Jose Bautista has done plenty of miraculous things since donning a Blue Jays uniform in August of 2008.
Moving right near the top of that list was his home run leading off the 10th inning Saturday night against Cleveland that powered the Jays to a 5-4 victory.
Progressive Field, you have to remember, is a stadium where the Jays are simply cursed and until Bautista drilled his second home run of the night into the seats in left, it seemed like the hex was still firmly in place.
The Indians, trailing 4-3 entering the ninth, rallied with a run like they have so often in the past.
But instead of dropping their chins on their chest, the Jays looked to Bautista and their Big Man came through in the clutch as he connected on a 1-0 offering from Chris Perez and pushed the Jays into a lead that would hold up thanks to a 1-2-3 10th by Shawn Camp, who collected his first save of the season.
In the post-game talk, though, all the praise was heaped on Bautista, who has now hit 31 home runs on the season to set a club record for most home runs prior to the all-star break. He shared the record coming into the game with George Bell, who hit 29 in 1987.
“Jose, once again when we need it the most. He gets a cutter up in the zone from (Josh) Tomlin early to give us a brief advantage and then after the unfortunate ninth inning he steps up in the 10th against a very good closer with good stuff and squares a ball up at a time that was much needed,” manager John Farrell said. “He steps up at the biggest moments of the game.”
That the big blast would come from Bautista was no surprise to Farrell at all.
“I was talking to Wak (coach Don Wakamatsu) and I don’t know that there’s a player we’ve been around that we love to see play the game more than him,” Farrell said. “The energy, the enthusiasm, the awareness. Obviously the performance speaks for itself.
“But he’s playing a game almost like he’s playing a game in his backyard. He’s free, he’s loose and his talents are extraordinary. He has a freedom about him that allows him to do those type of things in key spots. Just a great player.”
The Jays, behind a terrific outing from Brandon Morrow, who allowed just three hits over eight innings were leading 4-3 entering the ninth.
But in that fateful inning, Jon Rauch was unable to close it out.
Fate usually rolls against the Jays at Progressive Field and it seemed to curse them once again.
Travis Hafner got it started for Cleveland as he opened the ninth with a single.
Carlos Santana followed with a grounder that probably the Jays would have turned into a double play.
But instead of the ball going to second baseman Aaron Hill, it was tipped by Rauch and directed to first baseman Adam Lind. Rauch was savvy enough to keep running to first and was there to take the toss from Lind for the out.
Rauch retired the second out and then went 0-2 against Travis Buck before the count evened to 2-2. Four foul balls later, Buck drilled a shot off the wall in left centre to tie that game and send the crowd of 27,661 into a frenzy.
Then it took one swing from Bautista to quiet the crowd.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and trying to hit it hard,” Bautista said with a shrug. “I’m not necessarily trying to walk or hit a single. He missed with the first pitch and I was looking for a fastball, middle, middle in and I took advantage. I was ready for it and I hit it well enough and it went out.”
For the past two weeks Bautista has been on one of his hot streaks. With the homers Saturday he has homered in six of his past eight games and nine of his past 17.
“I’m pretty confident,” he said. “I’m seeing the ball well and I’m on time consistently and I’ve said it time after time that when I’m doing that is when I’m doing my best and that’s how I feel right now.”
Morrow came into the game on a bit of a roll having won three of his past four decisions. His last loss was Aug. 11 against Boston and since then he has allowed 11 earned runs over 33 2/3 innings for a 2.94 ERA.
“It was an outstanding game by Brandon, he was very strong and seemed to get more powerful as the game went along,” Farrell said.
He didn’t get the win but thanks to Bautista, the Jays did.
In their first two games here against the Indians, the bottom of the Jays lineup have made major contributions. Combined, the hitters six-through-nine have combined to go 18-for-36 (.500) with 12 RBIs.
Of the players hitting in the bottom of the order, Farrell jumped on the chance to praise Rajai Davis and not just because he was 4-for-8 the past two games.
“We’ve seen games that when Rajai gets on, we’re a different team,” he said. “He can take over an inning, give the running game on the other side so much more to contend with.
“Two of the last five games, he’s stolen third base and with an errant throw he walks in for a run. You go back to what Rajai’s doing, that changes the complexity of our lineup.”