Bill Baer

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates after sliding safely into home plate in the tenth inning for the Toronto Blue Jays to defeat the Texas Rangers 7-6 for game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Video: Josh Donaldson never stops running, scores ALDS-clinching run for the Blue Jays


Josh Donaldson‘s heads-up base running in the bottom of the 10th inning sealed the deal for the Blue Jays, helping his club walk off 7-6 winners in Game 3 of the ALDS and wrapping up a 3-0 series sweep. The Jays will face the winner of the Red Sox/Indians ALCS series.

Donaldson reached base after leading off the bottom of the 10th with a double off of Matt Bush. Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked to bring up Jose Bautista. Bautista struck out, but Martin was able to put the ball in play, which opened up the opportunity for the Rangers to make a mistake. They did. Martin hit what should’ve been a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning, but second baseman Rougned Odor pulled first baseman Mitch Moreland off the bag with a wide throw. Donaldson never stopped running and Moreland couldn’t beat him to the plate with his throw.

Blue Jays’ ability to grind at-bats crucial to ALDS sweep over the Rangers

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays is swarmed by teammates after the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Texas Rangers 7-6 in ten innings during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

During the regular season, no team saw more pitches per plate appearance than the Blue Jays at 4.03. The major league average was 3.87. Over a full season, about 6,200 plate appearances, the difference between the Blue Jays and the league average amounts to nearly 1,000 pitches. As a result, not only did the Blue Jays lead the American League in walks (632) and rank third in on-base percentage, (.330), the Jays’ pitch selection helped them blast the third-most homers (221).

Blue Jays batters’ ability to grind at-bats was crucial to their 3-0 series sweep over the Rangers in the ALDS. Let’s start with Game 1.

Against starter Cole Hamels, who ended up lasting only 4 1/3 innings, Jays batters saw six or more pitches in an at-bat four times, raising Hamels’ total pitch count to 82 before he departed. Those four plate appearances resulted in a walk, a strikeout, an RBI single, and a three-run triple. They weren’t able to work the count much against Alex Claudio, who relieved Hamels, so the lefty wound up working 3 2/3 scoreless innings as a result. But Jose Bautista‘s three-run homer against lefty reliever Jake Diekman in the ninth that put the game away? That was the result of a six-pitch at-bat.

Let’s go to Game 2. Bautista worked a six-pitch at-bat against starter Yu Darvish that ultimately yielded a leadoff walk. He’d score shortly thereafter on a Troy Tulowitzki home run. Darvish would only last five innings, throwing a total of 84. That’s an average of 17 pitches per inning. Not exactly efficient. Darvish threw 23 pitches in the fateful fifth inning that bolstered the Jays’ lead from 2-1 to 5-1.

In Game 3, Ezequiel Carrera led things off by working a single on the sixth pitch he saw against starter Colby Lewis. Carrera would end up scoring and the Jays would force 23 pitches out of Lewis in the first frame. In the third, Carrera took five more pitches from Lewis and worked another single. Josh Donaldson followed up with a ground-rule double, chasing Lewis and forcing manager Jeff Banister to bring in reliever Tony Barnette. Edwin Encarnacion saw five pitches with the fifth pitch resulting in an RBI single.

Let’s flash forward to the bottom of the 10th inning, with the Jays and Rangers tied up at six apiece. Matt Bush was still on the mound for his third inning of relief. Donaldson ripped a double to right-center on the second pitch. Bush then intentionally walked Encarnacion to set up a double play. Bautista stepped to the plate and fell behind 1-2. In a 1-2 count against a pitcher who throws in the high 90’s like Bush does, it would be hard to fault a hitter for cheating by starting his swing early. Bautista, though, did not, taking two consecutive balls to work the count full. He’d ultimately strike out on the sixth pitch, Bush’s 34th of his stint. Bush threw 30-plus pitches only twice during the regular season: 33 against the Astros on August 7, and 31 against the Mariners on August 30.

Martin, in what would become the final at-bat of the game, saw eight pitches from Bush. Like Bautista, he fell behind 1-2, then took two fastballs to work the count full. He fouled off two more fastballs before putting the eighth pitch in play. It should have been an inning-ending double play, but Rougned Odor made a throw wide of first base, allowing Donaldson to score on a heads-up base running play.

