It would be pure hyperbole to say that Kendrys Morales saved the Blue Jays season. After all, the season is still not 10% over and at 2-9 the Blue Jays are still in deep hole. But, boy, did the Jays ever need that pickup that Morales provided with his walkoff homer in after the Jays coughed up a 1-0 lead in the top of the 9th.
Roberto Osuna came into the game trying to lock down his 1st save as the Jays clung to a 1-0 lead they scratched out in the bottom of the 7th. Ahead of Welington Castillo 1-2, he was unable to finish him off with a slider that was tapped back off Osuna, for a leadoff infield single. Pinch runner Craig Gentry stole second, and Osuna was once again unable to finish off a 2 strike count, as Hyun Soo Kim hit a deep fly ball to left field allowing Gentry to tag up to 3rd base. He then scored two pitches later on a sac fly by Jonathan Schoop.
That was the extent of the damage, but it was a hugely deflating blow given the offensive struggles and the prospect of going toe to toe in extras with the Oriole bullpen. Happily, Morales obviated that prospect by destroying a first pitch curveball from Tyler Wilson to right-centre to give the Jays their first win in over a week, and first one run win of the year.
Those mate inning dramatics overshadowed a great start from Marco Estrada, who went seven shutout innings to hold the Orioles at bay and keep the Jays in the game while the bats flailed. In the early going, he was a little up and down, working around a total of five baserunners, all of whom reached with one or fewer out in the inning. In the 1st, Estrada gave up a hard leadoff double to the gap and a one out walk; in the 2nd a one out single; in the 3rd back-to-back single and walk with one out. But all three times, he got the last two batters in relatively easy fashion.
After that, Estrada found his stride in the middle innings. Between Machado's walk in the 3rd and a double by Schoop with one out in the 7th, the only blemish was hit by pitch leading off the 5th as Estrada set down 12 of 13 batters with five strikeouts and no hard contact allowed. It was vintage Estrada, leaning heavily on his changeup to keep batters off his fastball jumping bumping 90, and he had his curveball working too.
The 7th inning was Estrada's last, and he buckled but did not break. After the double, a wild pitch advanced Schoop to third but he struck out Ryan Flaherty to remove the possibility of a sac fly. But crossing 100 pitches, Estrada struggled to find the strike zone, with Joe Biagini ready in the pen. He walked Seth Smith, but John Gibbons stuck with his veteran righty, and was rewarded when Adam Jones popped out to Troy Tulowitzki in shallow left field. I just hope Gibby's reasoning wasn't motivated by giving him a chance at picking up the win.
Meanwhile, Alec Asher had completely shutdown the Blue Jays lineup through six innings, scattering three baserunners with the best chance to score being in the first inning when they put two on with two out. But the Orioles perhaps pushed their luck a little too far, as Asher hit Bautista leading off the 7th, advancing to second when Tulo poked a ball through the middle with one out.
That was the end of Asher, as the Orioles went to the pen. Justin Smoak crushed a ball to deep centre, which Adam Jones tracked down relatively easily but that Bautista misread and almost got doubled off. Beyond the fact that would have ended the inning, he could have easily tagged and perhaps Tulo could have done likewise behind him. Regardless, Darwin Barney fought off a changeup and dumped a soft liner to CF, scoring Bautista on a close play at the plate to give the Jays the lead.
Biagini came in and had a very easy inning. He yielded a leadoff infield single on a ball that was hit too softly, but quickly erased him by inducing a routine double play. He got out of a inning on the next pitch with another routine grounder, on a total of six pitches.
Which brings me to the one quibble I had. Yes, Osuna is Osuna, but Biagini has proven very good himself, and was completely rolling with a very low pitch count. Setting aside the outcome of Osuna allowing the run (it happens, it's not like he got shelled), in my view you stick with Biagini, especially given that you know he was sharp. The logic was compounded when Osuna did allow the run, since if the game went to extras you're down your best two relievers. And Biagini is a guy who could easily go two innings, maybe even three. Alas, fortuitously Morales freed the Jays of the potential consequences of this.
Blue Jays win!
Super Jay of the Day: Estrada (+0.450 WPA)
Jays of the Day: Morales (+0.277), Barney (+0.206), Biagini (+0.123)
Suckage: Osuna (-0.193), Smoak (-0.125), Saltalamacchia (-0.064, 0/3, 3K). Bit of a tough judgement on Osuna, but that's the way of the world for closers and he failed to finish off a couple of batters that lead to the damage.
Tomorrow the Jays will look to split the series with J.A. Happ facing off against Dylan Bundy at 1:07 EDT.