Thursday night was a letdown on multiple levels for the Blue Jays, who are all of a sudden under considerable pressure to salvage at least a split before heading to Arlington to continue their best-of-five ALDS series against the Texas Rangers. Their ace, David Price, was uncharacteristically erratic; their offence couldn’t get much of anything going against the Rangers’ Yovani Gallardo; and their best player, Josh Donaldson, left the game after suffering a possible head injury. Here are five moments that mattered from Thursday’s series opener.
The 49,834 fans inside the jam-packed Rogers Centre held their collective breath in the fourth inning when Donaldson, the Jays’ third baseman and the American League’s MVP frontrunner, stayed down for an uncomfortable few seconds after breaking up a potential double play with a hard slide into second base. Replays showed Donaldson’s head striking the knee of Rangers’ second baseman Rougned Odor, who tried to jump out of Donaldson’s way to avoid the slide. Donaldson took the field in the top of the fifth and looked no worse for wear as he cleanly fielded a routine grounder. But when it was his turn to bat in the bottom half he was replaced by Ezequiel Carrera. Manager John Gibbons said Donaldson felt “light-headed” after taking the field and was removed for precautionary reasons as mandated by Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol. Gibbons said Donaldson passed all his initial concussion tests and will be reevaluated on Friday.
Price’s double plunking
David Price hadn’t hit a single batter since he joined the Jays at the trade deadline, but he plunked two on Thursday — the same guy twice, actually — hitting Odor to lead off both the third and fifth innings. In both cases Odor came around to score and those two runs proved to be the difference in the game. (Price also allowed two home runs for the first time as a Blue Jay, and those runs also made up the difference, but the pitcher himself seemed more peeved by the unforced errors.) Price said the first time he hit Odor it was a curveball that slipped out of his hand; the second was a two-seam fastball he tried to throw inside and missed. Neither case was intentional, obviously. “You allow that leadoff guy to get on, he scores quite a bit,” Price conceded afterward. “I got to pitch better.”
When he wasn’t getting hit by pitches or colliding with the heads of star players on Thursday, the Texas second baseman was causing trouble in other ways, like when he extended the Rangers’ lead in the seventh inning with a frozen-rope homer lined over the wall in right field. The ball’s exit velocity was tracked at 113 m.p.h., which puts it among the 100-fastest homers of the season. “He probably would have liked to have hit a line drive off my shin,” Price joked afterward. “But I’m sure he’ll settle for the home run.”
Smoak goes down swinging
The Jays couldn’t muster much of anything against soft-tossing right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who has inexplicably owned them all season. But in the fourth inning — the only time they mounted anything resembling a rally — the Jays had runners at the corners with two out. Two batters earlier they had cut into the Rangers’ 2-0 lead as Edwin Encarnacion’s weak dribbler scored Ben Revere from third. But they needed a big knock from Justin Smoak, who whiffed badly on Gallardo’s slow curve to end the inning. It was Gallardo’s only strikeout of the afternoon and one of his few swinging strikes as the crafty veteran mixed-and-matched his varied repertoire to stymie the league’s highest-powered offence.
Bautista home run
Offering the home crowd a little something to cheer about, Jose Bautista hit his first career post-season home run in his first post-season game on Thursday, sending a no-doubt drive to left field to lead off the sixth inning. The blast briefly drew the Jays within one of the Rangers’ lead, but it was short-lived. Bautista, who has hit by far the most home runs in the big leagues since 2010, left Thursday’s game with a hamstring cramp in the ninth inning, but the Jays expect him in the lineup on Friday.