J.J. Hardy to have to change his feet and made his throw low to first baseman Christian Walker, who then dropped the ball. The error also allowed Reyes to score.

In the top of sixth inning, Adam Jones may have taken on the role that Bautista often takes, in order to respond to the opposing team’s capitalization of his team’s mistakes on defence. Jones took a lame duck of a 88 mph fastball from Happ over the fence for a solo home run. The problem for the Orioles was that nobody could get on base for that home run to mean a great deal, much like how the season had gone for the Blue Jays.

Pillar’s impact continued in the bottom of the seventh inning. The audience roared when he bunted sweetly to the third baseline. A bunt. They cheered for a ball lightly bouncing off of a Blue Jays’ bat. Can it be finally true? Can fans actually see the benefit of small ball? Whatever the case, it was a great strategy. Brad Brach was brought in to relieve Chen to start the side, meaning Brach would have to begin his night by establishing his strikezone. Likely, a first-pitch fastball would be coming. Pillar looked ready for it. Not only did the bunt work, not only would Pillar be safe at first with a good throw, but Brach ended up throwing the ball away, allowing Pillar to advance to second base. Tolleson then laid down a great bunt of his own, doing his job by sacrificing to move the runner, to the joy of the Blue Jays faithful. After Reyes hit the ball to shallow center field, Jones threw the ball on one hop to the catcher to get Pillar out at home plate. Or did he?

After Blue Jays manager John Gibbons challenged the call, it looked like Pillar made a similar slide to Pompey’s play at the plate the night before. Pillar slid head-first and bellied his body out of play to avoid the tag. His hand got to the plate underneath the tag, scoring another run for the blue and white. The umpires overturned the call, causing the fans and the Blue Jays dugout to celebrate.

Happ finished his season with a win to go .500 with a 11-11 record. He pitched 6.1 innings, giving up two runs and two walks on four hits, while striking out four batters. A good outing to reflect on for next season. Aaron Sanchez and Casey Janssen took over for the rest of the game, keeping the Orioles off of the scoreboard. Janssen earned his twenty-fifth save of the year.

Reyes may have got the RBIs to pull the Blue Jays ahead, but that’s not what he is being paid to do. He could only do that because of the jobs Pillar and Tolleson did last night. For two players at the end of the lineup, their fundamental skills, at the plate and on the bases, led to production that Reyes could cash. If the entire Blue Jays lineup would have taken that approach in more close ballgames this season, maybe they would not have lost and found themselves outside of the playoff picture. Hitting for contact is very important, compared to trying to hit for power, but the most important thing to do is to get on base and put the ball in play to manufacture runs. This premise works for big hitters as well as ‘Moneyball’ strategists. It’s called fundamental baseball. Chicks may dig the long ball, but everyone cheers when you win.