Rain with the roof open, an enormous Wednesday night crowd, and the play-by-play voice of Dan Shulman offered an intriguing atmosphere as the Jays looked to sweep the reigning World Series Champs.
Bring out the brooms. Marcus Stroman's performance tonight will flat-out terrify the rest of the American League East. Stroman's dominant outing was needed in a tightly contested pitchers duel, and potential all-star Michael Saunders led the way with two runs and two RBIs. Blue Jays 4, Royals 2.
Toronto's offence failed to capitalize on a first inning threat. After Royals' starter Ian Kennedy wanted no part of Josh Donaldson, a single off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion put runners on first and second with just one out. Michael Saunders quickly struck out swinging on high fastball, before home plate umpire Chris Guccione rung up Russell Martin on a borderline pitch to end the inning.
Both of tonight's starting pitchers excelled during their first time through the lineup. Although Kennedy already boasted six strikeouts, it was Stroman who looked more impressive thanks to a plethora of easy groundouts. Marcus' success continued in the forth, as yet another three-up-three-down inning kept the game scoreless with Toronto's 3-4-5 hitters due up in the bottom half.
That's when the Jays struck first. On a quest to make the all-star team, Saunders got himself into a 3-1 count, before blasting Kennedy's offering over the right-field wall. Just another homer to add to his case in the final vote, this one giving Toronto an early 1-0 lead.
While Saunders enjoyed a day off from playing the field, the rest of the outfielders were given a half-a-day off courtesy of Stroman. The Royals finally hit a ball out of the infield with two-outs in the fifth, but the pop-fly wound up in Kevin Pillar's glove for an easy out. Not only was Stroman perfect through 5, he was incredibly efficient with just 44 pitches.
Toronto's offence got back to work in the bottom of the fifth, as Junior Lake lined a one-out double into the gap in left-centre. A two-out hit from Ezequiel Carrera quickly doubled Toronto's lead, as a hard hit single went right between Kennedy's legs and into centre field. 2-0 Blue Jays through five.
The Royals always seem to find a way to bundle up their offence in one inning, and put a crooked number on the scoreboard. Stroman lost his perfect game by surrendering a leadoff walk to Brett Eibner, and Alcides Escobar immediately followed up with a RBI triple. With no outs in the inning, the infield came in with the lead in jeopardy, but Stroman quickly retired Dyson on a groundout back to the mound. Up stepped Royals leadoff hitter Alex Gordon, who only managed to hit a soft broken-bat groundout right at second baseman Devon Travis. Tonight's huge crowd cheered on Stroman as Whitt Merrifield looked to tie things up with two outs, but a commanding three-pitch strike out kept the lead in tact through six. Marcus Stroman was clearly amped-up, and Toronto's 3-4-5 hitters were due up for a chance to extend the lead yet again.
Unfortunately, plenty of strikeouts kept the Blue Jays from doing any further damage against Ian Kennedy. The 6'0 righty finished his evening with ten strikeouts through six, yielding just four hits in the process. Stroman responded with a bounce-back 7th, but Royals' reliever Luke Hochevar responded with another three strikeouts in the bottom half.
Heading into the 8th with the 2-1 lead in tact, Stroman had thrown only 66 pitches. Leadoff hitter Paulo Orlando became an easy first out, but Marcus soon made his biggest mistake of the night. On a 1-1 pitch to designated hitter Brett Eibner, Stroman left a pitch right out over the heart of the plate, and the offering was promptly smacked over the left field wall to tie the game. Although the Royals went down quietly to end the inning, it was extremely disappointing to be tied after such a strong pitching performance.
All-star reliever Kelvin Herrera entered the tie game in the bottom of the 8th, making quick work of the first two batters he faced. Up stepped Encarnacion, who lined a double down the left field line to start a two-out rally. With a base open, the Royals chose to pitch to Michael Saunders, and "Captain Canada" made them pay. His single to centre gave the lead back to the Jays, and Russell Martin quickly followed by cashing him in with a double just fair down the right-field line.
The Rogers Centre was rocking, and Roberto Osuna entered the 9th with a 4-2 lead. A two-out single brought Salvador Perez to the plate as the tying run, but Osuna brought the brooms out with a game-ending strikeout.
Jays of the Day go to Saunders (.357) & Stroman (.194). Let's also give one to Osuna for preserving the win, and Encarnacion for a pair of hits.
Bring on the Tigers. Drew Hutchison takes on Justin Verlander tomorrow night in game one of a four game set. Let's finish the first half strong heading into the all-star break. Make sure to go out and vote for Michael Saunders in the final vote, as his performance tonight should do some serious convincing.