TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays have used their big bats to power their way to victories over their nine-game winning streak.
On Wednesday night, they showed that stellar defence and a little small ball can get the job done too.
With pinch-runner Kevin Pillar aboard after Dioner Navarro opened the bottom of the ninth with a single, Anthony Gose dropped down an excellent bunt along the first-base line. Reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo threw wide to first and Pillar came all the way around to score to give the Blue Jays a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay and their first walk-off win of the season.
“It’s not every day you’re going to come out and score 10 runs,” said Toronto infielder Steve Tolleson. “Sometimes you have to fight tooth and nail to win. The guys today really showed that and that’s why we pulled through.”
Toronto opened the series with a 10-5 win and followed with a 9-6 victory a night later.
On Wednesday, in what was likely the Blue Jays’ finest defensive effort of the year, Toronto stifled Tampa Bay all over the diamond.
After both teams scored a pair of early runs, Gose made an all-world catch against the centre-field wall in the third inning to keep the game tied.
In the sixth, Melky Cabrera offered a highlight-reel moment of his own with a great leaping grab against the wall in left field. Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., and Edwin Encarnacion got into the act too later in the frame.
James Loney hit a hard chopper that the Canadian sprawled to retrieve in shallow right field.
Encarnacion dived to snag the throw to first and managed to keep his foot on the bag for the out.
In the eighth, it was Toronto third baseman Juan Francisco’s turn.
He made a great diving snag off the bat of leadoff hitter David DeJesus and an inning later, Lawrie was at it again by barehanding a slow chopper on the fly and whipping it to first base in time.
“It was just one of those days that we just refused to lose,” Tolleson said.
On the winning play, Pillar broke for third when he saw the ball roll down the left-field line and third-base coach Luis Rivera made a gutsy decision to send him home with nobody out.
“I wanted to score,” Pillar said. “When I saw the ball go by, I mean Luis is aggressive over there. I mean worst-case scenario, Gose is probably standing at third base with one out. He made a good call there.”
The speedy Gose has been showing consistency with his bunting ability this season and it paid off.
“I got it down tonight,” he said. “I just tried to move the runner and good things happened.”
Toronto starter Liam Hendriks and Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer both gave up two earned runs over six innings. Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen came on for the seventh and Matt Joyce greeted him with a ground-rule double.
Toronto manager John Gibbons quickly went to the bullpen for Dustin McGowan, who gave up just one walk over two scoreless innings. Aaron Loup (2-1) worked the ninth as Toronto (32-22) completed the three-game sweep.
Encarnacion, who has tied a club record with 14 homers this month, drove in a pair of runs with a first-inning single. Jose Reyes opened the game with a single and moved to third on a single by Jose Bautista before Encarnacion cashed them in.
The Rays tied it in the second inning. Joyce doubled and scored when Wil Myers followed with a two-run shot, his fifth homer of the season.
Tampa Bay (23-31) entered the series on a four-game winning streak. The three straight losses have sent the Rays into the division basement.
“It’s been pretty much how the season has gone to this point, but we’re going to change it,” said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. “All these weird awkward breaks, we’re just not catching them.”
Toronto, meanwhile, has won 14 of its last 16 games and 19 of 24 overall. It’s the Blue Jays’ longest winning streak since an 11-gamer last June.
“I think that’s a pretty exciting win I think all around for the team,” Gose said. “Three straight sweeps and a sweep of another A.L. East opponent in the Rays, who we’ve had trouble with over the last couple years. It was a huge win.”