TORONTO - The Blue Jays may not hit home runs as often anymore.
Last year's swat kings have hit only 14 all year, but they can still get the job done when it's needed. Sometimes they just prefer the velvet touch.
Last night they got a solo home run from Jose Bautista; then rallied against closer Mariano Rivera with a two-run ninth -- featuring a run-scoring bunt single from John McDonald -- that wiped out what appeared would be a 5-3 New York win.
Instead, Toronto won 6-5 in the 10th, Travis Snider -- steamed after fanning to leave the bases loaded in the sixth -- crushed the game-winning RBI double off Ivan Nova. "This team keeps finding a way to scratch and claw back," said manager John Farrell.
So, as Edwin Encarnacion aboard with a single, streaked across the plate, Snider fired his helmet into the air. "You gotta want to be in those situations. Having failed earlier in the game, to have that shot was big," said Snider. "I've been swinging at just about everything they threw at me. I wanted to zone in and the second pitch was what I was looking for and put a good swing on it."
The Yankees, who have been out-muscling everyone with 29 homers, got a two-run shot from Mark Texeira and a solo drive by Curtis Granderson and it seemed it would be enough again.
But this was a game that went back, forth and sideways. Toronto spit up a 1-0 lead.
New York was up 2-1 but watched starter A.J. Burnett mess up a rundown, allowing Bautista to score an unearned run. Texeira's two-run homer put the Yankees back in control at 4-2.
Rafael Soriano had a 5-3 lead in the eighth. That didn't hold up either in this dogfight; or dog's breakfast, depending on the perspective. "Everyone battled. We never let them have the big inning," said Farrell.
Neither Yankees starter A.J. Burnett nor Toronto counterpart Kyle Drabek survived the sixth. Both littered the bases with runners. Burnett didn't get a 1-2-3 inning, except in the fifth. Drabek went 51/3 innings, but two leadoff walks in the second came around to score as he continues to battle with control. But he kept it close.
The sixth ended with Snider snapping his bat over a knee after striking out to leave the bases loaded.
"You don't want to make that a regular occurance but I'm out there grinding," said Snider. "Emotions get the best of you."
But sitting on an 0-for-5, vindication was just a swing away.
Despair turned to hope when in the ninth Yunel Escobar greeted Rivera with a leadoff double. He moved to third on Snider's broken-bat roller to second base. Rivera fell behind 3-0 to Bautista; then bounced a ball into the dirt that got away from catcher Russell Martin. Escobar scored and Toronto was down just 5-4.
Adam Lind crushed a single and Bautista was 90 feet from a tie game. McDonald dropped a beautiful bunt. "It was a designed play and executed exactly the way we had it drawn up in spring training," Farrell said after Bautista crossed to tie it 5-5.
He's nailing it
It has been difficult not to notice Martin this year -- on and off the field.
"Manicure," he laughs, of the bright orange enamaled nails on his right hand.
"I thought about having some red maple leafs painted on ... the (pitchers) were having a difficult time seeing signs ... and they can't miss this."
Each finger nail has a white stripe. And, he admits it gets some curious looks from passersby on the street. "You can't worry about what people think (but)," admitted the Yankees' catcher, "I'm glad it's cold so I can wear gloves and people don't notice."
The Chelsea, Que., native has made an equally big splash on the field in his first season in N.Y. He hit two homers vs. Boston which is endearing enough for any Yankees' fan. He came into Toronto with a .289 average.
"The last two years in L.A. didn't go the way I wanted to. It's kind of like a fresh start. The guys here don't worry about stats; all they want to do is win ... that fits me perfectly." You know life is good when the only thing a guy's got to worry about is having foul tip ruin a perfectly good nail!
Ups & downs
Snider wouldn't have got his chance at redemption except that Farrell moved him to the No. 2 hole in the lineup, explaining before the game "we wanted a different look to generate something at the top of the order" ... Aaron Hill left the game with a strained quad after sliding into second with a stolen base in the sixth.
Time to be Frank
Frank Francisco returned from the DL. But not as the undisputed closer.
"We have options between he and (Jon) Rauch. We'll use both depending on the matchup that exists," Farrell said prior to the game.
Acquired from Texas in the off-season, Francisco was expected to be the closer but he has been rehabilitating a shoulder. Rauch is 3-for-3 in save situations with a 2.70 ERA. Farrell says eventually he'd prefer the two to setttle into specific roles. Just not yet. "We're not just going to turn away from Jon. We want to make sure Frank has had a full recovery time."
Francisco may yet be his guy. On the other hand, there was a reason he didn't hold onto the job in Texas.
Meantime, he didn't seem overly anxious to dissect the situation. Said he hadn't talked with the manager. Said he wasn't thinking about being a closer. Said "right now I walk to the bullpen and I'll be ready when they want me."
Guess he's one of those guys whose actions speak louder than words.