Sports

Kepler's failed fielding puts Blue Jays over Twins

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

As the Minnesota Twins played Keystone Cops in right field during the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon at the Rogers Centre, Blue Jays’ Melvin Upton Jr., laid down the law on the basepaths.

The result was a dramatic 8-7 comeback victory for the Jays.

Showing that he still has speed to burn at age 32, Upton took advantage of a couple of misplays by Twins’ right-fielder Max Kepler. With the Jays trailing 7-6 in the eighth and Kevin Pillar on second base with a double, Upton reached out and stroked an opposite-field line drive off Minnesota reliever Ryan Pressly. Kepler raced in made a head-long dive for the sinking ball, but missed. As the ball came to a stop just short of the warning track, Kepler, who had gotten back up to chase it down, accidently kicked it away from centre fielder Eddie Rosario as Upton rounded third, scoring the go-ahead run without a throw.

The play was ruled a triple for Upton with an error by Kepler.

“First time ever,” said Upton, when asked if he had ever before come all the way around to score on a base hit that didn’t clear the outfield wall. “I saw (Kepler) dive initially, kind of knew it would be a triple once it got by him, but rounding second base I saw (third base coach) Luis (Rivera) waving me and I just kept going.”

The play capped an improbable win for the AL East-leading Jays who trailed 5-0 in the fourth and 7-3 in the seventh. But Toronto kept chipping away.

Other than Upton’s hit, the turning point of the game was the solid performance by Toronto reliever Jason Grilli who came in to face the Twins in the eighth with the Jays trailing 7-6. Grilli, whom the Jays acquired from Atlanta on May 31, gave up a leadoff single to DH Miguel Sano, but then shut the door on Minnesota, getting the next three batters, including a key two-out strikeout of Danny Santana. Grilli, as he often does, punctuated his ‘K’ with a scream and fist pump, firing up his teammates for the comeback in the bottom half of the inning.

“I love it,” said Jays’ starter Marcus Stroman of Grilli’s antics on the mound. “I’m an emotional guy myself and to see him out there having authentic emotion ... he’s been unbelievable for us since he’s been here. He’s been pretty much shutout. I think that added energy that he brings to the team kind of picks guys up and gives us an added energy boost when we need it.

“We all love it,” manager John Gibbons added. “He’s a passionate guy, he’s an emotional guy and I know everybody got revved up. He does energize guys. It helps.”

Grilli picked up his fifth win of the season with his appearance while closer Roberto Osuna, who pitched a perfect ninth, recorded his 29th save of the year.

For Stroman, it was a frustrating outing. The young right-hander gave up nine hits and five earned runs over six innings before being pulled for Bo Schultz to start the seventh. Most of Minnesota’s hits were ground balls that found holes in the infield.

“I’m good with that,” said Stroman, when asked about his performance. “Though it’s extremely frustrating while you’re out there because you’re doing everything in your power to keep your team in the game.”

Pressly, who took over from starter Ervin Santana with two out in the seventh, took the loss for the AL cellar-dwelling Twins.

Stroman’s downfall was allowing the leadoff runner to reach base in four of the six innings he pitched. The Twins jumped ahead 5-0 after the top half of the fourth but the Jays scored a run in the bottom of the fourth, two in the sixth, three in the seventh and two in the eighth courtesy of Upton’s heroics — a comeback, Gibbons said, that was reminiscent of last season.

“It was a much-needed win,” said the manager.

“I think they’re all going to be this way from here on out,” added Grilli of the emotion-filled game. “We’ve got to stay in the fight. Leading up to a pretty big road trip (with series in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and New York starting Monday) this is where we’ve got to get stuff going. A win like that can start some good momentum for us.”

Edwin Encarnacion crushed his 36th home run in the sixth inning, recording his 14th three-plus RBI game of the season. He also had a single and a walk.

Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier went 3-for-5, his two-run double in the fourth giving him 78 RBIs on the season, a career high. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit a seventh-inning homer off Schultz.

The Jays have now won seven of their past nine series and the win marked the second time in the past 10 games they have overcome a deficit of at least five runs for the win.

THOLE OKAY WITH THIRD-STRING STATUS

Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole fully understands the reasons why the club traded for another catcher, Dioner Navarro, on Friday — even if it means his immediate future with the club is now up in the air.

“Navy’s one of my favourite guys,” said Thole. “He’s been a big help to me. He was a big part of this team last year and he’ll fit right in. But he’s helped me out a lot. In 2014, when I was backing him up, he was a big asset to me.”

Navarro spent two seasons with the Jays before signing as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox in the off-season. The Jays made the move to bring him back as Russell Martin’s main backup for the offensive upgrade from Thole. Navarro is not having the greatest year (.210 with six home runs in 85 games) but Thole has struggled even more (.164, 1 HR, 7 RBIs) as R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher.Navarro is expected to be activated on Monday.

As for Thole’s status with the club, it’s still up in the air. He is out of options and the Jays would have to designate him for assignment. If he goes unclaimed, they would likely keep him to catch Dickey for the rest of the season. The Jays will likely carry three catchers in September. Thole, who played Saturday for Martin (who was given a day of rest and recovery), is taking the Navarro acquisition in stride.

“It’s part of being a backup catcher. If you cause problems as a backup catcher, you’re out,” he said. “I come in here, go about my business, do my work, have fun, try to be loose with everybody ... that’s part of who I am.”

Thole’s bat has come to life recently with six RBIs over his past 12 games. He had a double and single in the 8-7 win over Minnesota on Saturday.