Blue Jays hang on for tight win in Cleveland
'Pen makes it interesting, but Encarnacion's go-ahead single holds
CLEVELAND -- There was a sense of deja-vu for the Blue Jays bullpen during the ninth inning of Friday night's game, but instead of following the same script as before, Sergio Santos was able to write a new ending.
Less than 24 hours after Toronto's bullpen completely collapsed against Minnesota by walking a franchise-record eight batters in one inning, the relievers were once again put to the test. The group of Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Neil Wagner and Santos were called upon to throw 3 2/3 innings, and after an impressive start, another disaster appeared imminent.
Santos walked the bases loaded for the second consecutive night, but this time he got Michael Brantley to ground out with the winning run on second and preserve a much-needed 3-2 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.
"I didn't think about that once," Santos said in reference to the painful memories from a night before. "The second we left Minnesota that stuff was left there. New day, new stadium, new team, new opportunity ... that's all I was looking for."
Prior to Friday night's game, Santos was talking openly about how much he wanted to get back on the mound following the debacle vs. the Twins. During that game, Santos walked all three batters he faced and threw three wild pitches as the Blue Jays let one slip away.
Delabar also walked two while J.A. Happ had three walks of his own in that inning, but Santos felt the bulk of the blame as he was charged with the blown save and the loss. He was looking for redemption, and he didn't have to wait long for his opportunity.
Santos entered in the ninth as the Blue Jays were clinging to a 3-2 lead. The inning got off to an ominous start as he surrendered a leadoff double to the warning track in left field by designated hitter Lonnie Chisenhall. Sanity was restored when Santos struck out the next two batters he faced, but just when it appeared as though the Blue Jays were out of trouble, they were sucked right back in.
First there was a walk to Jason Kipnis to put runners on first and second. Then there was another walk, this time to third baseman Carlos Santana. It was another "here we go again" moment as the 16,335 fans in attendance rose to their feet in anticipation of what was to come.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons then decided to make a rather unorthodox move. Instead of sending out pitching coach Pete Walker to talk with Santos, he decided to make that visit himself. Gibbons came out and delivered a short -- but pointed -- message to his closer before jogging back into the dugout.
Santos then got Brantley to hit one on the ground to first base. The ball was well struck, but Edwin Encarnacion made a nice play to block the ball and step on the bag for the final out.
"When Gibby came out, he basically said, 'Look, we have complete confidence in you to get out of this,'" Santos said after picking up his fifth save in six opportunities. "To have your manager come out in that situation is big. It was big for me and just gave me that much more confidence to get out of there."
Melky Cabrera led the way on offense for the Blue Jays as he tied a career high with four hits. He has at least one hit in all but one of the Blue Jays' 17 games, and continues to be one of the biggest surprises around baseball during the month of April.
It was Cabrera's fourth hit of the night that helped spark a comeback in the seventh inning. The Blue Jays were trailing, 2-1, with one on and one out when Cabrera stepped to the plate and hit a sharp single to right field. Munenori Kawasaki then followed with a seeing-eye single up the middle as Ryan Goins came around to score and tie the game at 1.
Two batters later, Encarnacion finally came through with a single to left field. It marked the fourth time that Encarnacion came to the plate with at least one runner on base, but in the previous three opportunities he struck out twice and hit a weak grounder to second base. Encarnacion still has just five RBIs and four extra-base hits on the year as he continues to search for ways to end his slow start to the season.
"Eddie's due to heat up," Gibbons said. "He's starting to get some hits and he'll be back to driving in runs, hitting some home runs sooner than we think. We definitely need him, we need him to have a big year and he will."
Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison cruised through his first five innings of the game and tied a career high with nine strikeouts. He appeared to hit a wall in the sixth, though, as he allowed a leadoff single to Kipnis and then surrendered a two-run homer to Santana, who hit his first of the year and snapped an 0-for-11 skid at the plate.
Hutchison then allowed a triple off the wall in left-center field to Asdrubal Cabrera before he was pulled from the game. Delabar entered and got out of the tough situation by inducing a weak fly ball off the bat of Yan Gomes, then striking out Chisenhall to end the threat. The lefty Cecil, right-hander Wagner and Santos then finished off the Indians with three scoreless innings. But it wasn't easy.
"You should have seen us in here, we were like, 'Come on man, come on Serge, you've got this,'" Delabar said. "We're right there every pitch, even in the bullpen we're throwing the pitches with the guy that's out there. We're pretty thick as far as it goes with the bullpen. We're on every pitch like everybody else is."