Wednesday, October 5, 2016

For One Night Only, pt. 1: Bautista, Trumbo, Encarnacion, and the Sound and the Fury

Get three of the game's premier power hitters in the same ballpark. Put the season on the line. The result kinda writes itself. For two teams that relied so heavily on their bullpens and home runs, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays were only able to utilize half of that equation. The way it would end is the only way it could- with a ball landing in the stands.
Edwin Encarnacion has built a reputation on his ability to mash. The mere mention of his name drives fly ball pitchers into hiding. Over the last five seasons, he has hit more long balls than anyone. The raw power he delivers to a lineup will surely make him very, very wealthy this offseason. Within the bounds of this game, however, he was hitless. Chris Tillman kept Edwin in check. The main problem is that he is not the only source of thunder in the Blue Jays' lineup.

Jose Bautista, informally and endearingly known as Joey Bats, has spent two-thirds of his career in Toronto. There, he blossomed into one of the game's most violent hitters. Despite having played a decent amount of time in Pittsburgh, it seems wrong to think of Bautista in anything other than a Blue Jays uniform. Perhaps that is a result of the frequency of his place in highlight reels in the last nine years. It is quite difficult to go too long without getting another Bautista home run that mercifully lands back on our planet. Of course, his most famous was likely the one he delivered last year when he threw his bat in celebratory anger in a playoff game against recent fraternal rival Texas. Bautista is a true avatar for the Dominican fire that makes this modern game so fun.

In the second inning, Jose Bautista struck first. A mammoth drive to left, igniting the already maddened Toronto crowd into a fervor. This period of success has been great for the franchise, but a deep run is what they need more than just a playoff appearance, especially with the threat of Encarnacion leaving this Winter. The one-nil lead will get the party started, but Baltimore has their own behemoth, and he doesn't stay quiet long either.

Mark Trumbo was evolving. He was traded out of the lineup in Anaheim that featured Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Then he was traded out of one that was centered around Paul Goldschmidt. Trumbo hadn't been given a chance to be the big-man-on-campus of sorts, so when he started his first season in Baltimore, the thirty year old native Californian saw his chance to bat with the criminally overlooked Adam Jones. Trumbo was still given fifty one free passes this year, but that didn't stop him from dropping off souvenirs. Forty-seven of them, the most in baseball.

In the fourth inning, Mark Trumbo countered. With Adam Jones on base, the Oriole slugger scorched a line drive home run to left. In an instant, baseball's cruel hand flipped the favor to the visitors. from down one to up a run, control had been seized.

In the next inning, Ezequiel Carrera drove in Michael Saunders to knot the game at two.

Edwin Encarnacion remained hitless.

The constant threat with Baltimore is that once closer Zach Britton comes in, the chance of scoring is basically eliminated. A legitimate candidate for the Cy Young this year, Britton has emerged as one of the game's premier home run deniers. If only the Orioles could score, maybe Buck Showalter would get a chance to use his favorite weapon.

That opportunity never came. Innings came and went, still tied at two. Eventually, it would take extras to decide the AL Wild Card winner.

In the eleventh, Ubaldo Jimenez, not Zach Britton came in to pitch. The heart of the order was up, with perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson due up third.

 Devon Travis hit a single to left. Donaldson followed suit. The choice for Showalter was to either have Jimenez pitch to Encarnacion, who again was hitless to that point, or walk him and pitch to Bautista with the bases loaded. Of course, another option would be to bring in Zach Britton, but I guess Buck had confidence in the flighty Jimenez.

It was a fatal mistake.

Encarnacion needed one pitch. It was a two seam fastball. It was right down the pipe. In an instant, it was nowhere near home plate.

Edwin Encarnacion hit the ball so damn hard, I could feel it over the radio. It was a no doubter from the moment of contact. It was a walk off home run, Toronto's first since Joe Carter burned an image of unrelenting joy into my childhood. The Blue Jays had won the game, and they had done it the only way they could- with sheer, unrestricted power.

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