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Blue Jays stun Cardinals in crazy series opener: Griffin


ST. LOUIS—So this is how the Jays play when they’re sleep-deprived. Russ Martin starts at third base. Chris Coghlan creates a piece of baseball lore for himself. Marcus Stroman doubles and scores the winning run in the 11th and the Jays win 6-5.

With one out in the 11th inning, Stroman pinch-hit for Jason Grilli, the eventual winning pitcher. He worked a 2-and-2 count, and then stroked a solid double down the left-field line for his first major-league hit. Steve Pearce then grounded to Aledmys Diaz, who threw the ball away for an error and the winning run. Crazy stuff.

On most nights the Jays seem to play just well enough to lose. Blame it on hitting, the bullpen, umpiring, scheduling, whatever, but they have to stop blaming outside factors and start creating luck. Tuesday was one of those nights.

There was a downside. The heart of the bullpen blew saves in both the seventh and the ninth. First it was Joe Biagini surrendering a two-run lead in the seventh on a two-run homer by Jose Martinez. Then it was closer Roberto Osuna, yielding the tying run in the ninth on an infield single by Dexter Fowler, supposedly the prime free-agent target of the Jays this past winter.

In the ninth, with former Jays reliever Brett Cecil on the hill for the Cardinals, Jose Bautista responded with a clutch RBI single, scoring Kevin Pillar to give the Jays the lead. They handed the ball to Osuna, who is now 1-for-3 in save opportunities.

While the Jays’ run in the ninth was routine, the run that people will be talking about for years to come arrived in the seventh.

It was Pillar, nicknamed Superman by his fans, who had driven a Matt Bowman pitch high off the right-field fence. As it bounded back towards the infield, chased by outfielder Stephen Piscotty, Coghlan paused making sure the hit fell in, then raced around the bases — an improvised run that launched a thousand GIFs.

As he approached a blocked-off plate, Coghlan launched himself at full speed — flying like a bird, maybe a plane, maybe Superman — over the head of startled catcher Yadier Molina, somersaulting onto his helmet, doing a forward roll, bouncing to his feet and giving the emphatic safe sign. It’s a play that has to be viewed in slow motion.

The Jays had every reason to play like a tired bunch. Their team charter had touched down at Lambert International just after 6 a.m. following a night game in Anaheim. But starting pitcher Marco Estrada had flown in ahead of the team and had a good night’s sleep. He was rested.

Estrada, who saw a lot of the Cardinals when he pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers, entered Tuesday’s contest winless in 17 appearances — eight of them starts — against St. Louis. He was 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA in 33 1/3 innings at Busch Stadium. The winless streak continues with a no-decision, despite a well-pitched six innings.

The Jays did something in the fourth that they had pretty much been unable to do in California: They executed and manufactured two runs with aggressive baseball to take the lead for the first time.

Ezequiel Carrera lashed a hard grounder that crawled behind Matt Adams at first base for a single. Bautista then sliced a single to right and Carrera tried for the extra base. He dived for the bag and the throw from Piscotty bounced off his helmet, rolling tantalizingly into the end of the Jays’ dugout. Carrera scored and Bautista came around to third, cashed in soon after on a ground ball by Kendrys Morales. Execution.

But Estrada allowed another leadoff double in the fourth, this time by Piscotty, leading to what seemed like big trouble. Jedd Gyorko followed with a line drive to right that bounded off the fence and back to Bautista, who threw to second base. Somehow Piscotty failed to score on the play, perhaps decoyed by Bautista.

Molina singled to score the tying run, then Adams walked to load the bases with nobody out. Estrada took a deep breath, then struck out Randal Grichuk before Kolten Wong bounced into a double play.

Over his past three starts, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching, Estrada has an 0.95 ERA in 18 innings, including a streak of 14 shutout frames.

The big news for the Jays before the game was that Martin would be making his first start at third base since May 5, 2013 — back when he was a Pirate. It was his eighth career start at the hot corner and, really, why not?

Since Josh Donaldson was sidelined on April 14 with a calf injury, the Jays had started three players at third base: Darwin Barney seven times, Coghlan five times and Ryan Goins once. With Troy Tulowitzki on the DL with a hamstring injury, Goins has been doing a great job defensively at short, but neither of the other two has exactly been Brooks Robinson.

So why not Martin, who since April 8 — when he homered vs. the Red Sox — had hit .353 with a 1.182 on-base plus slugging mark and six runs scored in five games.

Meanwhile, starter Aaron Sanchez, who threw from the mound at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, looks well on the way to making his return from a blister problem. Sanchez threw a two-inning simulated game with 30 pitches, sitting down between two 15-pitch segments.

“He was able to throw his curveball and it was sharp, it was tight and he said it felt great,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “Obviously a great sign, and looking forward to possibly throwing another side on Friday and go from there. Once it’s healed, it’s: Let’s go. It’s not like an arm or shoulder injury.”

The earliest that Sanchez would be able to start is Sunday. The coaching staff will discuss the possibility, but the likelihood is that he will need another side session before he’s ready to contribute again.

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