Blue Jays ride baseball karma in wild win over Texas Rangers, advance to ALCS

By Neil Davidson


TORONTO _ Capping a deciding game filled with controversy, bad blood and just plain craziness, Jose Bautista’s three-run homer propelled the Blue Jays into the American League Championship Series as baseball karma delivered Toronto a wild 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.

Game 5 of the AL Division Series was filled with drama _ and almost as much talk as play on the field before a riled-up sellout crowd of 49,742 under the Rogers Centre roof.

When the dust settled, the Jays had rallied from a 2-0 hole to win three straight and advance to face either Kansas City or Houston, who met in a later start. It was Toronto’s first home playoff win since Joe Carter’s home run secured the 1993 World Series.

The Jays rushed the mound to celebrate when it was over, followed by police to monitor the crowd.

And baseball had a playoff game that will long be remembered, for the good and bad.

Tied 2-2, the contest was turned on its head in the top of the seventh.

With Rougned Odor on third and Shin Soo-Choo at the plate with two outs, Toronto catcher Russell Martin’s return throw back to the mound hit Choo’s bat and flew off into the distance.

Odor raced home while the Jays players held their arms up in disbelief. Home plate umpire Dale Scott, who had called time, then awarded Odor the base _ and the run _ after a confab. As beer and garbage flew out of the stands, there was more talk and a review.

The ruling was the play stood _ that Choo had not intentionally interfered so the ball was alive and in play. Martin was given a throwing error and the irate Jays, now trailing 3-2, filed their protest.

By chance, Martin was up to open the bottom of the seventh. And karma kicked in with three straight Texas errors _ one by first baseman Mitch Moreland and two by shortstop Elvis Andrus _ allowing Martin, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins to load the bases with none out.

The Rangers got pinch-runner Dalton Pompey out at home with the Rangers upset at the take-no-prisoners slide that took out catcher Chris Gimenez. Reliever Sam Dyson took over for Rangers ace Cole Hamels.

Josh Donaldson drove in Pillar on a field’s choice floater that just went over Odor’s glove to tied it at 3-3. Bautista then slammed a three-run homer to settle the score, pausing dramatically to savour his handiwork before flipping the bat and trotting round the bases.

Dyson took umbrage, jawing at Edwin Encarnacion, who was next up. The benches and bullpen emptied, although nothing came of it.

The benches emptied again after the inning finally ended. Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle, who was in uniform but not on the playoff roster, was the only player ejected after the scuffles.

Texas put two men on in the eighth but closer Roberto Osuna ended the threat before wrapping up the ninth.

The Jays are the 15th team in MLB history to force a Game 5 in a best-of-five series when down 0-2 and only the third to win after losing the first two games at home (the Yankees in 2001 and San Francisco Giants in 2012 also did it).

The tension had already been palpable from the get-go with the sellout, rally towel-waving crowd up and down like kids on a sugar high. On the field, anything debatable was reviewed, argued or at least discussed.

It was more like “The View” than Wednesday night baseball.

Choo homered for the Rangers, who also picked up single runs in the first and third.

Encarnacion hit a solo shot for the Jays, who answered with runs in the third and sixth

Toronto benefitted from some sparking fielding from Pillar, Goins and Donaldson.

The game was a rematch of Game 2 with 24-year-old Marcus Stroman going up against Hamels, the World Series MVP in 2008 with the Phillies. Neither figured in the decision that day, with the Rangers winning 6-4 in 14 innings.

As in the first meeting, both pitchers weathered some challenging innings and kept damage to a minimum before settling down.

A standing ovation preceded Stroman’s first pitch a 93 m.p.h. strike. But DeShields hammered a double to left field, advanced on Choo’s groundout and beat the throw to score on Prince Fielder’s fielder’s choice for an early 1-0 lead.

It was Fielder’s first RBI since Game 1 of the 2012 AL Championship Series. He had gone 84 consecutive at-bats without driving in a run in the playoffs. Only Bill Mueller (98 at-bats without an RBI from 1997-2004) had a longer playoff drought.

Stroman got out of a jam in the second, stranding men on first and second with one out thanks to a strikeout and Martin gunning down Andrus trying to steal third.

Hamels then played Houdini, recording three straight outs after putting on the first two men in the bottom of the second.

Choo’s solo homer to right field in the third made it 2-0.

Toronto answered right back with Bautista’s sharply hit two-out double driving home Ben Revere, who got on board via an infield hit that nicked Hamels’ glove. The Jays had two men on but failed to add to the score.

Stroman finally notched 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, thanks to a spectacular play in centre field by Pillar who made like Usain Bolt then Greg Louganis in snagging Josh Hamilton’s shallow fly ball. The dive left a skidmark on the artificial turf.

Stroman was equally sharp in the fifth, striking out Choo and Fielder. He got help in the sixth with a slick fielding play from second baseman Goins to end the inning.

Encarnacion tied it up with one swing in the bottom of the sixth, dropping the ball into the second deck in left field. The Rangers had treated Encarnacion with kid gloves in the series, walking him a Jays record three times in the first four games but he finally found a pitch to his liking.

Aaron Sanchez came in for Stroman to start the seventh. Stroman gave up two runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw 98 pitches, 68 for strikes.

Hamels gave up five runs _ only two earned _ on four hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. He threw 111 pitches, 72 for strikes.

Stroman has not lost since returning to action last month after spring training knee surgery, winning four of six starts. The five-foot-eight 180-pounder has a well-stocked arsenal that features a sinker, slider, curveball, changeup, cutter and four-seam fastball.

The Rangers had won Hamels’ last 11 starts, including Game 2 of this series. The 31-year-old Hamels, acquired from Philadelphia before the trade deadline, went 7-0 with a 3.16 ERA during those starts.

Once again, the roof was closed. While the call to have it open or closed during the playoffs comes from Major League Baseball, the Jays say opening the roof when the temperature is 15 degrees Celsius or below runs the risk of malfunction.

Toronto fell into a hole, losing the first two games at home 5-3 and 6-4 in 14 innings before rallying for 5-1 and 8-4 victories in Texas.

The game was played nearly 30 years to the day that the Jays played their last sudden-death game (Oct 16th, 1985, a loss to Kansas City).

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