TORONTO — Toronto slugger Jose Bautista slammed his bat to the ground in frustration when he blew a chance to drive in the tying run in the fifth inning on Tuesday night.
He made sure he got the job done when given another chance two innings later.
Bautista hit a three-run double off Chicago reliever Neil Ramirez to give the Blue Jays the lead and they went on to clobber the Cubs 9-2 for their third straight victory.
“He’s got the knack of doing something big when it counts or when you need something,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “He’s on a nice little roll right now.”
The 17,903 fans at Rogers Centre rose to their feet when Bautista worked a full count on Ramirez with two outs and the bases loaded. He lashed a ball into the left-field corner and the Blue Jays were on their way to their eighth win in 10 games.
“At that point he was basically cornered,” Bautista said. “He had to make a decision whether to challenge me or try to go with an off-speed pitch. I just placed my bet that he was going to challenge me.
“He did throw a fastball in the zone and I was able to connect.”
Bautista, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games, drove in four runs and starter Mark Buehrle (12-9) worked seven innings for the victory. Kevin Pillar and Edwin Encarnacion had three hits apiece for the Blue Jays, who turned the game into a rout with a five-run eighth inning.
Toronto outhit Chicago 14-11 and will go for the three-game sweep on Wednesday night.
It was a rather uneven performance from Buehrle, who allowed two earned runs and 10 hits but managed to avoid giving up a big inning.
“He’s a survivor,” Gibbons said. “He knows how to survive out there. He exploited them a little bit when they started free-swinging on him. That was the key — he was a little bit off but yet he kept it to a one-run game, a two-run game there.
“It was a big win for him.”
Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris each worked an inning of relief for the Blue Jays, who entered play five games behind Seattle in the race for the final wild-card spot in the American League.
The Cubs, who have dropped five games in a row, left 11 runners on base.
“We just have to play better baseball,” said Chicago manager Rick Renteria. “That’s probably the worst game we’ve played all year.”
Chicago (64-81) had some chances early on but couldn’t put an extended rally together. Javier Baez doubled in the first inning, stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jorge Soler.
The Cubs loaded the bases in the second inning after Buehrle gave up three singles. The veteran left-hander got out of the jam when Chris Coghlan grounded out.
Buehrle kept putting runners on but the defence did a nice job bailing him out. Welington Castillo led off the fourth with a single before Mike Olt and Arismendy Alcantara hit back-to-back line drives that were speared by third baseman Danny Valencia.
Chris Valaika moved Castillo to second base with another single but Matt Szczur popped up to Buehrle to end the threat.
The Cubs put runners on again in the fifth and this time cashed in a run. Baez singled and cleanup hitter Luis Valbuena was hit by a pitch. Castillo drove in Baez with a two-out single before Olt struck out.
The Blue Jays tried a more aggressive style against Chicago starter Jake Arrieta in the bottom half of the frame.
Pillar led off with a single but was thrown out trying to steal. Ryan Goins then drove a ball into left-centre field and hustled into second base just ahead of Coghlan’s throw.
Anthony Gose tried to bunt with two strikes but fouled a pitch for the second out. Goins moved to third base on a wild pitch and scored when Jose Reyes hit a flare that dropped in shallow centre field.
Arrieta was wide with a pickoff attempt and the ball rolled into foul territory, allowing Reyes to scamper all the way to third. He was left stranded when Bautista flew out.
The Cubs stranded two more runners in the sixth inning after Szczur and Coghlan reached on back-to-back two-out singles. Pitching coach Pete Walker came out to the mound and Buehrle responded after the chat by freezing Baez with a fastball for the strikeout.
“I thought Buehrle was a little bit off early on,” Gibbons said. “But he gutted it out and made some big pitches when he had to.”
Pillar stroked a one-out single in the seventh to knock Arrieta out of the game. Ramirez (2-2) came on in relief and gave up a single to pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus and a walk to pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki.
Ramirez fanned Reyes before giving up the key hit to Bautista, who picked up his 26th double of the season.
The Blue Jays piled on in the eighth against right-hander Brian Schlitter. Lind led off with a triple and was replaced by pinch-runner Steve Tolleson, who scored on a Dioner Navarro single.
Navarro moved to third on a Valencia double and Rasmus was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs. Kawasaki hit a two-run single to help put the game out of reach.
Arrieta allowed seven hits, two earned runs and a walk while striking out five. Buehrle had three strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter.