Snider's hits a hit in Jays' wild win
In thick of Toronto's late rallies, rookie thrills home crowd
TORONTO -- Travis Snider had been waiting a long time for Wednesday night. Playing in front of a home crowd for the first time as a big leaguer is the type of special moment he'd dreamed about since he was old enough to pick up a bat.
After being selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Snider's dream changed some -- now making a trip to Toronto the ultimate goal. Snider wasn't alone in looking forward to that promotion. It'd also be a chance for Blue Jays fans to get their first look at the highly-touted prospect.
In his first appearance in front of the Rogers Centre faithful, Snider didn't disappoint. The 20-year-old kid with the powerful left-handed swing came up big for Toronto in a seesaw affair with Minnesota, collecting three crucial singles that helped push the Jays to a 5-4 comeback win in 11 innings.
"I just tried to come out here and give the fans something to watch," said Snider, who served as the designated hitter in his home debut. "I know they've been anticipating this a little bit, and I definitely have, too. Fortunately, I was able to come out here and come up with some hits in certain situations."
Following the win -- the eighth in a row over the Twins, dating back to last season -- Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi strolled through his team's clubhouse, with Snider trailing just behind. The man who selected Snider with the 14th overall pick three June's ago had headed downstairs to congratulate the young outfielder.
And, why not? Snider showed strong poise in some critical situations.
"You can't tell if he's excited or afraid at all -- that's a good sign," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "This kid seems like he can handle the pressure up here and that's what keeps guys out of the big leagues sometimes -- they can't handle the pressure. So far, he seems to be able to do that."
In the home half of the 11th, long after a rare lapse by Toronto's bullpen nearly handed Minnesota a win, Snider came through with a single to left field after Scott Rolen doubled to open the inning. Moments later, Snider was celebrating his first walk-off win with the Jays (72-66) -- courtesy of a John McDonald drive that one-hopped the wall in center and plated Rolen.
"You always want to be up there when you have the chance to win a ballgame," said McDonald, who was able to smile after making up for his strikeout that ended the ninth inning. "I was looking for a fastball and I ended up getting one where I like it."
McDonald's whiff in the ninth stranded Snider, who came through with another clutch single in the previous at-bat. With two outs and the Twins (77-62) clinging to a 4-3 lead -- Minnesota tagged Jays closer B.J. Ryan for one run in the top half of the frame -- Snider sent a 3-2 offering from Twins closer Joe Nathan into right field.
The base hit dropped in front of outfielder Jason Pridie, who misplayed the ball for an ill-timed error, allowing pinch-runner Curtis Thigpen enough time to sprint home from first base to knot the score at 4. That cancelled out Ryan's struggles, which followed an off night for setup man Scott Downs -- almost spoiling a strong outing by starter A.J. Burnett.
"A.J. pitched a good game -- we just couldn't save it for him," Gaston said. "But that has not happened too often. Very seldom will Downs come in and give it up. We caught some breaks and took advantage."
Downs -- owner of a 1.23 ERA -- took over for Burnett in the seventh inning with bases loaded and two outs. Nursing a 2-0 lead, which was provided by a two-run homer from Toronto's Joe Inglett in the third, the left-handed reliever promptly allowed a bases-clearing double to Joe Mauer to put the Twins up, 3-2.
It mattered little in the end.
The Jays quickly evened things up in the home half of the seventh, taking full advantage of a fielding gaffe from Minnesota's Nick Punto. The Twins shortstop mishandled a sharp grounder from Rolen, sending the ball skipping into left field while pinch-runner Kevin Mench made his way around the bases from first to plate the tying run.
Snider also reached base that inning -- on one of the Twins' three errors -- and he added a single prior to Inglett's blast in the third. His four times on base were enough to warrant a postgame ritual for Toronto rookies: having center fielder Vernon Wells smother Snider's face with shaving cream during a television interview.
"I was fortunate to keep my eyes closed," Snider said. "I got it in Triple-A a couple weeks ago and I had my eyes completely open. I couldn't see for the entire night. I was trying to keep a head's up today. I knew someone was going to be coming -- I just didn't know where from.
"Luckily, I caught Vernon coming out of the corner of my eye and was able to enjoy it without the pain."
Snider enjoyed the evening, and surely the fans who had been waiting for his arrival to Toronto did so as well.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.