Defense sets up Jays' walk-off win
McDonald turns aside A's rally before Mench delivers in ninth
TORONTO -- There is no column in a box score that can account for the type of defensive save that Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald provided on Tuesday night. It was the type of play that could easily be lost amidst the final result.
Toronto pieced together a dramatic comeback at Rogers Centre, claiming a 4-3 walk-off victory over Oakland that was punctuated by Kevin Mench's game-winning single with two outs in the ninth inning. McDonald was in the on-deck circle for the clinching hit, but he was pivotal to the outcome.
A spectacular leaping catch by McDonald in the eighth inning quickly thwarted an Oakland rally, and helped Toronto rookie Scott Richmond avoid what would've been a hard-luck loss. The line score will show that A's closer Huston Street blew the save. McDonald might as well have earned one.
"Mac is unbelievable," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "We've had a lot of great shortstops here and you could put him right there with them. He's really showed me something here. He's made play after play after play. He enjoys doing it, too."
The play in question came in the eighth inning, when the Blue Jays (57-56) trailed, 3-2. Oakland (53-59) loaded the bases with no outs -- courtesy of a pair of walks and a single from Carlos Gonzalez -- forcing Toronto reliever Brandon League into a critical situation.
A's second baseman Mark Ellis drilled the first pitch he saw from League to the left side of the infield, where it seemed destined for left field. A base hit would've likely scored at least one more run for the A's, providing at least a two-run cushion for Oakland to work with over the next two innings.
"That's another run or two for them," said Gaston. "And, who knows what's going to happen after that with the bases loaded?"
McDonald had other plans.
The shortstop dove to his right, snared the low line drive for the inning's first out and tumbled to the turf. McDonald noticed that the catch caught Oakland's Emil Brown too far off second base, and the shortstop quickly fired the baseball from his knees to second baseman Marco Scutaro.
Scutaro gloved the relay throw, completing the double play. Then, with runners on the corners, League induced another groundout -- this time off the bat of Jack Hannahan -- to end the inning, setting the stage for Toronto's late rally.
"It hung up there a little bit," said McDonald, referring to the line drive. "It worked out perfectly. I think the biggest part of that play was Marco -- my low throw to second base, him coming up with that pick. He made it look real easy, but that wasn't an easy play for him."
From his seat on the bench, Richmond was in awe of McDonald's effort.
"Unbelievable," said Richmond, who was asked if he'd ever seen a similar play. "Absolutely not. Not at Independent ball level. Double-A level. Nothing. That was unbelievable. He was Gold Glove-caliber last year and, obviously, it's the exact same this year."
The play held Toronto's deficit to one run -- a gap the club overcame in the home half of the ninth. Against Street, Alex Rios led off with a single and later scored on a double by Rod Barajas. Three batters later, pinch-runner Brad Wilkerson was circled by a mob of Blue Jays at home plate after Mench delivered the game-winning single.
The win netted a no-decision for Richmond, who allowed three runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings in his second career start in the big leagues for the Blue Jays. Minus a two-run triple by A's shortstop Bobby Crosby in the fourth inning, when Oakland took a 3-1 lead, Richmond was effective for Toronto.
"He kept us in the game," Gaston said. "That's what's important. One pitch different and he probably would've won the game -- just one high pitch to Crosby. Otherwise, you can't ask much more than for him to keep you in the game and that's what he did."
Gaston might've asked for more from his offense, which struggled to solve A's lefty Greg Smith for the first six frames. Besides a run-scoring triple from Adam Lind in the second inning and an RBI single by Scutaro in the fifth, the A's managed to handcuff the Jays hitters until the ninth.
A lack of offense has been the unfortunate theme to Toronto's season and it's one reason the light-hitting McDonald hasn't garnered as much playing time as perhaps Gaston would prefer. At least under Gaston, McDonald has started 14 of 39 games -- compared to just seven in the 74 contests by former manager John Gibbons earlier this year.
McDonald knows his path to more playing time rests in his bat.
"I think what's going to get me back in there is hitting more balls hard," McDonald said, "and keeping it out of the air and starting to get hits and contributing to this club offensively rather than just on one side of the ball.
If Toronto wasn't dealing with so many health woes, Gaston said McDonald would likely start more often.
"It's real hard [to keep McDonald out of the lineup]," Gaston said. "I hope that we can get where -- maybe next year, or sometime during this season -- we get everybody back and it doesn't matter that much. You win with defense, too."
McDonald proved that against the A's.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.