By in sports on Aug 12, 2017 |
Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons Pre-Game
Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons Post-Game
Blue Jays Outfielder Jose Bautista Post-Game
Blue Jays Pitcher Marcus Stroman Post-Game

For the first since 2011 the Pittsburgh Pirates (57-58) set sail to the city of Toronto to take on the Blue Jays (54-60).  Friday night's battle was the start of a three game series over the weekend at the Rogers Centre and marked the 13th game in MLB history between the two ballclubs.  Over the previous four series, the teams had split their games 6-6, with Pittsburgh taking two of three games at PNC Park in the last regular season encounter back in 2014.  For the Pirates it’s not their first time playing Toronto or even being in Canada in 2017, as they played the Blue Jays twice in preseason action in Montreal in spring.  The always energetic 26-year old Marcus Stroman (10-5 3.17ERA over 145IP) got the start for the AL East squad, having pitched against Pirates already on one occasion, as a rookie making his MLB debut in relief on May 4th, 2014 giving up one run in 2/3 of an inning of work.  Opposing him on the hill for the away team was 25-year old Jameson Taillon (6-5 4.60ERA over 86IP) whose mother was born in Toronto.  In fact, with both parents hailing from north of the border Taillon played for Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, throwing 4 innings against Team USA in his one start.  Oddly enough exactly one year prior (August 11th, 2016) Taillon threw 8 scoreless innings in his 10th career start, beating the San Diego Padres 4-0.  Coming in just 3-games back of the NL Central division leading Chicago Cubs, the Pirates were without their skipper Clint Hurdle on their bench as he away attending Don Baylor's funeral, a first basemen who spent 19 years in the MLB.  Bench Coach Tom Prince would take over the managerial role in his 34th year in professional baseball until Hurdle's return expected Sunday.  Despite being 7-8 in 2017 interleague play, Pittsburgh came into Toronto hot, winners of 4 of their last 5 games including coming off a big series win over the Tigers in Detroit.  The Blue Jays on the other hand weren’t doing too bad themselves, winners of 7-3 in their last 10 home games and playing their second series of three during a 10-day, 10-game home stand.  

Despite it being 20 degrees outside down by Lake Ontario, with rain in the forecast the dome was closed at 7:08 when Marcus Stroman delivered the first pitch of the ballgame to Pirates leftfielder Adam Frazier.  The right hander from Medford, New York would take all of 4 minutes and 14 pitches to induce 3 groundouts from the Pittsburgh hitters for a quick start to the game.  Taillon had never played Toronto before, but came in with a 1-0 record with a 1.29ERA in two career interleague starts.  He would only need 13 pitches to sit down the Blue Jays batters 1-2-3, including getting Jose Bautista to strikeout looking to start his night. 

It is safe to say it has been a bizarre year for Canada’s boys of summer who's made it to the ALCS the last two years in a row and the trend continued before the 2nd inning could start.  As first baseman Josh Bell approached the batter's box, former Pirate catcher Russell Martin appeared to be in discomfort after catching Stroman's warmup.  Manager John Gibbons would have to come out with training staff and pull his starting catcher from the game as the Canadian would be replaced by Raffy Lopez behind the plate who was just called up from Buffalo August 4th.  As Martin left with what was said to be a left oblique strain, Lopez entered the game already the 6th catcher used this season by the Blue Jays.  New catcher, same result, as Marcus threw just 12 pitches to get another 3 outs in a row, including a strikeout on third baseman David Freese.  Toronto threatened to open up the scoring in the bottom of the 2nd with a leadoff Justin Smoak single, followed by a Steve Pearce walk.  After a deep fly out to the leftfield warning track by Ezequiel Carrera which looked like a homerun off the bat, Ryan Goins would single to load the bases for Kevin Pillar with 1 out.  ‘Superman’ would cash in his 27th RBI of the season via a sacrifice-fly that scored Smoak to make it 1-0 early for the home side.  The next batter second baseman Rob Refsnyder, who was batting at the bottom of the order would strikeout swinging on a full-count pitch by Taillon to end the inning. 

Down 1-0 with 1 out in top of the 3rd inning, the Pirates bats would wake up and retaliate.  Starting with John Jaso on 1-2 pitch getting rewarded first base as he was hit with a pitch that skipped inside according to the home plate umpire.  Toronto challenged the play and it appeared as if the pitch missed Jaso's legs on the big screen, however the call would be upheld after review.  Catcher Francisco Cervelli followed by grounding into what looked like a  tailor made double play until Refsnyder botched the throw to Goins, allowing Jaso to advance to third base.  Adam Frazier batting for the second time on the evening, had an extra-base hit robbed down the third base line by Josh Donaldson.  What could of been another double play started by the all-star third baseman was disrupted by a late throw to first by the man acquired from the Yankees in Refsnyder.  Compounding the situation, this was after he forgot to touch second base which the Pirates got overturned correctly by a challenge.  This was Rob’s second error in a row allowing and with no double play it allowed Jaso to score to tie the game 1-1.  The National League team finally started getting hits off Stroman, as back to back hits would hurt the home team.  Josh Harrison would smack an RBI single (38th RBI) and Andrew McCutchen would have his alleyway fly ball go off a diving Kevin Pillar's glove for an RBI two-base hit (71st RBI) to make it 3-1 Pittsburgh.  However McCutchen would call a timeout from second base and limp to the bench, forcing Tom Prince to replace his 198 career homerun hitting outfielder with Starling Marte, as Andrew would become to second player to have to leave the game.  Josh Bell later stroked an RBI sacrifice-fly (63rd RBI) to make it 4-1 before David Freese struck out for the second time on the night to finally conclude the top of the wild 3rd. The 4 runs surrendered on 2 hits off of Stroman all were unearned thanks to two errors at second base, marked officially as E4’s.  Down by 3 with lots of baseball left, Jose Bautista started the bottom of the 3rd with a bang by crushing his 20th homerun to make it 4-2 and get the crowd cheering again.  Jose's 753 RBI as a Blue Jays puts him 3rd on the all-time club list behind Vernon Wells (813) and Carlos Delgado (1058).  A lot has been said about Bautista’s place on this team this year and where he’ll be next, but nobody can deny the history he has made with Canada’s only MLB organization.  Toronto failed to capitalize on momentum following the homerun, with Donaldson and Smoak flying out, then Steve Pearce striking out looking to simmer down the crowd.       

