TORONTO -- Welcome back, Billy McKinney.
On a night highlighted by the home offence, the spotlight landed squarely on “Billy Ballgame” -- a player who hadn’t had an at-bat in the Majors since May 23 when he came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning on Thursday
TORONTO -- Welcome back, Billy McKinney.
On a night highlighted by the home offence, the spotlight landed squarely on “Billy Ballgame” -- a player who hadn’t had an at-bat in the Majors since May 23 when he came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning on Thursday night. Two pitches later, McKinney hit the first walkoff homer of his career to finish the series against the Angels with a 7-5 win at Rogers Centre.
Toronto starter Clayton Richard definitely enjoyed it. “How cool was that? Billy Ballgame, who got called up not too long ago, he hasn’t [had] an at-bat before today and then to come through like that, that’s big-time,” Richard said. “That’s exciting.”
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McKinney was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday after being optioned to the Bisons on May 24 because of his early-season struggles. There, he worked on having more patience and a better eye at the plate, along with not getting too pull-happy. On Thursday, it seemed as though his work paid off.
“It feels great, definitely,” McKinney said. “I went down to Buffalo and I needed to work on some things, but being back here is nice and I’m just grateful for the opportunity. It was a big team win, and I was really excited for the team.”
Entering the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth, McKinney’s big blow came in his only plate appearance of the night.
Eric Sogard and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. led the charge early for the Blue Jays, each coming within a triple of hitting for the cycle before the fifth inning had ended. Sogard’s three hits in the series finale against the Angels continued a run of success for the infielder against the visitors. In 57 career games against the Halos, Sogard has hit .301 (52-for-173) with two homers, nine doubles and 18 RBIs.
“His approach at the plate has been outstanding,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He’s seeing the ball really well, that’s why his at-bats are outstanding. … He’s been really good in the clubhouse and on the field. He’s been really good to us.”
The 33-year-old utility man extended his team lead in games with multiple hits (20) on Thursday, which was his seventh such effort over his last nine contests. In the month of June, Sogard has hit .379 (22-for-58) with three home runs, four doubles, a triple and six RBIs. He added two walks on Thursday, reaching base in all five of his plate appearances.
Gurriel continued the success he’s found since being recalled from Triple-A Buffalo on May 24 with his trio of knocks on Thursday. In the 25 games since his return, the 25-year-old left fielder is hitting .326 (30-for-92) with nine homers, six doubles, one triple and 18 RBIs.
McKinney joined Gurriel and Teoscar Hernández -- who also homered on Thursday -- as Blue Jays who have made a resurgence after a stint in the Minors this year.
“It’s funny,” Montoyo said. “So far, the three guys that we’ve sent down, when they’ve come back they’re doing well. So, a lot of credit [goes] to our coaches in the Minor Leagues, [Buffalo manager] Bobby Meacham and the hitting coaches and everyone down there, because they’ve done a great job with these kids. … They all look a lot more comfortable on their way back.”
Richard made his sixth start of the year for Toronto, after beginning his season on the injured list with a right knee stress reaction. Against the Angels, he finished five innings -- matching his season high -- allowing four runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
“It was a baby step in the right direction,” Richard said. “I was able to get ahead on more hitters today, throw the ball over the plate a little bit more consistently, and Luke [Maile] did a great job behind the plate and the defence came through when it needed to.”
The 35-year-old left-hander left the game in a position to win, though he ended up with a no-decision. Richard has yet to earn his first win as a member of the Blue Jays, but he was excited about the team’s victory and the success of his returning teammate.
“A walk-off’s good for anybody,” Richard said. “but to do it after not having an at-bat in a while, and after being called back up ... we all understand how this game can be at times, and almost everybody’s been through the up-and-down situation, and we understand what he’s going through.
“To have a situation where he’s able to do what he did tonight, it’s very special. It sets the tone and gives us a little bit of momentum going on the flight.”
The win snapped a streak of seven straight losses at home for the Blue Jays, who now head out on the road for a week to face the division rival Red Sox and Yankees before returning to play Kansas City at Rogers Centre next Friday.
Alexis Brudnicki is a Canada-based Baseball Development and Special Projects reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.