The term "must-win game" is overused in a sport that features 162 games a season, but this 161st game sure felt like a must-win for the Toronto Blue Jays. With the Orioles having lost already, the Jays had a chance to get back into a tie for the Wild Card lead, and they took advantage of that chance with a 4-3 win over the Red Sox.
As of the time of writing the Blue Jays and the Orioles are now back in a tie for the two Wild Card slots, with the Tigers and Mariners 1.5 games behind. Should the Mariners win they would leap ahead of the Tigers, should they lose, they would be eliminated from contention. The best news about this win is that, no matter what happens, the Blue Jays are guaranteed at least a game 163, which will be hosted at Rogers Centre.
Things did not look promising early on Saturday evening as J.A. Happ struggled out of the gate, walking three batters in the first inning. The game began at 13°C with a mist blanketing Fenway Park, making the pitcher’s mound a wet, muddy mess. Happ needed 27 pitches to get through the first, but settled down and managed to pitch into the seventh.
Happ had a season-low one strikeout and a season-high five walks, but he limited the Red Sox to four hits and gave his team the chance to win. Jason Grilli pitched 0.2 innings and recorded a hold despite being responsible for a game-tying run. Roberto Osuna was asked for a six-out save, but balked in said run in the eighth. However, after the Jays scored in the top of the ninth, he finished the game with a perfect bottom half, recording a blown save and the win.
Here’s how the seven runs crossed the plate tonight:
- Bottom 1st: Chris Young hit a broken-bat flyball that dropped just in front of a charging Kevin Pillar for a two-run single after Happ had walked the bases loaded. 2-0 Red Sox.
- Top 2nd: The Blue Jays answered right away in a very similar fashion. With Eduardo Rodriguez walking the Jays loaded, Kevin Pillar recorded a two-run single to centrefield. 2-2 tie. Rodriguez then struck out Ezequiel Carrera and Devon Travis to end the inning, stranding runners at second and third. Carrera didn’t square to bunt, which I found strange in a possible safety squeeze situation with a wet field.
- Top 6th: Rodriguez and reliever Matt Barnes each walked a batter to start the inning. With runners on first and second, Pillar singles on a ground ball just past the glove of shortstop Xander Bogaerts, scoring a chugging Russell Martin from second base. 3-2 Blue Jays. Happ answered with an eight-pitch shutdown inning in the bottom half.
- Bottom 8th: After replacing Happ in the seventh, Jason Grilli returned for the eighth and promptly allowed a Mookie Betts double and a walk to Hanley Ramirez, leading John Gibbons summon for Roberto Osuna. Pinch hitter Brock Holt hit a screamer at Travis, who started a slick double play. Hanley Ramirez moved to third base on that double play. Facing Jackie Bradley Jr., Osuna peered in for the sign but was called for the balk when he started then stopped his motion, allowing Betts to jog home. 3-3 Red Sox.
- Top 9th: Leading off the inning, Michael Saunders walked against Craig Kimbrel and was replaced at first by Dalton Pompey. Pillar, who was 2-for-3 with 3 RBI, dropped a sacrifice bunt to move Pompey to second, who then moved up to third when Kimbrel threw a wild pitch to the backstop. Carrera then hit a fly ball to left field, not particularly deep, but Pompey scored anyway with a strong but off-line throw from Brock Holt. 4-3 Blue Jays.
Having already clinched the division, John Farrell took out David Ortiz in the fifth inning after he singled. It may be irrational, but knowing that Big Papi won’t have a clutch hit made me feel pretty confident of a Toronto victory, even though they never led by more than a run the entire game.
The Blue Jays are now 24-8 when Happ starts.
This homerless victory was only Toronto's ninth such win of the season, the most recent coming on July 25 against the Padres.
With his two-run double in the second inning, Kevin Pillar became the team leader in doubles with 35 (h/t @james_in_to). Pillar also leads the Jays in stolen bases, caught stealing, and bases on balls (I am lying about one of these categories).
September Was A Special Category Of Horrible
This fact was literally unbelievable until I went and checked the numbers myself.
Jays scored 4 runs in the second inning in September, 2 so far in October!— James G (@james_in_to) October 2, 2016
Four Notable Defensive Plays
- With 2 outs, 2 runners on in the bottom of the 2nd (and on a 2-2 count to boot), Travis found himself perfectly shifted in shallow right to grab a David Ortiz ground ball and end the threat with a bang-bang play.
- In the third inning, Chris Young hit a high pop-up to shallow right field with Hanley Ramirez on first. Carrera charged in from the outfield while Travis ran out from the infield. Carrera was calling for it but Travis likely didn’t hear until the last moment. The two did not collide, but the ball conked off of the right fielder’s glove. Carrera then quickly scooped up the ball and threw it to second to force Ramirez in a good, head’s up play.
- In the seventh, Xander Bogaerts hit a high fly ball to the warning track in front of the Green Monster. Left fielder Michael Saunders, running full speed, leapt and caught the ball and managed to avoid faceplanting into the scoreboard.
- Skipping forward to the ninth, Travis made a spectacular diving play on a hard-hit ball from Marco Hernandez, saving a hit and stopping a Red Sox threat before it could start.
Upton Jr. Gets Into Exclusive Club
After legging out an infield hit in the fourth inning, Melvin Upton Jr. stole his 300th career base. With 164 career home runs, Upton Jr. became the 33rd major leaguer to record 300+ stolen bases and 150+ homers, joining the likes of Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and Rickey Henderson.
Melvin Upton Jr. just joined the 150+ HR/300+ SB club. Of the 33 members, he has the lowest career WAR: 16.2 (via @baseball_ref Play Index)— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) October 2, 2016
His career WAR is just a tick below #32 on the list, former Blue Jay Juan Samuel.
Jays of the Day!
Kevin Pillar (+.296 WPA), Roberto Osuna (+.257 despite the balk), J.A. Happ (+.176), Michael Saunders (+.133 with two walks). Dalton Pompey (+.112) had the number for it, but that was due to the Kimbrel wild pitch, so I won’t give him a JoD. Send your complaints to Tom Dakers.
Jason Grilli (-.119 WPA). Devon Travis (-.150) went 0-for-5 but made two key defensive plays so I’ll take him off the suckage list. Ezequiel Carrera (-.118) had the game-winning sacrifice fly and that head’s up play in right so he also gets a pass for what was a bad game at the plate.
The Blue Jays and Red Sox play game 162 Sunday afternoon at 3:05 pm Eastern, the same time as all the other games in the major leagues. Aaron Sanchez starts for Toronto, with Boston countering with David Price, who will be on a pitch count or an innings limit. A win Sunday guarantees that the Blue Jays will host the Wild Card game.