Blue Jays win ninth in row on Davis' walk-off
Kawasaki's first career homer in seventh sets stage for victory
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays began the season in such a way that it seemed like nothing could go right. Now, it seems as though nothing could go wrong.
That obviously won't always be the case, but Toronto will enjoy the moment for however long it lasts. The club extended its winning streak to nine games on Friday night, but it wouldn't have happened without some unlikely late-inning heroics.
Rajai Davis hit a walk-off single in the ninth inning, but it was the light-hitting Munenori Kawasaki who turned the tide in the seventh with an improbable two-run homer to help lead the Blue Jays to a 7-6 victory over the Orioles.
"I would say that it's no surprise, but that home run was a surprise," Blue Jays right-hander R.A. Dickey said with a laugh. "The legend grows. The Kawasaki legend grows, and rightly so."
Kawasaki has become somewhat of a cult figure in Toronto. His statistics certainly won't blow anyone away, but he has been embraced by the city because of a colorful personality and the way he goes about his daily routine. The popularity was taken up another notch after Kawasaki played such a vital role in extending Toronto's longest winning streak since 2008.
Toronto appeared on its way to a loss after falling behind 6-4 in the seventh. The winning ways were in serious jeopardy of coming to an end until all of that changed with one swing of the bat and the source couldn't have been a bigger surprise.
Kawasaki worked the count to 1-1 before he lifted a pitch from right-hander Tommy Hunter and sent it just over the wall in right field. It was the first home run of Kawasaki's career, but not the first time he played the role of hero vs. the Orioles.
The native of Japan hit a walk-off double against Baltimore closer Jim Johnson earlier in the year, and found a way to come through again on Friday night.
"I didn't expect to hit the home run at the time," Kawasaki said. "Like a dream. I was dreaming. [In] my head is just nothing."
Kawasaki's moment in the sun comes amidst a lot of uncertainty regarding his future in Toronto. Injured shortstop Jose Reyes continues to make progress in his rehab -- he went 1-for-4 and played all nine innings on Friday night in his first game for Triple-A Buffalo -- and could conceivably return to the Blue Jays by Monday, if not sooner.
When Reyes does eventually rejoin his teammates, Kawasaki could find himself without a job. Unless the Blue Jays decide to drop an extra reliever, it seems probable that Kawasaki will find himself back in the Minor Leagues.
Instead of allowing that to become a distraction, Kawasaki has remained focused on the task at hand. Just like the Blue Jays' lengthy winning streak, he'll enjoy all of this for as long as possible.
"My style has not changed since I was a kid," Kawasaki said through an interpreter. "I just enjoy playing baseball ... I can say that Jose Reyes is the No. 1 shortstop in the world."
Even after Kawasaki's homer, there was still plenty of work to be done, and the Blue Jays ensured this game wouldn't get away by rallying in the ninth. Maicer Izturis began the frame with a leadoff single and advanced to second on a bunt by catcher Josh Thole.
Baltimore then opted to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa. That set the table again for Kawasaki, who was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd of 35,472. But this time it wasn't meant to be as he grounded out to second, but he did move the runners up to second and third.
Davis then followed with a liner over the head of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. Izturis easily scored as the Blue Jays won for the 13th time in their past 16 games. The club now finds itself at .500 for the first time since July 30, 2012, and continues to climb out of its early-season hole.
"You got to give credit though to Kawasaki," said Davis, who also had a walk-off single vs. the Rangers on June 8. "He had some big hits with men on base. My hit doesn't even happen without those big hits."
The majority of the credit for Toronto's recent hot streak belongs to the pitching staff, but it was the hitters that got the job done against Baltimore.
Adam Lind continued his hot streak with a two-run shot in the first, while Edwin Encarnacion added a solo homer in the sixth. Both of those home runs came off Orioles starter Jason Hammel, who was charged with four runs on four hits while striking out seven over six innings.
That helped offset a rough night for Dickey, who allowed a three-run homer to Chris Davis in the sixth and was charged with six runs on seven hits over six-plus innings of work. It marked the first time in eight games that the Blue Jays had allowed more than two earned runs.
"They are hot right now," said the Orioles' Davis. "They have been playing good baseball and this was a game that we wanted to have to open up the series and maybe break their stride a little bit, but they battled all the way to the end and were able to come through."