TORONTO — Devon Travis wasn’t going to give in. The plucky little Toronto Blue Jays second baseman was standing at the plate with two on, one out, and a full count in the bottom of the 12th inning against San Diego Padres reliever Carlos Villanueva, fouling off pitch after pitch, each one raising the tension a notch higher than the last.
He fouled off four-seamers up; he fouled off sliders down; he fouled off change-ups outside. At one point, Travis took a fastball down and in deep down the left field line where it bent ever so slightly past the yellow screen and, of course, foul. Finally, mercifully, on the 14th pitch of the at-bat Villanueva bounced one in the dirt and Travis took first base as 45,515 fans stood on their feet and cheered. Travis didn’t know it yet, but moments later he’d be flying into home plate to win the game.
“I can’t imagine I’ve ever had an at-bat longer than that,” Travis said. “By the time you get that deep in the at-bat, you’ve seen all his pitches. There’s not a certain pitch you’re looking for anymore. You just have to get down there and battle. That’s the biggest thing. Foul off the tough pitches, and if he makes a mistake, try to take advantage of it.”
It goes down as a walk in the box score, but Travis’ at-bat was crucial as it loaded the bases for Jose Bautista, who walked as well to bring a run in and Josh Donaldson to the plate. Donaldson worked a full count against Paul Clemens before skipping a two-seamer to second base where the Padres could only make one out as the Blue Jays tied the game.
Edwin Encarnacion was next, and when Clemens bounced a curveball to the Blue Jays slugger that skidded away from Padres catcher Derek Norris, Travis took off, diving headfirst into home on the wild pitch to give the Blue Jays a hard-fought, walk-off victory, 7-6.
“That’s as good as it gets, that Travis at-bat,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It was a crazy game. But a big, big win for us late after falling behind. We’re proud of the guys and the way they came back. They kept gutting it out and competing. That’s all you ask for.”
Well before any of that, San Diego starter Andrew Cashner took the mound knowing he was very likely making his final start for the Padres, as the hard-throwing right-hander has been at the centre of the MLB rumour mill for weeks.
And he certainly didn’t help his stock early on, as Bautista drew a walk to lead off the game before Donaldson crushed a 94-mph two-seamer over the wall in centre field for an early two-run lead. The very next batter, Encarnacion, drove a ball so hard to the left-centre field wall that he was held to a single. Through the first three batters, it looked like the Blue Jays were in store for a very loud evening.
But Cashner settled in, getting key double plays and called third strikes when he needed them to limit the damage and work around multiple lead-off walks. Justin Smoak hit a rocket 409-feet to centre field in the fifth for a third run, but the Blue Jays weren’t able to get to him for any more.
Marcus Stroman started for the Blue Jays and, with the exception of a mistake curveball in the sixth, pitched quite well. He was crisp and efficient through five innings, allowing only a run in the second when Yangervis Solarte led off with a single and came around to score on a Ryan Schimpf double. Otherwise, Stroman quieted the Padres with a flurry of groundballs and the occasional strikeout, needing just 61 pitches to get through his first five frames.
“I felt great; I felt strong,” Stroman said. “I felt like I could throw the ball where I wanted to. Russ and I got on a pretty good roll.”
But he allowed a lead-off single to Travis Jankowski in the sixth, and another to Matt Kemp a batter later to put two runners on. Stroman got within an out of escaping the jam, but that’s when Alex Dickerson crushed an 81-mph curveball 435-feet to right-centre to give the Padres a one-run lead.
Stroman pitched into the seventh, but was lifted after a two-out walk and a hard double by Jankowski put two runners in scoring position. Joe Biagini came on to induce a weak groundout from Wil Myers to end the threat.
“Dickerson’s really swinging it right now. He’s an impressive looking kid,” Gibbons said. “But if you take that away, I thought it was a really good outing for Marcus.”
The Blue Jays tied the game in the bottom of that seventh inning against Padres reliever Brad Hand without ever hitting a ball out of the infield. From there, the game wore on into extras, where the Blue Jays were in rough shape with several relievers unavailable to pitch.
So, when Jesse Chavez entered the game in the top of the 10th inning, you knew he was going to be asked to get a lot of Padres out. And for a while he did, as he retired the first eight batters he faced with little issue.
But then Myers sent a rocket to right field for a two-out double in the 12th. And Kemp delivered behind him, driving a 92-mph fastball over the wall in left for a two-run shot, putting the Padres up 6-4.
But that only set the stage for Travis’ dramatics in the bottom half of the inning. As he stood in against Villanueva, fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch, you could feel an energy building through the ballpark—one that erupted as Travis flew into home on the walk-off wild pitch.
“That was unbelievable,” Stroman said. “Especially coming from one of our younger guys. To go up in that atmosphere, in that moment, and to be able to grind out an AB like that, and then almost hit a homer and come back and take the next pitch, that shows you the composure that Devon has. It’s incredible.”
Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet.ca | Photo: Sportsnet.ca
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