Hustle helps Jays edge Rays
Third-base coach waves Wells to score go-ahead run
TORONTO -- Brian Butterfield walked into the Blue Jays clubhouse on Saturday afternoon and couldn't stop smiling. Toronto's third-base coach glanced quickly around the room to see if any players noticed his presence, because the last thing he wanted was for them to find out he was being interviewed by a pack of reporters.
"Don't let them see me. Can we do this out there?" said a grinning Butterfield, motioning to the hallway outside the clubhouse doors.
It was no use, though. After the crowd of media followed Butterfield into the corridor, Toronto pitcher A.J. Burnett walked by and immediately started to laugh.
"What's this?" asked Burnett, laughing while Butterfield's face turned pink with embarrassment. "Man, imagine what it'd be like if you had the guy thrown out at the plate."
It was the exact opposite scenario that had Butterfield in the spotlight after Toronto's 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay at Rogers Centre. In the seventh inning, the third-base coach made a crucial judgment call that led to the game's decisive run and paved the way for the first back-to-back wins by the Jays (15-21) since the end of April.
With Vernon Wells standing on first base and two outs in the books, Lyle Overbay sliced a 3-2 offering from reliever Brian Stokes into shallow center field. Wells was running on the pitch, and Butterfield waved him around third base, taking advantage of the inexperience of Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton. Afterward, Butterfield wasn't about to take any credit for the play.
"Vernon, man. I've said it over and over again, I think he's the best baserunner in baseball," Butterfield said. "When you have a guy with good speed that gives great effort, it just makes everybody's job a lot easier. The direction the ball was hit, and Vernon off on the pitch, I knew he was going to be coming hard and expecting to go the extra base. It's Vernon Wells."
Still, the way the play unfolded took more than just the sheer baserunning ability of Wells. While the ball bounced toward Upton, and Toronto's center fielder sprinted around the horn, Butterfield moved deeper into foul territory to gain a better perspective, readying himself to either throw up his hands to halt the runner or wave him toward the plate.
Upton, who had spent the previous 31 games as the regular second baseman for the Devil Rays (14-22), was playing center field for the first time in his big-league career. As he came up to the ball, Upton began to field it in a manner similar to an infielder. That triggered the wave home from Butterfield.
"You have to wait and wait and see how the fielder approaches the ball and see where your runner is in relation to where [the fielder is] catching the ball," Butterfield explained. "Body language is a key on a guy breaking down to center it up rather than accelerating through a ball. Sometimes the decisions that you make [at third base], you have to make a decision before it gets to an outfielder's glove."
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon understood that Upton's lack of experience, combined with Wells' skills as a baserunner, helped sway the play in Toronto's favor.
"I think the assumption we made there was that he was going to stop at third base, and that's an experience issue," Maddon said. "Because if you know Wells and you know their third-base coach, Butter, he's very aggressive in those moments, and I know he talks about it. They got us."
Butterfield's decision paid off in a big way. As Wells bolted around third base, Upton tossed the ball into second base, which eliminated any chance of relaying the ball to Rays catcher Dioner Navarro in time. Wells slid across the plate and emphatically clapped his hands as Toronto's bench erupted in cheers.
"That's special," said Toronto designated hitter Frank Thomas, who added a two-run homer in the third inning. "I've been around a lot of baserunners, and there's only a few that I've seen that are able to do that. Vernon's one of them. To see a guy score on a single like that, it's amazing the way he can run the bases."
Toronto also received a solo homer in the third from left fielder Adam Lind, who sent an 0-1 offering to right off Devil Rays starter Edwin Jackson. Blue Jays shortstop Royce Clayton added an RBI single in the sixth that knotted the score at 4, canceling out the damage Tampa Bay had done against Toronto's Dustin McGowan.
In his second start of the year for the Jays, McGowan yielded four runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford each belted home runs off McGowan, who struck out six and walked one in his second no-decision.
The result might've been drastically different if it weren't for Wells' hustle, though.
"Vernon kicks it in -- he's quick," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Vernon's one of the best baserunners in the league, if not the top. He's on the bases like he is out there in the outfield. He's got great instincts.
"That's a big play by Butterfield, too. You can't forget that," he added. "Vernon's not going on his own there. Butter's got to make that call, and that was the difference today."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.