Let’s count it up: Jays batters saw 156 pitches in Game 1, 130 in Game 2, and 151 in Game 3. That’s a lot of pitches! Beyond extending an at-bat, allowing more opportunities for the pitcher to make a mistake, racking up the opposing starters pitch count can force him out of the game early. As a result, more strain is placed on the bullpen. Racking up the relievers’ pitch counts can mean they’re unavailable the next day or at the very least can’t be used for very long.

While the Blue Jays’ offense isn’t as good as it was last year, they still may be among the most frustrating for opposing teams to face. If you’re going to get them out, you’re going to break a sweat doing it. The Indians or Red Sox can’t be thrilled at the prospect of having to face them in the ALCS.

Blue Jays walk off 7-6 winners in the 10th inning, sweep Rangers to advance to the ALCS

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays scores off of an RBI single hit by Edwin Encarnacion #10 (not pictured) against the Texas Rangers in the third inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Blue Jays did not need to turn around an entire series to skip past the Rangers to advance to the ALCS this time. The Jays took a 2-0 series lead with a 10-1 victory in Game 1 and a 5-3 victory in Game 2. In Game 3, they fought tooth and nail with the Rangers before walking off 7-6 winners on an exciting final play in the bottom of the 10th inning.

The Rangers took their first lead of the ALDS in the top of the first inning when Carlos Beltran drove in Carlos Gomez with a ground out, but it was short lived. The Blue Jays responded with three runs in the bottom half as Edwin Encarnacion blasted a two-run home run — his first at-bat at the Rogers Centre since his memorable walk-off AL Wild Card game homer against the Orioles — and Russell Martin hit a solo homer of his own to make it a 3-1 ballgame after one.

Elvis Andrus drilled a solo homer to cut the Rangers’ deficit in half in the top of the third inning to 3-2. But once again, the Jays immediately responded in the bottom half. Josh Donaldson dropped a ground-rule double down the right field line to plate Ezequiel Carrera, and Encarnacion brought Donaldson home with a single to center.

The Rangers continued to claw back in the fourth. With Adrian Beltre on first base and one out, Rougned Odor slapped a line drive homer out to center field, making it a 5-4 ballgame. In the sixth, the Rangers finally regained the lead with a two-out rally. Odor walked and Jonathan Lucroy singled, forcing starter Aaron Sanchez out of the game. Reliever Joe Biagini came in but served up a two-run double to Mitch Moreland.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Jays did not let the Rangers hold the lead for long. Facing Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Troy Tulowitzki hit a one-out single. Manager Jeff Banister brought in lefty Jake Diekman, so Jays manager John Gibbons countered by pinch-hitting Melvin Upton, Jr. for Michael Saunders. The chess game paid off for Gibbons, as Upton hit a double to left field, putting runners on second and third with one out. Diekman intentionally walked Kevin Pillar to load the bases before departing. Keone Kela came in and got Darwin Barney to pop up to third baseman Adrian Beltre, seeming to open up some light at the end of the tunnel, but Kela would uncork a wild pitch while facing Carrera, allowing Tulowitzki to score the tying run, putting the game at a 6-6 deadlock.

From there, it was a battle of the bullpens. For the Jays, Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil, and Roberto Osuna combined for three scoreless innings.  Keone Kela tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings while Matt Bush tossed a pair of scoreless frames himself. Bush came back out for the 10th inning and immediately found himself in hot water. Donaldson laced a double to right-center, forcing Bush to walk Encarnacion to set up a potential double play or at least a force at three bases. That brought up Jose Bautista, who Bush was able to strike out. Martin stepped to the plate and battled against Bush. After going from down 1-2 to a full count, Martin fouled off two pitches, then put a 98 MPH fastball in play, appearing to be an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Shortstop Andrus fed to second baseman Odor, who made a throw wide of first base, pulling Moreland off the bag. Donaldson never stopped running, rounding third base and motoring towards home. Moreland regained his balance but Donaldson dove into home plate in plenty of time.

Banister had the umpires review the play for possible interference, but none was found, officially making the Blue Jays ALDS winners, sweeping the Rangers in three games. The Blue Jays will await the winner of the Red Sox/Indians ALDS series, which the Indians currently lead two games to none. The ALCS will begin this Friday. The Blue Jays are back in the ALCS for the second consecutive season. They lost last year in six games to the Royals, the eventual World Series champions.