CLEVELAND -- If the Blue Jays are going to regain their footing in the American League East they're going to have to steal their fair share of wins, and that's exactly what they did on Wednesday night.
Toronto trailed for most of the game and its lineup was dominated by Cleveland right-hander Justin Masterson, but a pair of timely hits helped the club reverse course.
The bottom of the Blue Jays' batting order did almost all of the damage as Munenori Kawasaki and Emilio Bonifacio recorded a pair of clutch singles to secure a 5-4 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.
"Great ballgame, it really was," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You look at [Esmil] Rogers and Masterson, they were both dealing. We took the lead, they came back and it got pretty hairy at the end, but there were a lot of good things tonight."
Toronto seemed to be facing an uphill battle before the game even began with Masterson on the mound for Cleveland. The Indians ace had dominated the Blue Jays throughout the course of his career, as evidenced by a 4-1 record and 2.80 ERA.
It was more of the same on Wednesday night as the Blue Jays were unable to record a hit until a leadoff double in the fifth inning by Colby Rasmus. Toronto fell behind 1-0 in the second, and for a long time it appeared as though that run would be enough for the Indians.
All of that changed in the seventh when Masterson began to lose control of the strike zone. He allowed a double to Adam Lind and then proceeded to walk the bases loaded with two outs. That set the table for Bonifacio and Indians manager Terry Francona decided to stick with his No. 1 guy.
Part of that decision likely had to do with Bonifacio's season-long struggles at the plate. Bonifacio didn't have a hit since July 3 against Detroit and in the fifth he struck out on a weak swing to strand Rasmus at third base. This time, though, he came through on a 2-1 pitch and hit a sharp single through the right side of the infield to put the Blue Jays in front by one.
"He probably was a little bit tired," Francona admitted. "About the last six, seven pitches, and we needed just one grounder or something, and we couldn't get it.
"His two-seamer, it was so violent that it was almost hard to keep it in the zone at times. That's a good thing because they can't hit it. But, there was a lot of base runners for a good amount of hits. The bottom of their order, it seemed like they were on base all night."
Toronto coughed up the lead in the eighth when Jose Reyes was unable to snag a hard grounder up the middle. The play could have resulted in the third out, but instead Michael Bourn came around to score on an RBI single by Michael Brantley.
Despite the setback, the Blue Jays came right back in the ninth and once again it was the bottom of the order getting the job done. With the bases loaded and two outs, Kawasaki found a pitch that he could handle.
The light-hitting infielder lined a shot into left field for a bases-clearing single. Kawasaki has played hero on several occasions this season, but he entered that plate appearance hitless in his past 18 at-bats.
"There was an RBI opportunity, so I just tried to connect," Kawasaki said through an interpreter before going into one of his typical jokes.
"I'm just playing baseball and I appreciate that. I can be the catcher, outfielder, pitcher. I'm just a baseball player."
The victory still wasn't easy to pull off despite the three-run advantage in the ninth. Kawasaki was one of the game's stars, but he nearly turned into the scapegoat when he fielded what should have been a game-ending ground ball by Nick Swisher.
Kawasaki rushed the play and the ball sailed well over the head of first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. That put the potential winning run on second base, but right-hander Steve Delabar, the American League Final Vote leader, entered and got Brantley to fly out and end the game.
It was a rather gutsy move by Gibbons to replace closer Casey Janssen with Delabar for that final at-bat, but one that he said came rather easily.
"You have two quick outs and then it starts snowballing the other way and sometimes it's tough to stop," Gibbons said. "We're thinking at the time, contact may be your enemy, might need a strikeout. We ended up getting a flyball, but it was going downhill and sometimes it's tough to stop so you need to make a change."
Almost lost in the shuffle of the late-inning dramatics was another quality start from Rogers, who struggled early but appeared to get stronger as the game wore on. He had runners on the corners in the first and loaded the bases in the second, but got through both jams having allowed just one run.
The 27-year-old was relatively flawless from that point on. Rogers faced just two batters over the minimum from the third through the six innings before giving way to the bullpen.
"I think the key for today was the first-pitch strike," said Rogers, who allowed just one run on four hits. "I attacked the zone after the first two innings and I got a good outing after that."
The Blue Jays moved to two games under .500 and have a chance for the series victory in Cleveland with a win in Thursday afternoon's rubber game. Toronto still needs to go 3-1 over its remaining five to reach its previously stated goal of entering the All-Star break at or above .500.