CHICAGO-It was a combination gritty pitching performance by first-time Jays starter Chien-Ming Wang plus a clutch hitting performance by Jose Bautista, battling the White Sox talented closer Addison Reed, slamming a game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth, just staying fair.
“When I had two strikes, it was swing at a strike” Bautista explained. “I was lucky he hung me a slider. If you were to ask him I'm sure he'd tell you that's not the pitch he wanted. I was kind of glad because today, from (Reed), I wasn't really picking up the fastball. Yesterday, he was 91-92. Today he was a little harder. Coming out of his hand, across his body like that, I wasn't picking it up that great. It worked to my advantage that he chose that pitch and hung it.”
But the winning run for the Jays in a much-needed 7-5 victory scored in the top of the 10th much less dramatically. With catcher J.P. Arencibia at the plate, White Sox reliever Ramon Troncoso unleashed a wild pitch cashing Rajai Davis from third base. Davis had stolen second and advanced to third on an Adam Lind sacrifice fly. That run was followed by an insurance marker, an error at the plate by catcher Tyler Flowers dropping a tag on Maicer Izturis after a double by Mune Kawasaki.
“There were plenty of situations where a lot of different guys on the team came through tonight,” the real star, Bautista insisted. “What Wang did and he hung in there after giving up the five runs was unbelievable. Clutch pitching from (Brett) Cecil and (Casey) Janssen. Rajai got two big knocks, stole a base."
What Wang did was exceptional despite five runs allowed, keeping his team in the game.
“I’m very happy to be back and thank you to the Blue Jays for giving me the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues,” Wang said after finishing an interview in Chinese.
If Wang had not had Jays' offensive support this game would not have been at all memorable, but the fact that he pitched shutout baseball for six of eight innings is already unusual.
“He can still get guys out at this level and he showed that tonight,” Gibbons said. “Our team revolves around those guys, when they’re hitting and driving in runs, those guys are dangerous.”
An old adage states, there's no time like the present. But in the Blue Jays' universe, it's becoming more of a stark reality that the only time is the present in terms of pushing back towards .500. With 98 games remaining, the numbers are daunting, the percentages miniscule when it comes to insinuating a playoff berth for this highly paid, underachieving roster. The players are aware.
“There's still time,” injured shortstop Jose Reyes insisted as he packed his equipment for a rehabilitation trip to Florida. “But we need to turn it around, now, starting today. Our division is very tough. Even the other day, we win three games in a row and we don't gain any games. If we want to go where we need to go, we need to turn it around starting tonight. It's getting long. It's June already.”
It was not easy. For the second night in a row, the Jays took an early two-run lead, then lost it to a White Sox team that had been struggling over the past 10 days. With the freshly signed righthander Wang on the mound, the Jays were on the way to dropping a second straight game at U.S. Cellular Field, before the ninth and 10th inning fireworks and heroics.
The Jays took the early lead on some aggressive baserunning by veteran Mark DeRosa, scoring on a short passed ball by Flowers. Izturis drove in the second run with a single.
However after Adam Dunn had narrowed the gap with a solo homer in the second, the Sox exploded for four in the fourth inning vs. Wang. Dayan Viciedo tied it with a line drive single to centre and Conor Gillaspie followed with a three-run homer to right for the 5-2 lead. The Jays narrowed the deficit to a run in the fifth on a two-run homer by Encarnacion, his 18th of the season.
The Jays' starting rotation has been in disarray most of the season, beginning with abandoning Ricky Romero in minor-league camp then injuries to Josh Johnson, J.A. Happ and Brandon Morrow. They have filled in haphazardly and with little success. Just hours before the game, the Jays formally announced the signing of Wang, released from a minor-league contract with the Yankees.
Wang had not even met many of his new teammates as he got dressed just three hours before the game. But his 7-1/3 innings of work were marred mainly by the three-run homer in the fourth. Several balls were hit hard but the 33-year-old from Taiwan negotiated his way through and saved the bullpen that has now thrown 49 innings in the last 10 games. Now, with converted relieved Esmil Rogers starting on Wednesday, is this realistically a rotation that can win enough games to claw back?
“Hopefully they're the guys,” Gibbons said. “We know what Rogers is. He's been throwing pretty good. We don't know what (Wang) is, but we'll see. He's got a track record and he has a good chance to get back to the big leagues. We like him, enough to bring him in here and give him a shot. Hopefully that will stabilize us a little bit. Morrow, we don't know how long he's going to be out. He threw today and felt great I guess. But still, realistically you never know. So, yeah if we could somewhat stabilize it until he gets back and then we can see where we're at with those two.”
The fact is the Jays can no longer afford to be all about salvaging the final game of a series after losing the first two -- and feeling good about that. As such, Tuesday's middle game of the White Sox series was the key for the Jays, not just for this road trip, but perhaps for the entire season.
“We have to do it soon,” Gibbons said after re-joining the team from his son Troy's graduation in San Antonio. “You look back we were in position to win that game against Texas, that would have been big, and then it was back and forth (Monday). Those would have been a couple of big wins. Until you get to .500, you're, I won’t say (spitting) into the wind, but basically that’s what you’re doing.”
Arencibia, prior to the 10th, was up to bat three times with a runner on third and less than two out. He struck out all three times, walking in his other plate appearance, with nobody on base. He now has six walks and 75 strikeouts and may start losing playing time to the recently recalled Josh Thole.
“We’re playing to win, we’re going to throw out the best guys,” Gibbons said cryptically when asked about more playing time for Thole before the game.