AL Wild Card: BAL vs. TOR — Extra innings walk-off homer
Okay, so far, batting .000 here at Yankees Life for the postseason. But to be fair, I kind of struggled with my choice for the AL Wild Card prediction because both the Orioles and Blue Jays are fairly even matched. And this was certainly proved correct tonight where they were pretty even in every aspect — hitting, pitching, base-running, defense, relievers, and bench players.
In fact, while some people were quipping this a “pitchers’ duel”, I couldn’t find myself supporting that moniker as it wasn’t about the pitchers for either team, as they relied rather heavily on their defense, which seemed well-versed in the other team’s nearly predictable play. Maybe this is the problem with having division rivals face off for these kinds of games, as they’ve faced each other quite a bit and are used to each other’s tactics.
Anyway, the Baltimore starter Tillman got less out of the game than Toronto’s Stroman, only going into the 5th inning, while the Blue Jays starter threw 6 complete innings. Both managed to give up 4 hits and 2 runs in the process (evenly matched). In the bottom of the 2nd inning, the Blue Jays were the first to get on the board with a 1st pitch solo home run by one of their star hitters Bautista. It was a no-doubter right off the bat as it powered its way to the upper levels of the left field seats, and the nearly 50,000 blue-clad fans at Rogers Centre went crazy.
The Orioles did what they do and came back in the top of the 4th to one up that. Jones led off the inning with a single, and then 2 outs later, Trumbo hit a 2-run home run, also to left field to give the Orioles a slight lead. But the Blue Jays didn’t let that sit long. In the 5th, a 1-out ground-rule double moved to 3rd on a double and then scored on an RBI single. The Orioles, feeling a bit threatened with just 1 out and runners on the corners, took their starter out and in one pitch got the next batter to ground into a double play to end the threat. (Defense.)
And then the bullpens battled it out. And the tied game continued. The O’s cycled through 6 relievers for the rest of the night, while the Jays needed 5, and neither team was willing to go quietly into the night, though it felt like they might as they went into extra innings.
In the bottom of the 11th, the Baltimore specialist reliever Duensing came on to strike out his batter, and then it got messy. The new reliever Jiminez threw just 5 pitches that changed the entire landscape of the game (much to the enjoyment of the Queen City sold-out crowd). The third pitch in an at-bat to Travis became an easy single. The next batter Donaldson turned the first pitch he saw into a single that put runners on the corners. And even a brief visit from the pitching coach could change what happened next. First pitch to the next batter Encarnacion became a 3-run walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays the Wild Card spot.
Final score: 5-2 Blue Jays over Orioles in 11 innings.
Now, even if there hadn’t been a Wild Card play-off game, the Blue Jays and Orioles would still need to have had a tie-breaker game for the Wild Card spot because they finished the season tied. So basically, this game was inevitable. And of the two teams, the Blue Jays are certainly known for their dramatics (can anyone say “bat flip controversy”?), so I guess it really makes sense. If they won it more traditionally, I think I’d almost be disappointed in them.
Toronto’s fans and players have a tendency to bring the stereotypical exuberance of a hockey game to their baseball game, including things like trash-talking and showmanship. I don’t mind either in context, but I do mind when the trash-talking gets mean or at worst racist (as it did tonight when some fans hurled insults at black and Asian Baltimore outfielders, including actually throwing a full can of beer at them). And I do mind when showmanship becomes arrogant and like an 8-year-old taunting a kid on the playground. But you can be excited and cheer and even jeer without lowering yourself to levels beneath you. And that is class and keeps the game clean and fun for everyone.
So, tomorrow is the NL Wild Card one-off game. And the Mets and Giants were really tight too and would’ve needed their own tie-breaker game. It was just this kind of season for most of the league. Okay, and I really hate that everyone keeps talking about how these Wild Card games are “winner take all” games. No, it’s not. That implies the winner of the game wins everything, and they don’t. They just get the chance to face the best team in their respective leagues. It’s a one-off game. And in this season, it’s much more of tie-breaker than it is anything else.
Not that I’m bitter about losing my prediction (or postseason bracket already) or that the Yankees aren’t in it at all…