TORONTO -- The Blue Jays desperately needed somebody, anybody, in their starting lineup to step forward and wake the sleeping giant that is their offense. In the third inning of Game 4, Josh Donaldson decided it would be him.With one swing of the bat, Donaldson gave Toronto something the club
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays desperately needed somebody, anybody, in their starting lineup to step forward and wake the sleeping giant that is their offense. In the third inning of Game 4, Josh Donaldson decided it would be him.
With one swing of the bat, Donaldson gave Toronto something the club did not have through the first 29 innings of this American League Championship Series: A lead. The solo shot to left-center might have only counted as one run, but it meant so much more to the Blue Jays in their 5-1 victory over the Indians on Tuesday. The monkey was finally off Toronto's back.
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If there was any doubt about how much that one homer meant to the players inside the Blue Jays' dugout, all one had to do was watch Donaldson's reaction when it went over the wall. As he rounded first base, Donaldson pumped both of his fists and started screaming "Let's go!" over and over again. Toronto found its spark.
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"I feel like I have the capability to help my team win," Donaldson said. "There's a lot of guys in that clubhouse that also have a capability. But there was no way -- if we were to lose today -- there was no way that I was going to leave this series and not feel like I had an impact.
"With that being said, I've got to go out and do it again tomorrow. It's not just one game. It's not just yesterday or tomorrow, it's for the rest of the time that we have here, and I want to come to the yard."
Donaldson's impact wasn't limited to the offensive side of the field, either. In the top of the fifth inning, Cleveland had cut the lead to 2-1, and the Tribe had a runner on second base with two outs. Aaron Sanchez induced a ground ball to the left side of the infield, which under normal circumstances would have been a routine play to short.
The problem was that the Blue Jays had been using a shift to the right side of the field. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was only a couple of steps away from second base, but that didn't matter, because Donaldson -- the third baseman -- ranged far to his left and made a diving stab. According to Statcast™, Donaldson took his first step within 0.17 seconds, made the exchange to his throwing hand in 1.8 seconds and then fired a 78.8-mph strike to first to record the out.
It wouldn't be winning Jays baseball without a little bit of flair added at the end. There hasn't been much to celebrate this series, but after Donaldson stopped the tying run from scoring, he let out another loud scream before hopping a few times, pumping his fist and heading to the dugout.
"We say we feed off the fans' energy, but we feed off each other, too," Toronto reliever Brett Cecil said. "He hit the homer, and you could tell that he was pumped. He made that play, and you could obviously see that he was pumped again. It trickles down into other players. Same as fans getting into the game. It trickles down and pumps us up."
Donaldson's productive day came just hours after the Blue Jays held a closed-door meeting prior to Game 4. With the team facing elimination, the message was pretty simple: Leave everything on the field. Don't come away from this experience with any regrets, because nobody knows for sure when, or if, another opportunity will come around.
Even after that meeting, Toronto didn't appear to be playing like a team with nothing to lose. Indians ace Corey Kluber did his part to silence the Blue Jays' bats the first time through the order, and the sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre almost seemed resigned to the fact that the offense was going to continue to struggle.
Donaldson put an end to that when he crushed a hanging curveball from Kluber and sent it a projected 402 feet, per Statcast™. It gave Toronto hope, it gave the home fans something to cheer, and most importantly it helped to extend the season by at least one more day. Nobody is ready to go home just yet.
"Josh is a very emotional guy," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's vocal. He's a lot like [Jose] Bautista -- he's going to say what's on his mind, good and bad. But that's really his personality. He's a fun-loving guy before a game starts, but when a game starts, he flips that switch and he's all business. Really, I've never seen anybody like that, because he is so very intense. But guys thrive off of that, they expect that out of him."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.