Mark Buehrle started the game off working everything away to the six right handed hitters at the top of the Rays lineup, but he stayed just a little bit too far outside at first, walking Jennings on five pitches. With the count at 1-1, Ben Zobrist noted that Maicer Izturis was playing back, and bunted down the third base line for an easy infield hit. A deep fly ball into right field from Evan Longoria advanced Jennings to third, and a shallow fly ball to right from Wil Myers brought him home, just barely in front of Jose Bautista's strong but slightly up the line throw.
In the bottom of the second inning, Hellickson collected two quick outs on weak ground balls right back to him, before Rajai Davis got aboard with a single. Davis, a major threat to steal, quickly started taking very large leads. He went once but the pitch was fouled off. After that, Hellickson threw over to first once, but Davis only had a small lead. For the next pitch, he threw over again, and this time caught Davis flat footed, unable even to attempt a dive back to the base.
In the top of the third inning, Sam Fuld singled, and then Desmond Jennings took a page out of Ben Zobrist's book and bunted for a base hit (up the first base line this time). Zobrist walked to load the bases for Longoria with no outs. Longoria grounded to shortstop, but with all of that speed on the bases, the second run of the night scored and Brett Lawrie had no chance to turn a double play. Myers lined a single into left field to score a third run. Ryan Roberts then grounded an easier double play ball to shortstop, but Lawrie yanked his throw on the turn, and a fourth run scored. The Rogers center crowd, which had been noticeably quieter today than they were last night, let out a hearty chorus of boos for Canada's (once?) favorite son.
In the bottom of the third, The Jays pulled a run back when Jose Bautista hit his 22nd homer of the season. Hellickson threw an 0-1 changeup down below the strike zone, but Bautista is one of those sluggers who can clobber any pitch, any time. Edwin Encarnacion hit another good pitch for a double, and Hellickson may have been rattled, walking Adam Lind on four pitches, none of which were even borderline. That brought Jim Hickey to the mound. Whatever he said worked, and Hellickson struck out Colby Rasmus to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, with Jose Reyes at first base, the umpires called a balk on Hellickson when he threw over to first. I'm never clear on the balk rule but it looked fine to me, and Brian Anderson thought it was absolutely the wrong call. Reyes then advanced to third to on a wild pitch when a curve in the dirt squirted through Jose Molina's legs (really, Molina should have blocked it). Hellickson got a popup from Bautista, but Reyes was able to score when Encarnacion hit a chopper to third.
Alex Torres came on to pitch the sixth inning, with Hellickson having thrown 91 pitches. He struck out Colby Rasmus looking on three pitches. Two groundballs to the left side of the infield produced the other two outs of the inning. Torres worked a one two three inning in the seventh as well, including a strikeout looking of Brett Lawrie.
In Maddon's continuing mission to raise Joel Peralta's average leverage, he left Alex Torres in to work the eighth inning. Torres walked both Bautista and Encarnacion before being pulled in favor of Peralta. When Peralta came on, he immediately walked Adam Lind in an at bat where he threw a pitch in basically the same location, up and away, six times and had it called a strike twice and a ball four times. That walk loaded the bases with no outs, and brought the Blue Jays' win expectancy over 50% for the first time tonight. Peralta got a foul popup from Rasmus, but there was something worrisome going on. Both yesterday and for the first two batters he faced today, Peralta had been unable to locate his best pitch, his splitter, down in the zone. But just as soon as I noticed what was wrong and started to worry, Peralta fixed himself and allayed my fears.
Leaning on his revitalized splitter, and locating it near the bottom of the zone, Peralta struck out Izturis looking and Arencibia swinging (in a full count) to snuff out the Jays rally.
Fernando Rodney handled the ninth. For the first out, Rajai Davis hit a very high chopper back to the first base side of the mound. It seemed like the ball took forever to come down, and when it did, Rodney threw a short-armed 98 mph fastball from close range to get Davis by no more than an inch. Rodney's fastballs drifted inside against Lawrie though, and he walked him on five pitches. With a man on first, Rodney completely overpowered Jose Reyes on three pitches (one fastball, two changeups) to bring Jose Bautista to the plate as the last out and the tying run.
After diving out of the way of a fastball that was called a strike, Bautista hit a chopper of his own over Sean Rodriguez's head at first. Rodney jammed Encarnacion and produced a soft grounder straight back to the mound, but he missed the grab and the ball squibbled past him for an error. One run scored, and the tying run moved to second, with the winning run on first. Bautista stole third, and Encarnacion took second to bring Toronto within one seeing eye single of the win, but they would get no further. A Rodney changeup produced a soft fly ball to Jennings to end the game and restart hearts all across Tampa Bay.
The FanGraphs chart says that the Jays never had a win expectancy of over 25% in the ninth inning, but that's looking at league averages. Against batters the quality of Bautista and Encarnacion, the win expectancy is obviously higher (and to me it felt like somewhere around 75%, though that's probably not quite right).
Some other notes:
- This was a very typical Jeremy Hellickson outing. It was slow, there were plenty of deep counts, a hit an inning, as many walks as strikeouts (three each), and plenty of popups. It's not pretty, but it's effective often enough that I'm willing to accept it for what Hellickson is and be happy. A pitcher like Hellickson really raises the value of a high quality swingman like Alex Torres (or Roberto Hernandez?)
- I'm not very impressed with how Brett Lawrie looks at second base.
- In the bottom of the third inning, Reyes popped up foul of the first base line, but Sean Rodriguez had some trouble tracking it in the sun, and it bounced out of his glove. One pitch later, Reyes hit a fly ball to left field, and Sam Fuld appeared to also have some trouble with the fly ball also, but he circled around and made the catch.
- No need to start up the Zorilla shortstop watch again, but he did make a very nice play deep in the hole, spinning and throwing to second base to get the force there.
- In the bottom of the fifth inning, Adam Lind's backswing caught Molina squarely in the helmet, dazing him for a moment. I know he crowds the plate to better frame strikes, but he sure does get beaten up for his troubles.
- Desmond Jennings had a great day, getting on base four times with a walk and three singles (one the bunt single), although he was picked off/caught stealing by Buehrle to end the sixth inning.
- Sean Rodriguez did a nice job today with his scoops at first base. We know he has the range to excel their defensively, but he also seems to have good hands for the uniquely first baseman plays.
- In the eighth inning, Molina bunted up the first base line and into a double play. I have nothing else to say about this play.