TORONTO -- You'll remember Josh Donaldson's hustle, scoring from second base on a grounder to shortstop, helping to secure the Toronto Blue Jays' spot in the American League Championship Series. History may not remember how important the hustle of Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin on the same play was in
TORONTO -- You'll remember Josh Donaldson's hustle, scoring from second base on a grounder to shortstop, helping to secure the Toronto Blue Jays' spot in the American League Championship Series. History may not remember how important the hustle of Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin on the same play was in making Donaldson's play possible, but we should. Without them, Donaldson doesn't score that run.
Donaldson's heads-up baserunning play -- darting for home plate and safely sliding headfirst after second baseman Rougned Odor's errant throw to first on an attempt for an inning-ending double play -- gave the Blue Jays a walk-off 7-6 win in the 10th inning on Sunday night to complete a three-game AL Division Series sweep over the Texas Rangers. Game 1 of the ALCS against the Indians will be Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The ALCS will be broadcast on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS (French) in Canada.
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"It was great," said Encarnacion, whose hard slide into second base helped prevent Odor from making a strong throw. "You see Josh Donaldson, MVP player, to play the game the way he does. That's the reason why we win games."
He's not wrong, though perhaps Encarnacion should give himself a bit more credit in the hustle department. He made it from first to second in 3.55 seconds, which, according to Statcast™, beat his previous best (3.81) on a forceout or double-play ball this season. That wasn't quick enough to beat Elvis Andrus' feed to second base, but that hustle didn't go unrewarded, because he was right on top of Odor by the time the Texas second baseman released the ball.
Odor's throw was short and wide, and first baseman Mitch Moreland could not catch it cleanly, leaving a window for Donaldson to dash home when it bounced away. (It can be clearly seen on video that Donaldson had stopped at third and only bolted home when Moreland bobbled the throw.) Odor's throw traveled just 79.7 feet of the 90 it needed to as it bounced and then pulled Moreland off the first-base bag. The accuracy was far more the issue than the velocity, because at 74 mph, it was slightly above Odor's 72 mph average on throws to first during double play attempts.
"I threw a little bit to the side," said Odor, who hit a big two-run homer for Texas in the fourth. "I pulled the ball a little bit, but I tried to do my best there. That's it."
At the time Odor unleashed his throw, Martin was 61.7 feet down the first-base line, or just about two-thirds of the way from home to first, making it fully understandable that Odor tried to complete the double play with a catcher running. Martin's hustle didn't go unnoticed either, as he got down the first-base line in 4.60 seconds, which was his sixth-fastest home-to-first time of the nearly 250 non-bunt situations tracked for him this year.
The win stunned a Rangers team that entered the postseason with the best record in the AL, and it allowed Toronto to advance to the ALCS for the second consecutive year. The way in which they lost particularly stood out, since Texas had turned more double plays than anyone in baseball this year, and Toronto had grounded into the most double plays of any team in 2016.
Donaldson got things started in the 10th with a leadoff double off Rangers reliever Matt Bush, who had pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth. After Encarnacion drew a walk, Bush struck out José Bautista to bring up catcher Russell Martin.
For Donaldson, who played against Moreland in college and had a lot of respect for the infielder's arm, it was the opening he needed.
"For me, the deciding factor was once I saw the ball get away from him, I felt like I had to take a chance," Donaldson said. "And that situation in the game, if he ends up throwing me out, making a great play, you kind of have to tip your cap to him. But I'm banking on the fact that I'm going to make it more times than not, and it ended up working out for us tonight."
That kind of instinct, the aggressiveness Donaldson has been hailed for, showed up in a huge moment for the Blue Jays. The third baseman, who dealt with a right hip issue down the stretch, declined to elaborate on his physical status much after the series win.
Donaldson's dash home topped out at 19.5 mph, according to Statcast™, which was faster than any speed he clocked in during the last two weeks of the regular season, after he missed three games from Sept. 12-14 with his sore hip.
"He did a great job reading the ball and he just took off," Toronto third-base coach Luis Rivera said of Donaldson, who topped out at 19.6 mph on his double to open the inning. "When you have that many people screaming, there's no way I can say, 'Go, go, go.' Or stay. I was just pointing to the bag saying, 'Watch the throw, watch the throw.' Then he watched the throw and scored. That was all him. I had nothing on that one."
Teammates immediately swarmed Donaldson at home plate. But moments later, the celebration was put on hold as the Rangers challenged if Encarnacion's slide on Odor was legal.
"It was like a double celebration," Martin said of the stop-and-go nature of the Blue Jays' celebration as they waited out the review. "No, we didn't win yet. Oh, yeah, we did, yeah."
For the Rangers, the challenges were a last-ditch effort to prolong the game and their season.
"The last play, [we] got the play we wanted, a double-play ball. Good feed to Odor. Just looked like he might have pulled the throw a little bit," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Mitch reached down to try to keep it in play, got away from him a little bit, and [he] was unable to recover and make a throw to home plate. And a heads-up play by Donaldson, who continued to run and he was safe.
"I could tell that Donaldson was safe at the plate, but I was a little blocked out at the play at second base and couldn't tell if there was any interference there at all. But wanted to make sure there was none. And hey, if there is, we're still playing."
While the Rangers were waiting, the Blue Jays -- many of whom hadn't been watching Encarnacion's slide -- were in a state of limbo. Donaldson got flashbacks to several times earlier this year, including once against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field, when Toronto was hurt by interference calls.
"I looked at Eddie, I said, 'Please tell me you had a good slide,'" Donaldson said of the play at second. " ... But fortunately, it was good. Eddie had a good slide right there. And we were able to win the game."
"That game-ending play, that's not a normal big league-type of ending to a game," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You see it occasionally, because good baserunning is involved, guys busting it ... you put pressure on guys. But that's kind of rare. But a lot of times when things are going your way, that's the kind of things that happens."
Brittany Ghiroli has worked for MLB.com since 2010. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.