Blue Jays From Away
This series was rough.
Game 1: Thursday, April 6
JAYS WIN! 5-2
Winning Pitcher: Marcus Stroman
Save: Jason Grilli
Jays fans finally got a taste of Kendrys Morales’ power as he hit a 3rd-inning, 444-foot grand slam off Blake Snell for his team’s first homer of 2017. Toronto had loaded the bases with a Darwin Barney single and back-to-back walks to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. Barney went 3-for-3 with a walk, and drove in the other Toronto run in the 7th with a squeeze bunt that Logan Morrison bobbled, allowing Russell Martin to score and Barney to be safe at first.
Meanwhile, Marcus Stroman didn’t allow a run until the 7th. He struck out the first four Rays batters he faced, five total. Steven Souza Jr. tried to score on a tapper back to the mound in the 5th, but Stroman threw home and the throw took Martin up the line, where he landed awkwardly on a sliding Souza. Souza was called out, and after a replay, the call stood.
Stroman gave up six hits, but had four inning-ending double plays turned in his favour – including one that erased his baserunner after he’d left the game. Joe Biagini threw a scoreless inning and two-thirds, giving way to Joe Smith in the 9th. Smith got one quick out, then walked Brad Miller and gave up a double before turning things over to Jason Grilli. Miller scored from third on a wild pitch, but Grilli got two swinging strikeouts to earn the save.
Game 2: Friday, April 7
Jays lose, 8-10
Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano
Losing Pitcher: J.P. Howell
Rarely does a starter get chased after one-third of an inning and not take the loss, but that’s exactly what happened here. After the Jays went up 2-0 in the 1st on a Troy Tulowitzki double, the Rays immediately tied it with an Evan Longoria home run. Francisco Liriano faced eight batters and only retired one – he gave up a single, a double, Longoria’s homer and four walks. By the time Dominic Leone got two outs to end the inning, there were five runs on the board for Tampa.
In the bottom of the 2nd, a one-out fly ball hit the catwalk and, instead of being caught, resulted in a double. That set the stage for a Derek Norris sac fly, putting the Rays ahead 6-2. The Jays went 3-up-3-down in the 2nd and 3rd, then Tulowitzki led off the 4th with a home run. They scored a pair in the 5th, as Josh Donaldson led off with a double, moved up on a wild pitch, then scored as Jose Bautista reached on an error. Bautista advanced on another wild pitch, then scored on a Justin Smoak double.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, starting his first game of the year, led off the 6th with a single. After two consecutive walks, Kendrys Morales walked him in with the bases loaded, tying the game, then Tulowitzki followed suit to put the Jays ahead. Leone set down the last eight he faced, then Ryan Tepera threw a clean 5th. J.P. Howell took over with one on in the 6th, then allowed two doubles and two walks. He handed things over to Joe Smith without getting an out. Smith struck out the side, but three runs scored and the Rays went ahead 8-6. Tampa used two pinch-hitters that inning (Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison), and both got hits.
Josh Donaldson hit his first home run of 2017 in the 8th to put it within a run, but Tampa widened the gap with a run on three hits off Aaron Loup in the bottom half. Alex Colome got a 4-out save for the Rays without allowing a runner. Both teams stranded nine.
Game 3: Saturday, April 8 (Night game)
Jays lose, 2-3 (11 innings)
Starting Pitcher: Aaron Sanchez
Blown Save: Joe Biagini
Losing pitcher: Casey Lawrence
This game began as a pitcher’s duel, with both Aaron Sanchez and Chris Archer retiring the first seven batters they faced. Sanchez eventually allowed a one-out infield hit to Mallex Smith in the 3rd, which tipped off Sanchez’s own glove. Archer took a perfect game through four, until Kendrys Morales led off the 5th with a single. Morales was then erased on a double play.
The first run of the game was the result of a 5th-inning Derek Norris leadoff single – a walk, forceout and single scored him. Sanchez escaped more damage that inning, stranding two. That was the only run Sanchez allowed – over seven innings he had four hits and three walks allowed, and six strikeouts. The Jays scored in the 7th when Josh Donaldson led off with a walk, moved up on a walk and a double play, and Troy Tulowitzki drove him in. Their second run came as the result of another leadoff walk in the 8th, this one issued to Russell Martin. Donaldson drove him in, and drove Archer from the game.
