You don’t have to be following the Toronto Blue Jays closely to know that they’ve had a pretty rough start to the baseball season. It’s been a pretty hot topic so far this season after the Jays enjoyed a couple successful seasons that set the expectations of their fans sky-high. The Jays are no strangers to slow starts, though this year has been historically bad. As of right now, the Jays still hold the worst record in the whole league. Add to that the loss of ace pitcher Aaron Sanchez and dependable starter J.A. Happ to injury, as well as the team’s MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson and all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki… It’s been a tough go the last little while.
Last night, however, we saw some bright spots and some things you don’t see every day – and one play that hasn’t even been seen since 1971 – that have me hoping the Jays might be turning things around a little bit. At the very least, they gave fans something to cheer about.
The Jays were in St. Louis last night to take on the Cardinals, a team the Jays only see once every three years thanks to the divisional rotation of Interleague Play. Because the Cardinals are a National League team (as opposed to the Jays, who are in the American League), the teams played by NL rules – which means the pitcher has to bat instead of a Designated Hitter. Because of that, we saw some interesting lineup decisions. Most interestingly, we saw catcher Russell Martin make his first start playing third base since 2013, when he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s because Josh Donaldson, as mentioned above, is still out with injury but they wanted to keep Martin’s bat in the lineup as well as giving backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia some playing time. We also saw Kendrys Morales, who usually plays as the Jays’ Designated Hitter, take the field at first base (since there is no DH in the National League).
The first few innings of the game were pretty uneventful. The Cardinals opened scoring in the first inning. The Jays took the lead with two runs in the 4th, but the Cardinals tied it back up in the bottom of that inning. That’s where it stayed until the top of the 7th. Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada was scheduled to bat in that inning, but after a solid pitching performance where he got out of a couple tough situations and a couple strikeouts at the plate, he was lifted for a pinch hitter – pretty standard practice in the National League. That pinch hitter was Chris Coghlan, a recent addition that the Jays brought in to help during Josh Donaldson’s absence. That’s when things got really interesting.
Coghlan got on base after being walked. Kevin Pillar came up to bat and uncorked an opposite-field hit that looked like it was going to leave the park. It didn’t, but came close enough that Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty couldn’t make a play, and it bounced off the wall. Watch what happened next:
As I was watching the game, I saw that throw in and was saying out loud “It’s going to be close, it’s going to be close…” Then Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina got the ball and I figured Coghlan would be called out OR there would be a massive collision on the baseline. It looks like the latter is what Molina was bracing for, but Coghlan made a last second decision to try to dive over Molina, and ended up scoring one of the most memorable runs I’ve ever seen.
The dugout reactions to Coghlan’s dive were priceless. pic.twitter.com/r89K6bFfM1
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) April 26, 2017
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 26, 2017
Here it is in slow-motion:
Even the Cardinals commentators were impressed:
The Reddit users over at /r/TorontoBlueJays couldn’t get enough of it either, and within minutes a number of memes involving the slide had popped up.
It seems like just about any big play in baseball can be made better with the Titanic soundtrack:
And another take on it:
And what is probably my favourite remix of the play:
Even Cardinals fans on Reddit were showing their respect, saying it sucked to be scored on in such a way but they were glad he dove over Molina instead of tackling him into the stands.
The general consensus of Cards fans:
Pillar came around to score after that on an error, and the Jays ended the inning with a 2-run lead. But, with the way the season has gone so far for the Blue Birds, it only makes sense that the Cardinals tied it up in the bottom of the inning with a 2-run home run from first baseman Jose Martinez.
It was a little more back and forth in the 9th inning, with each team scoring a run to force extra innings.
The tenth inning was uneventful, with both teams going three-up, three down (and Jays releiever Jason Grilli firing three straight strikeouts).
The eleventh inning, not so much. With the pitcher’s spot in the batting order coming to the plate, the Jays had to figure out what they wanted to do. They’d already used all the position players on their bench, which means they didn’t have one who could pinch hit for Grilli. So instead, Marcus Stroman, ace pitcher (and MVP of the World Baseball Classic this spring) grabbed a helmet and bat and stepped in to pinch hit. Having been a position player in college, he was probably the best bet of all the pitchers the Jays had to get the bat on the ball… And boy did he ever.
As I explained above, American League pitchers don’t get to bat very often, so to see one get a hit is a rarity. To see one get extra bases on a hit is even more rare. And for an American League pitcher to get an extra-base hit while pinch-hitting? That’s something that hasn’t happened in a game since 1971 – and that was before the American League had instituted the Designated Hitter rule, meaning pitchers didn’t have to bat.
So yeah, it was kind of a historic play for Marcus Stroman’s first big league hit. The next batter was Steve Pearce, and this happened:
The Cardinals had a pretty rough night defensively. That was their fourth error of the game, and it cost them the winning run in Stroman. That smile on his face after he crossed the plate was priceless.
That’s how the game finished, with the Jays finally scoring another win. I know it’s maybe a bit silly to get so excited over one game (given that there’s 162 in a season), but with a record of 6 wins and 14 losses so far, I think most Jays fans that haven’t abandoned the bandwagon are clinging to just about anything they can get excited about. Thanks for a spectacular night, boys!