TORONTO - Perhaps Munenori Kawasaki has read the notices, heard the rumblings that once Jose Reyes returns, he’s probably shipping out.
Dead meat. Shuffling off to Buffalo.
However not before a few last kicks at the can.
And what a boot, what a hoot it was.
Adopted like a stray dog by his teammates and the fans alike, Kawasaki has become a fan favourite, taking the place where John McDonald used to call home.
In a game that meant more to the 35,472 fans in attendance than the Jays themselves, Kawasaki led them on a wild ride, one that ended in a 7-6 Jays walkoff win over the Baltimore Orioles that extended their win streak to nine and allowed them to reach the .500 mark (36-36) for the first time this season.
All Kawasaki did was drive in three runs including a two-run home run -- the first of his MLB career -- in the seventh that tied it, a moon shot into the O’s bullpen.
Good thing the roof was peeled back at Rogers Centre otherwise the cheers and bedlam that erupted from the crowd would have blown the roof off.
The interview, through an interpreter, didn’t have the impact of his previous one when after he drove home the winning run for a walkoff win he ran a string of cliches together emphasizing after every one with “I’m from Japan. I’m Japaneeeeese.”
He actually seemed subdued.
“Very happy, and appreciate. Thank you, appreciate ... Yep. Thank you appreciate.”
As for the home run?
“I didn’t expect to hit the home run. It’s just like a dream. I was dreaming. My head was just nothing.”
What did he think of the crowd chanting his name?
“I was just flattered and my legs were shaking. I was nervous.”
Kawasaki’s blast knotted the game 6-6, a seesaw affair that had the Jays up 3-1 only to fall back 5-3 and 6-4.
This game, though, they persevered.
“Gosh, what a team, to be part of a team that we’re starting to become family and it’s showing,” said R.A. Dickey, who was staring at the loss after giving up six runs over six innings only to be bailed out by the offence.
What about Kawasaki?
“I would say that it’s no surprise but that home run was a surprise,” Dickey said. “The legend grows, the Kawasaki legend grows and rightfully so.”
So too is the legend of Rajai Davis who ended an 18-inning game a few weeks back and delivered again this game in the ninth when with two out and runners on second and third he lined a pitch to left.
“You have to give credit though to Kawasaki,” Davis said. “He had some big hits with men on base. My bat doesn’t happen without those big hits.”
In the ninth the Jays executed perfectly as Maicer Izturis led it off with a single and was moved to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Josh Thole.
Mark DeRosa came on to pinch hit for Emilio Bonifacio and was walked intentionally bringing Kawasaki to the plate.
The fans started chanting his name — ‘KAW-AS-AKI, KAW-AS-AKI” throughout his at-bat which ended with a chopper to second. DeRosa alertly stowed, by-passed the tag of Ryan Flaherty and kept out of the double play as Flaherty fired to first for the out.
Davis then ended it.
“That’s what it takes to win these types of ball games,” Davis said of how the Jays performed in the ninth. “The atmosphere was amazing. It was electric out there.”
From the first pitch the crowd was really into it as evidenced by the decibel level reached when they booed Baltimore manager Buck Showalter in the second inning before he was tossed.
Casey Janssen, who had a 1-2-3 ninth, got the win but conceded this game belonged to Kawasaki.
“He’s unbelievable,” Janssen started out. “Every day he’s just so happy to be here, ready to just grind for that day, grinds every at-bat. That was a pretty special sight to see (the curtain call demanded by the fans following his home run) and the fans gave him what he deserved.”
Coming into the game the skeptics in town pointed to the Blue Jays eight-game winning streak and said: ‘That’s nice but wait until they run up against a team in their own division.’
On Friday night they did and survived.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a lot on the line but it’s a series we want to win and continue the success we’re having and carry it on through the weekend and on to the road,” was how Janssen put it.