Blue Jays 4 Athletics 1
TORONTO — In a Blue Jays season short on happy endings, unheralded pitcher Cesar Valdez authored his own feel-good story Tuesday night.
The 32-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic recorded his first major-league win in more than seven years as Toronto defeated the Oakland Athletics 4-1.
No wonder he called it a career highlight.
“I’ve played everywhere, I’ve been everywhere,” Valdez said through an interpreter. “I’ve been in the big leagues and the minor leagues. Coming off the mound today and having the fans screaming and congratulating me was something really nice.”
Valdez (1-0) exited to a standing ovation after yielding a double to open the seventh before an announced crowd of 40,624 with the Rogers Centre roof open on a pleasant night.
Valdez’s baseball journey has taken him from Arizona to Pittsburgh, Florida, Toronto, Houston, Oakland and Toronto again with a stop in the Mexican league and a year out of baseball along the way.
His only other win came in his major-league debut May 3, 2010, for Arizona over Houston.
Filling in for the injured Aaron Sanchez, Valdez gave up one run on five hits with four strikeouts and one walk in a surprisingly smooth 77-pitch outing featuring 51 strikes.
Valdez stole the spotlight from Oakland starter Sonny Gray, with scouts on hand eyeing the 27-year-old Athletics right-hander ahead of Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Gray (6-5) arrived having gone 4-1 with a 1.62 earned-run average and .155 opponents’ batting average in his last five starts.
Valdez took the mound with many wondering who he was. He likely had people looking him up after needing just four pitches to get back to the dugout despite yielding a single on his first delivery.
Gray was done in by four unearned runs in a second inning that saw eight Jays come to the plate. Troy Tulowitzki’s groundout, Ryan Goins’ two-RBI double and Jose Bautista’s double did the damage in a wobbly 32-pitch inning for Gray, who did not help his cause with a costly throwing error.
Oakland (44-56) pulled one back in the fourth on Khris Davis’ RBI double as it lost for the 10th time in its last 11 games in Toronto. It marked the 17th time this year the Athletics have been held to one run or less.
Toronto (46-54) won back-to-back home games for the first time since May 29-31 when they won a series over Cincinnati.
Both teams had six hits as Toronto won without hitting a homer for just the fifth time this season (5-23 in those games).
Valdez has spent most of his career in the minors, with 252 games, 193 starts and an 82-62 record. His major league account now stands at 18 games, four starts and a 2-2 record.
“He was terrific, he really was,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “We didn’t know what to expect. He pitched a couple of times within the last 4-5 days but yeah, we couldn’t ask for a better outing. Good for him. He’s been grinding it out over the years. Those things, you feel that much better about (with) a guy like that.
“He gave us a huge lift today, you know. Good for him.”
Valdez had previously made four relief appearances for the Jays following his acquisition via waivers from Oakland on May 5.
His only other start this season was a no-decision April 20 pitching for the Athletics.
He was followed Tuesday by relievers Joe Smith, Ryan Tepera and Roberto Osuna, who notched his 26th save in a ninth inning that ended with a splendid Josh Donaldson fielding play.
Gray settled down as the game wore on, combining strikeouts with ground-ball outs. He lasted six innings, giving up four unearned runs with nine strikeouts and two walks. Gray threw 103 pitches, including 63 strikes, before giving way to former Jay Liam Hendriks.
Hendriks survived a marathon 39-pitch seventh inning without damage despite giving up a pair of walks.
Both teams came into the game in their respective division basements having lost five of their last seven. Toronto won the series opener 4-2 Monday.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin was looking for his 1,000th major-league win. Instead he got loss No 1,011.
Gray had been money in the bank in the second inning this season, not allowing a single run with batters hitting .109 (5-four-46) in his 15 previous second innings. But that changed Tuesday with Toronto scoring four times on two singles, two doubles and Gray’s throwing error and wild pitch.
Bautista snapped an 0-for-17 hitless streak with his second-inning double and made a fine running catch in the seventh inning.
Valdez needed just 29 pitches while facing the minimum number of batters in his first three innings. Gray threw 67 over the same stretch.
“We’re not swinging the bats great right now but you can’t take away from the fact that he did pitch well,” said Melvin.
In a strange top of the first, Toronto rang up two double plays — with the first reduced to a single out upon review at first base.