Blue Jays survive sloppy slugfest against Rockies

DENVER – As the Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies reported for work Tuesday afternoon, a part of Lower Downtown Denver five blocks from Coors Field was secured by police because of an active shooter in the area. One woman was injured, and the gunman was later found dead after apparently shooting himself. Security on the park was on alert. Hours later, with order restored, a powerful storm pounded the city and delayed the start of play by two hours 41 minutes. The area between the Rockies clubhouse and dugout flooded. Big piles of hail had to be swept off the tarp and shoveled off the grass by the grounds crew.

So it was already an extraordinary day in LoDo well before Eddie Butler delivered the first pitch at 9:21 p.m. MT, starting a three-hour 51-minute slugfest won 14-9 by the Blue Jays. Up until Brandon Barnes made the final out at 1:12 a.m. locally, 3:12 a.m. back in Toronto, this mess of a ballgame offered the full Coors experience – balls flying all over the place, two-way attrition and no lead, no matter how big, felt safe.

“I don’t know how you play 81 games here, if you want to know the truth. It’s not easy. I don’t know how the pitching staff holds up when you’re the home team because it’s a totally different game than you’re used to, that’s for sure,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “I’m proud of the guys, they stayed focused, it was a good effort tonight. It wasn’t an easy game, it was back and forth, we fell behind, we did a lot of good things. That’s one of those games you just try to survive.”

There were only three three-up, three-down innings the whole game, and the pitchers for both teams managed to put up only seven zeroes on the scoreboard. The Blue Jays set a season high in runs at 14 and hits with 18. There were five errors, four by the Rockies, and 379 pitches. While a good chunk of the 33,917 paid attendance was there for the first pitch, only a tiny fraction remained to the end, with the yells of yahoos echoing through the seats. There were a few U-S-A chants, obviously.

The Blue Jays won for the first time in eight tries at Denver – the home team had won each of the first 16 interleague meetings between the clubs – in what devolved into a game of baseball survival.

“That’s really what it was,” said J.A. Happ, who allowed five runs on nine hits and a walk in five unsteady innings. “I threw (103) pitches in five, it felt like 500 in five, just battling, trying to find some consistency, trying to get ahead of guys. I felt like I was getting ahead and then I wasn’t making my pitch. That’s where I got hurt.”

On this night there was no damage the Blue Jays offence couldn’t undo. A six-run fourth highlighted by Troy Tulowitzki’s solo shot and Josh Donaldson’s three-run triple put them ahead for good at 7-4, although getting to the finish line was no simple task.

An RBI double by Ezequiel Carrera in the fifth, Russell Martin’s RBI single and Kevin Pillar’s two-run double in the sixth and a Michael Saunders sacrifice fly in the seventh opened up a 12-5 lead that suggested a smooth finish. But nah, not at Coors Field.

“Every once in a while it gets a little crazy out there, the game was never out of hand, really, even when we had a lead,” said Tulowitzki. “It felt like, OK, these guys get some guys on base, they’re definitely capable. It was one of those games.”

Nolan Arenado opened the bottom of the seventh against Joe Biagini with a double and Carlos Gonzalez promptly cashed him in with a single – his fifth RBI of the night. Two outs later, Nick Hundley hit a grounder to short that Tulowitzki fielded and relayed perfectly to first, only for Encarnacion to drop the throw, allowing another run to score. Two walks later, the bases were loaded and Charlie Blackmon delivered a two-run single off Jason Grilli that made it 12-9. Grilli bounced back to strike out Tony Wolters to end the frame, but things were suddenly too close for comfort.

A Devon Travis run-scoring single – his third hit and second RBI – provided some extra breathing room and Grilli struck out both batters he faced in the bottom half before Roberto Osuna whiffed D.J. LeMahieu to end the frame.

A Wolters error on Darwin Barney’s comebacker in the ninth allowed Encarnacion to score and make it 14-9 and Osuna then closed things out.

“We used the big part of the field, it gave us some runners in scoring position, guys really never gave up even though it was a long game,” said Tulowtizki. “Guys stayed there and it was a good win.”

The Blue Jays had little time to savour it, as an afternoon game loomed with first pitch Wednesday 12 hours after this one ended. Aaron Sanchez takes on Tyler Anderson in the rubber match, both teams relieved they’re playing one rather than two.

“I’ve never seen hail like that, I’ve seen hail, but in that amount,” said Gibbons. “I can’t believe the field was in that good of shape after all that. Now you’re glad it’s over.”

Shi Davidi Sportsnet

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Dusty Fields

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