TORONTO — Colby Rasmus tried to forget everything that happened early Sunday afternoon.
An 0 for 3 start to the day didn’t help the Toronto Blue Jays much, especially when he popped out in a big spot in the seventh inning. But when the Houston Astros chose to again intentionally walk Edwin Encarnacion to get to Rasmus in the ninth, the centre fielder came through with the game-winning single to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 walk-off win.
“It set up the way they want it to, in their favour, with a base open able to walk Eddie,” manager John Gibbons said. “And then Colby stepped up.”
It was shaping to be a day for ruing missed opportunities. The Blue Jays left 12 runners on base and had plenty of chances to take the lead. Three times they had a runner in scoring position and failed to bring him home.
“All those guys we left on base, we had opportunities,” Gibbons said. “We couldn’t capitalize.”
The seventh inning offered an excellent opportunity, after Melky Cabrera got on with a ground-rule double. After designated hitter Jose Bautista struck out and was ejected, the Astros intentionally walked Encarnacion to get to Rasmus, who popped out to end the inning.
That was on Rasmus’ mind when he stepped up with Emilio Bonifacio on second base as the potential winning run. He was looking fastball all the way against Houston reliever Jose Cisnero.
“The at-bat before that was a tough one,” Rasmus said. “They walk Edwin in front of me, and some things didn’t go my way. It wasn’t the easiest at-bat, but the last at-bat I went up there telling myself I’m looking for a cookie and I’m not swinging at nothing else until I have to.”
Sitting in the home clubhouse at Rogers Centre, starter Todd Redmond said all Rasmus needed was a “little base hit.” On a 3-2 pitch, the 26-year-old got a ground ball through the infield, and the speedy Bonifacio had no trouble rounding third and scoring.
It was a nice way for Rasmus to end the week after misplaying a ball in the outfield Wednesday that led to the Blue Jays’ seventh straight loss. But Rasmus, who’s hitting .272 after his game-winning single, said this is definitely the most comfortable he has felt at the plate during his career.
“I just try to focus on ways to get things off my mind and off my chest and let some things go that bother me and just come back the next day as a fresh day and go out there and battle and try to keep my legs under me,” he said. “I just try to know that my talent will take over if I get my rest, and my body is prepared to go.”
Just like Rasmus didn’t want to overthink a crucial at-bat, Redmond didn’t want to put too much pressure on himself in just his fourth start of the season. The 28-year-old allowed just three hits — one being a solo home run by former Blue Jays prospect Brett Wallace — in six strong innings.
“I got brought up to keep the team in ballgames, and so far that’s what I’m doing: Give the team a chance to win,” Redmond said.
“I just come up here and try to keep guys in the game,” Redmond added.
Redmond finished with a career-best 10 strikeouts in his longest outing of the season. He said the key was getting ahead on hitters and locating his fastball.
“Redmond did another great job, he really did,” Gibbons said. “He competes, he gets big outs. Strikeouts are valuable — he can get those.”
Big hits are valuable, too, especially on a day that runs were hard to come by. Bonifacio managed to get one to lead off the ninth with a double.
“It was a huge hit to get that inning started,” Gibbons said. “We’ve said all along: When he uses the middle of the field and doesn’t pull off the ball, is not a dead-hook guy, he can hit.”
The majority of the lineup struggled to hit Sunday, starting 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. But because Redmond and Toronto’s bullpen held up, Rasmus had the chance to be the hero.
“The way the game went, you didn’t expect it to be a close game late like that, but we got the big hit late,” Gibbons said.