Joe Biagini blew the one-run lead when he gave up two singles and a walk in the 8th. He escaped the 9th inning with the winning Rays run on third, and things went to extras. The Jays stranded another Martin walk on third, then Jason Grilli pitched around a hit and a walk in the 10th. With the bullpen depleted the night before, John Gibbons called on Casey Lawrence to start the 11th inning for his major-league debut.
Smith, who’d been on base four times, doubled, then got to third on a sac bunt. Gibby made the unconventional move of walking the next two batters intentionally – thus loading the bases for Evan Longoria. Lawrence struck Longoria out on three pitches, then walked Brad Miller on a full count, ending the game.
Game 4: Sunday, April 9th
Jays lose, 2-7
Losing Pitcher: Marco Estrada
The Jays jumped out to a two-run lead in the 1st inning, thanks to a Josh Donaldson home run and a Troy Tulowitzki RBI groundout. Corey Dickerson hit a solo homer in the 3rd, which Steven Souza followed up with a 3-run shot. Each and every one of the five runs Marco Estrada allowed came in the form of a homer – Jesus Sucre added another in the 4th.
The changeup, which is usually Estrada’s best pitch, seemed to fail him – all three Rays homers came on changeups. He lasted five innings, allowed seven hits, two walks and had five strikeouts. Sucre’s homer could have gone for two runs had it not been for a heads-up play by Russell Martin on a bunt.
The Jays got one other baserunner over the next seven innings; Kendrys Morales was hit by a pitch in the 4th but then was erased by a double play. Jake Odorizzi left the game after the 6th, having allowed two runs on two hits and a walk. The lone runner after that was Jose Bautista, who doubled in the 9th. Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup both made scoreless appearances, then Casey Lawrence allowed two runs in the 8th on two hits and two walks and a weird rundown that didn’t result in an out.
Nothing much else of note happened in this game, although Donaldson was lifted in the 6th after he seemed to tweak his calf running down to first base. Souza also got into an argument with Tulowitzki in the 2nd after he slid hard into second on a double play. That led to the benches clearing, but as Tulo chose to express his displeasure with his words rather than his fists, nobody got hurt or ejected.
J.P. Howell was placed on the 10-day disabled list Sunday with shoulder soreness. Dominic Leone (who’d been sent to Buffalo after Friday’s game) was called back up to replace him. Donaldson said he wasn’t likely to miss time because of his calf – there’s an off day Monday and he expects to be ready for Tuesday’s home opener.
That Tulo-Souza incident was bizarre, though it’s not the first time those two have argued. To my untrained eye it didn’t look like a hard slide so much as it looked… weird? It was late for sure, the legs went in awkwardly, but it didn’t seem intentionally hard. The overreaction afterward was the unnecessary part. Tulo seemed annoyed but fairly calm initially, but then Souza began yelling at him. The postgame comments continued along the same vein.
Then a few innings later, when Souza was hitting, the home plate umpire yelled at Rays manager Kevin Cash to “stay out of it” as Souza was simply having a conversation with Russell Martin, but Cash took offense. Apparently, Souza and Martin just shouldn’t talk, people keep misunderstanding it.
Weirdly Specific Record Alert:
Marcus Stroman reached his 300th career strikeout on Thursday Stroman was the 4th-fastest pitcher in Jays history to reach the milestone, taking just 63 games.
Kendrys Morales is just the 9th hitter in Jays history to hit a grand slam as his first home run with the team.
My Favourite Player(s) of the week: Tulowitzki/Sanchez/Donaldson/Morales
For a while on Friday, it seemed Tulo was going to drive in every run himself. He hadn’t even reached base for the first three games of the year, then went 2-for-4 with a walk, a double and a home run and four RBI in that game. He also drove in a run in each of the final two games of the series.
Sanchez was fantastic in his start, allowing only one run, three walks and four hits over seven innings. It’s a pity the save was blown and the offense couldn’t retake the lead, his outing was probably the best one by a Jays starter so far.
Donaldson hit two home runs and a double, went 4-for-14 in the series and also walked three times.
Finally, it’s hard not to like a new guy when he hits a grand slam as the team’s first home run of the season. With that, Kendrys Morales has a perfect 1.00 OBP with the bases loaded so far (he also walked twice). He’s also got a five-game hit streak, including two doubles. He and Tulowitzki are currently tied for the team lead in RBI, with six each.