If you used the washroom or got a beverage during the 4th inning, you probably missed the whole thing. Marcus Stroman did an amazing job of rebounding from a rough 3rd inning with a strong 4th getting Polanco, Mercer and Jaso to all groundout for his third 3up/3down inning of the evening.  Taillon then responded with his best inning of his pitching performance which including getting both Carrera and Pillar to look at strike 3, for his third and fourth strikeouts in the game as a part of a 1-2-3 bottom 4th.  With his team trailing 4-2, Stroman continued to pitch well only giving up a 2 out single to Harrison and grabbing another inning with three groundball outs, giving Marcus 10 outs via groundballs through 5 innings indicated his sinker was on point.  Taillon though was also starting to look untouchable, grabbing his 5th (Refsnyder swinging) and 6th (Lopez looking) strikeouts, sitting down the last 9 Jays hitters in a row.  Josh Bell walked on 4 straight pitches to start the 6th inning, but after a fielder's choice gave the Pirates 1 out with a runner at first base.  The designated hitter Gregory Polanco would ground into a 3-6-3 double play started and finished by Justin Smoak.  With Bautista’s 3rd inning dinger the Toronto Blue Jays have hit 499 homeruns in Interleague play all-time which is the most of any MLB team (2nd Baltimore Orioles 469), but they were having a hard time getting on base after that with Jameson Taillon on the hill for the Pirates. The young right-hander failed to get a strikeout, but recorded his fourth 1-2-3 inning sitting down sluggers Donaldson, Smoak and Pearce in order to end the 6th. 

Funny to say with 6 runs on the board in a 4-2 game that the 35,965 fans at the Rogers Centre were being treated to a pitcher's duel, but for the most part they were. The MVP from the 2017 World Baseball Classic continued to have a goldfish memory of the 3rd inning and dominated Pirate hitters.  Getting back to back strikeouts on John Jaso and Francisco Cervelli, giving the righty 4 strikeouts heading into the 7th inning stretch, marking his 5th inning of only seeing three Pirates walk into the batter's box.  With 32 of their 54 wins on the season coming via a comeback, that equals 59.3% of Toronto's victories coming after they trailed in the game and that’s the highest comeback percentage in the MLB (2nd KC Royals 57.9%).  A leadoff double by Ezequiel Carrera, followed by a Ryan Goins single to put runners on the corners with 0 out looked like the start of another Blue Jays comeback.  Tom Prince had seen enough from Taillon and would make a move to the bullpen bringing in right-hander George Kantos who was acquired on waivers from the San Francisco Giants earlier in the season.  He would get out of the Taillon made jam, getting Pillar to fly out to shallow leftfield for the first out and not allowing anyone to advance.  Followed by getting Refsnyder to strikeout for the third time occasion on Friday and Bautista to ground into a fielder's choice to send the game into the 8th inning with the small fire extinguished. 

Despite getting up to 100 pitches, John Gibbons allowed his starting pitcher to continue working into the 8th. He would concede a leadoff single to Adam Frazier, but after getting Harrison to lineout to Ryan Goins for the first out. Starling Marte followed by sending a groundball to Going to quickly get turned into a 6-3 double play to send things into the bottom of the 8th for Toronto trailing by 2 runs.  Right handed pitcher Juan Nicasio came into the game following Kontos for Pittsburgh, he had only allowed 3 runs in his last 21 innings of work entering the night.  Nicasio made quick work of Lopez (groundout) and Donaldson (lineout) before Justin Smoak nailed his second single of the evening.  Unfortunately for the Toronto fans the next batter Steve Pearce would fly out to Marte to end the inning with the score remaining 4-2 for the Pirates.  Danny Barnes came into the game in the 9th, after the wonderful performance by Marcus Stroman (8IP 4H 4R 0ER 1BB 1HBP 4K).  The right-hander would grab strikeouts #49 (Josh Bell) and #50 (Gregory Polanco) as a part of a 1-2-3 inning of work.  The closer for the Pirates Felipe Rivero came into the contest looking for his 12th save of the season, sporting a 0.38ERA in 23 appearances on the road this season.  He would pitch a scoreless inning to solidify the victory for the NL Central team.     

With the win the Pittsburgh Pirates make it to .500 again with a 58-58 record and grab a win for Tom Prince.  They’ll look to pass the Milwaukee Brewers in their division today when they send Trevor Williams (5-4 4.17ERA) to the mound and grab back to back series victories on the road under American League rules.  After doubling their opponent in hits 8-4, the Blue Jays got doubled up in runs 4-2 and it came down to the two errors by the home team.  Toronto will look to get back on track with a new face as right handed pitcher Chris Rowley is scheduled to make his MLB debut with the first pitch set for 1:07pm.