Wells walks off with win
Slugger's game-ending blast in 11th continues wild week
TORONTO -- Any game that ends with a walk-off home run will inspire the winning club to swarm home plate and congratulate the hitter with a joyous series of helmet-slaps and high-fives.
On Thursday night, however, it seemed as if the Blue Jays were celebrating more than just Vernon Wells' 11th-inning solo shot that sealed a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Yankees. It seemed as if the team was casting off a chaotic week that included two other extra-innings wins, two heartbreaking losses and some behind-the-scenes turmoil.
"It's been a tiring few days. And tack on that weekend on top of that, it makes it even longer," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "Guys are tired, and I think we needed that. It was a good way to finish today."
Wells' home run was the second walk-off hit by a Blue Jay this season. The first ended a 3-2 win over the White Sox on May 27 and was hit by Shea Hillenbrand -- the soon-to-be-former Blue Jay who was designated for assignment after publicly criticizing the team and entering into a clubhouse shouting match with Gibbons before Wednesday's game.
Gibbons looked particularly happy after Wells' homer, and was pumping his fist on the field in celebration.
"There was no hidden message in that," Gibbons said of his fist pump. "I was just excited and tired."
It was the Blue Jays' third extra-inning win in their last six games, after needing a combined 25 innings to top Seattle twice on Saturday and Sunday. The euphoria of those wins and a 10-1 thrashing of Texas on Monday, however, were erased by a pair of losses to the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday due to late-inning blown leads.
In this game, however, it was Toronto which came back. Down, 3-0, and held to just two hits in the first five innings by Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina, the Jays (53-42) scored four runs on four hits in the sixth. The biggest blow was a two-run double off the bat of third baseman Troy Glaus, who was playing in his first game since Sunday due to a case of patellar tendinitis in his right knee.
"Good teams respond after they lose a lead," Gibbons said. "We did good tonight."
Toronto ace Roy Halladay threw 7 2/3 gritty innings, during which the right-hander was touched for three runs, but he escaped some jams thanks to a pair of inning-ending double plays. Halladay left the game on track for his Major League-leading 13th win, but closer B.J. Ryan couldn't retire the Yankees (55-38) with two outs in the eighth. After a hit and a walk, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada delivered a bloop single to left-center that scored pinch-runner Bubba Crosby.
Posada's hit was similar to the seeing-eye hits that Texas used to beat the Jays, but Wells said his team wasn't discouraged by this seeming case of deja vu.
"It's going to happen," Wells said. "We've [had] broken bats flying all over the place and balls dropping in over the last week, and it's something you don't want to get used to, but that's baseball."
Ryan and relievers Justin Speier and Brian Tallet (3-0) held New York off the board and gave Wells a chance for his late-inning heroics against New York closer Mariano Rivera. It was the first homer allowed this season by Rivera (4-5), and the first walk-off long ball he has allowed since July 24, 2004.
Wells said he was just happy to make contact against the future Hall of Famer's famously nasty cut fastball.
"My thinking in that situation is just try to get started early and try to hit it," Wells said. "Whatever happens after that happens."
The homer was a suitably dramatic in a playoff-esque setting at Rogers Centre. The 42,366 fans in attendance hung on every pitch in seeming realization that Toronto's season may be made or broken by this four-game series. The win moved the Jays three games behind New York in the American League East, and they remained 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox.
With the importance of this series in mind, the Blue Jays sounded like a team ready to put the past week's events behind them and move on with their season.
"This is a game we needed, no matter what happened in the past," Wells said. "We've got to win, we've got to win now, and win as many as we can against these guys. This is one of many, hopefully, and this is a good start."
Mark Polishuk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.