ANAHEIM – Was it only three games? Really? To the Blue Jays, it felt like Josh Donaldson had been missing for three lifetimes.
That’s how much this heart and soul leader means to his team.
Back in the lineup Thursday night to start a seven-game west-coast road trip, Donaldson imposed his will on this game, belting two doubles, walking twice, scoring twice and generally setting a tone for this 7-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
In the clubhouse Thursday afternoon the sense of relief was palpable when his name was posted on the lineup card. There had been a real sense of fear that the hip injury he suffered in Sunday’s game against Tampa could be something far more serious than this.
“We need him,” said manager John Gibbons.
They also needed a big game out of J.A. Happ and they got that and he was rewarded with his 19th victory of the season. The lefty worked six strong innings, allowing just two singles, before he was touched for a two-run home run by light-hitting Andrelton Simmons, signalling the end of his evening.
By that time Russell Martin had driven in four runs as part of the Jays’ 5-0 lead. He delivered a sacrifice fly in the two-run fourth inning, then blasted a three-run home run in the top of the sixth.
With the victory, Toronto stayed two games back of the Boston Red Sox in the race for the American League East title. The Jays are tied for second place with Baltimore. Toronto and Baltimore are also tied for the two wild card playoff spots.
In some ways, Donaldson had been missing for much longer than those three games. Prior to giving in to his hip injury, he was in the midst of his most miserable run as a Blue Jay, hitless in 23 at-bats, but that is now a memory.
After missing those three games, Donaldson made his presence felt immediately. He walked his first time up and then, leading off the third inning, he snapped that streak of futility (second-longest of his career) with a line drive double into the left-centre gap. Donaldson strolled over to third base when Encarnacion hit the first pitch into left field for a single, putting runners at first and third with nobody out for Bautista.
With the count 1-2, Bautista took what the pitcher gave him and drove the outside pitch into right field, scoring Donaldson. Encarnacion challenged the arm of Kole Calhoun in right and slid into third safely to put himself in position to score on Russell Martin’s sacrifice fly to deep left field.
Donaldson was back again leading off the sixth inning, setting the table for another rally with his second walk of the game. After Encarnacion struck out, Bautista walked, putting runners at first and second for Martin. He worked the count to 3-1, then dropped the hammer on a Jose Valdez fastball and sent it into the Blue Jays bullpen in left for his 19th homer of the year to give Toronto a five-run lead.
After Darwin Barney failed to make the play on Jefry Marte’s ground ball leading off the seventh, Simmons stepped up and hit his fourth home run of the year to cut the lead to 5-2.
Happ given up a single to Simmons in the second inning, but pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam with a pair of key strikeouts. He didn’t give up another hit until Albert Pujols singled to lead off the fourth.
Happ, with help from right fielder Bautista, also managed to keep leading MVP candidate Mike Trout hitless, a rare occurrence these days. Trout had to settle for a couple of walks, sending Bautista up against the wall to make the third out of the third and then again, with Jason Grilli pitching, to make the first out in the bottom of the eighth.
Devon Travis delivered a couple of important insurance runs, adding on to the lead in the ninth inning with a two-run single that also keeps his 12-game hit streak alive.
Ken Fidlin via Toronto Sun | Photo: Getty Images, niagarafallsreview.ca
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