“That’s not a normal, big-league-type of ending to a game,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Sunday night in the immediate aftermath of his club’s 10th-inning victory over the Texas Rangers to win the American League Division Series. The Jays won Game 3 in chaotic and wild fashion, as Josh Donaldson took advantage of an errant throw from Rougned Odor — notorious for clocking Jose Bautista back in May — to make a mad dash towards home plate.
Rangers reliever Matt Bush was dealing. Entering in the eighth inning, he retired six straight — pumping the strike zone with 98 and 99 mph. fastballs — to send the game into extra innings. Bush, a 30-year-old rookie who made his big-league debut against the Jays earlier this year after spending more than three years in prison for a series of drunk-driving incidents, had never pitched more than two innings this season. But with the game still tied at six, he came out for a third. In his second pitch of the 10th he left a curveball over the middle of the plate to Donaldson, who laced it into the gap for a lead-off double. The Rangers then intentionally walked Edwin Encarnacion to set up a potential double play. Jose Bautista worked a full count, but whiffed on a high, 98-mph fastball for the inning’s first out. Russell Martin, another double-play threat, worked another full count, fighting off a pair of Bush’s 99-mph fastballs. From second base, Donaldson was ready to break on contact.
“I was thinking: ‘Not double play,’” he said afterward. “My first thought was ‘Get through’ and then when I saw (Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus) had a beat on it I was like, ‘Don’t get doubled up,’ you know? Just: ‘Get going.’”
Edwin Encarnacion slides into second
Just as Donaldson took off on contact, so did Encarnacion, who knew he needed to get to second as quick as possible to disrupt Odor’s throw. But with this year’s introduction of baseball’s new slide rule at second base, Encarnacion could not intentionally interfere with Odor. He had to slide directly into the base. Encarnacion got there in 3.55 seconds, according to Statcast. It was his fastest time between first and second on a force-out or double-play ball this season.
With Encarnacion bearing down on him, Odor took the feed from Andrus to make the out at second, but yanked his throw to Mitch Moreland at first, pulling him away from the base. “I threw a little bit to the side,” Odor said afterward. “I pulled the ball a little bit, but I tried to do my best there.”
The ball bounced in front of Moreland, who came off the bag in order to block it.
“Once I saw (Moreland) miss the pick, I felt like I had to take a chance right there,” Donaldson said. “I put my PF Flyers on and ran as fast as I could.”
“He read the ball in the dirt and he reacted and he went,” Rivera said. “I had nothing to do with it. I got to give all the credit to him, because he did a great job coming around (third base) hard, and as soon as he saw the ball in the dirt he just went.”
Donaldson explained afterward that the “deciding factor” was when he saw the ball get away from Moreland. “I felt like I had to take a chance. That situation in the game, if he ends up throwing me out, making a great play, you kind of have to tip your cap to him. But I’m banking on the fact that I’m going to make it more times than not.”
Moreland’s offline throw
Donaldson played against Moreland a lot when he was with the Oakland A’s. He even played against Moreland in college, so he was very familiar with him. “The guy has a great arm,” Donaldson said. “So it wasn’t one of those situations where I was just wheeling around third to score, because I respect Mitch’s arm.”
But Moreland’s throw, rushed as it was, was offline and Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy had little chance to tag Donaldson, who dove headlong into home plate to score the series-clinching run.
While the Jays were celebrating, mobbing both Martin and Donaldson, Rangers manager Jeff Banister asked for a review of the play at second base. Beginning this season with the so-called Chase Utley rule — named for the L.A. Dodgers second baseman whose rolling-tackle slide in last year’s post-season broke Miguel Tejada’s leg — runners must not intentionally interfere with defenders when sliding into second base. They must slide directly into the base and cannot go out of their way to break up a double play.
The Jays actually lost the second game of the season in Tampa on such a play when their go-ahead run was overturned after Bautista was ruled to have interfered with the infielder when sliding into second.
“It was a little bit of a buzzkill at the time,” Martin said about the replay review. “… I didn’t see the slide at second base, (so) I didn’t know if it was a good slide or what’s considered a good slide now.”
Donaldson, meanwhile, was thinking back to the game the Jays lost in Tampa.
“You start going through the memories of how it’s affected you in the past,” he said. “I looked at Eddie, I said, ‘Please tell me you had a good slide. If you don’t have a good slide this isn’t good. We are not cool right now if you did not have a good slide.’”
When you add it all up — Donaldson’s good read and aggressiveness, Encarnacion’s slide into second and Martin running hard down the line — it was an all-around great base-running play for the Jays.
“That was something that honestly we were missing a little bit this season,” Rivera admitted after the game. “But in the playoffs so far we’ve been doing a great job on that.”
“That’s kind of rare,” Gibbons said. “But a lot of times when things are going your way that’s the kind of thing that happens.”