Beleaguered Blue Jays bullpen locks it down in 10-inning rubber match at Seattle

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A pitchers duel turned into a home run hitting contest in Sunday’s rubber match of a three-game series that had the look and feel of a post-season game.

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In all probability, this will be the closest the Blue Jays will come to experiencing an actual playoff game, but Canadian fans who flocked to the Emerald City to get an up-close look at their beloved team got more than their money’s worth.

Too bad this series had to end — with a 5-4 Blue Jays win in 10 innings — because it was that good, that intense and so compelling.

The Jays wound up taking two of the three games with each outing decided by one run.

Sunday’s game at T-Mobile Park was won when Daulton Varsho, whose defence stole the show in the opening two games, looped a two-out single into shallow right field into right field to score Vladimir Guerrero Jr., from second.

Incredibly, five relievers were used by the Blue Jays who, despite their season-long bullpen futility, showed plenty of grit in surviving a marathon day at the ball park.

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Genesis Cabrera was the fifth and final reliever used, pitching a 10th inning that seemed like it would never end. The M’s loaded the bases on an infield single and a two-out walk, but Cabrera got Jays-killer Cal Raleigh to hit a fly ball to right centre that was caught by Kevin Kiermaier to end it.

You’d swear it was a World Series victory based on the reaction of the thousands of Western Canadian Blue Jays fans in attendance this weekend.

Sunday pitted a pair of elite arms in Jose Berrios and George Kirby, but neither was around after each gave up three-run homers, including a George Springer dinger that tied the game in the seventh after the Jays trailed 4-1 on a three-run blast by Seattle catcher Mitch Garver.

When Berrios, who posted a season-high 10 strikeouts, was lifted for Nate Pearson in the seventh inning, the Mariners had runners at first and second and none out. In one of his finest appearances, Pearson retired  all three hitters he faced, proving the beleaguered Jays bullpen can record outs in a high-leverage situation.

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The Mariners, however, threatened in the eighth with runners on first and second — both on walks, one of them intentional — and pinch-hitter Julio Rodriguez striding to the plate as the Seattle fans went wild.

Pop hit Rodriguez with a pitch, loading the bases and that was it for his afternoon’s work.

Brendon Little came in and, on a full count, got J.P. Crawford to ground out and keep the score 4-4.

After the Jays were retired in order in the top of the ninth, Chad Green was on the hill for the bottom half.
He caught a break when, with Raleigh on first, a hard-hit ball by Luke Raley to left, over Varsho’s head, bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, which likely would have scored the winning run had the ball stayed in the field of play.

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Instead, the M’s had runners at second and third with one out, but Green got Ty France on a strikeout and Jorge Polanco on a pop foul to third.

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BERRIOS HOMERING IN

When Berrios makes a mistake — which usually means catching too much of the plate — it often results in a homer.

In his first seven starts of the season, Berrios gave up four long balls. Then came six belts surrendered in five starts during May and eight more in June and another on July 2 against Houston.

Berrios’ second home run allowed in July was an epic moon shot to left by No. 9 hitter Victor Robles in the third inning to open the scoring.

For Robles, it was his first home run of the season. For Berrios, it was the 20th long ball surrendered, most in the majors.

The Jays right-hander didn’t help his cause in the fifth when, after giving up a leadoff single, he snagged a Robles comebacker, spun and tried to get the lead runner at second. But the throw hit base-runner Dominic Canzone sliding into the bag and caromed into right field putting runners on the corner with none out. It was Berrios’ first error of the season.

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Then came a mental error when he threw a questionable changeup right down the middle of the plate that Garver — Berrios’ batterymate in Minnesota — annihilated for a three-run bomb to give Seattle a 4-1 advantage.

AROUND THE BASES

Smiles were aplenty in the Jays dugout when rookie Leo Jimenez hit a one-out liner into centre field on a 1-1 pitch in the second inning off Kirby — his first major-league hit. Jimenez wound up with a two-hit game before making way for Davis Schneider as a defensive replacement at second … Guerrero was at the hot corner, while Spencer Horwitz started at first base. Justin Turner, who was activated off the paternity list Saturday, batted cleanup but struck out in his first three at-bats, while Horwitz had three hits … Cabrera’s save was his second of the season.

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