If Tuesday’s drama-filled American League Wild Card Game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles was an indication of what’s to come in the 2016 MLB playoffs, baseball fans are in for a treat.

Edwin Encarnacion played the role of hero with a three-run walk-off homer in the 11th inning, propelling the Blue Jays past the Orioles 5-2 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto and pushing them to a date with the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series.

MLB on Twitter shared video of Encarnacion’s long ball:

Mike Halford of NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk passed along an image of the Blue Jays celebrating:

While Encarnacion made headlines with his homer, the Toronto bullpen deserved plenty of credit. After starter Marcus Stroman pitched six solid innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits and striking out six, Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini, Jason Grilli, Roberto Osuna and Francisco Liriano shut down the Orioles, as Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com illustrated:

The Baltimore bullpen was also impressive until Ubaldo Jimenez allowed three hits on five pitches in the 11th, including the home run to Encarnacion. Starter Chris Tillman tossed 4.1 innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four.

Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Brian Duensing then combined for six innings of two-hit relief with seven strikeouts. However, stud closer Zach Britton didn’t make an appearance.

“Either Britton is hurt or we just saw the worst managerial decision in my lifetime,” David Cameron of FanGraphs said.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said there was nothing physically wrong with Britton and that he elected to use Jimenez instead because “No one has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo,” per Jayson Stark of ESPN.

Each starter threw a perfect first inning well before the bullpens took over, and Big League Stew wondered how the rest of the game could unfold:

The scoreless tie didn’t last long, as Jose Bautista drilled a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning. It was his fifth homer in 12 postseason games.

“This guy lives for the big moments,” Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com said.

While it was just one run, the deficit appeared more daunting with Stroman working quickly and effectively. He mowed through the first nine Orioles, leading Ryan Fagan of Sporting News to opine, “In Toronto’s Game 162, Aaron Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Stroman looks better tonight.”

He didn’t look better in the fourth when Mark Trumbo—who was 5-for-11 against the Blue Jays right-hander in the regular season—launched a frozen rope over the left field wall to give the Orioles a 2-1 advantage.

Toronto responded in the fifth. Michael Saunders and Kevin Pillar hit back-to-back doubles, though Saunders made a baserunning miscue and failed to score. He did, however, cross the plate on Ezequiel Carrera’s single, which drove Tillman from the game.

Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com bemoaned Michael Bourn’s failure to haul in Pillar’s double, which the right fielder seemed to have a bead on:

Givens limited the damage and maintained the tie by inducing a double play on his first pitch.

In the seventh, manager John Gibbons and the Blue Jays turned to the bullpen, and Biagini struck out both batters he faced after Cecil issued a one-out walk. Faizal Khamisa of Sportsnet shared a quote from the pitcher about pressure-packed moments:

The drama extended beyond the field in the bottom of the seventh when a fan threw a beer can at Baltimore left fielder Hyun Soo Kim as he tracked a fly ball. Adam Jones came over from center field to defend his teammate and angrily yelled into the crowd.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated suggested a punishment for the perpetrator:

Grilli and Brach pitched scoreless frames in the eighth, and Osuna took over in the top of the ninth, retiring Manny Machado, Trumbo and Matt Wieters with a groundout and two swinging strikeouts.

Brach—and not Britton—faced the heart of the Blue Jays lineup in the bottom half, and Josh Donaldson led things off with a double. Brach then intentionally walked Encarnacion and struck out Bautista before handing the ball to O’Day, who delivered in the marquee moment by inducing a double-play ball off the bat of Russell Martin.

Jesse Spector of Sporting News reacted to the Orioles’ decision not to use Britton, who entered the game with a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP:

Osuna retired Chris Davis in the 10th but then left the game with a trainer, per Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. That’s when Liriano entered the contest.

The left-hander gave the Blue Jays a reliever who could pitch a number of innings, and he got four ground-ball outs and a strikeout before Showalter used a similar strategy, inserting Jimenez for Duensing with one out in the 11th.

“Did Britton not get through customs?” Brian Kenny of MLB Network asked.

Retired pitcher Dan Haren also weighed in:

Jimenez promptly surrendered singles to Devon Travis and Donaldson before allowing the walk-off blast to Encarnacion. Khamisa reacted to the towering home run:

Daren Willman of MLB.com pointed out the location of the pitch:

All it took was that poorly placed offering, and the Orioles’ season came to a screeching halt.


What’s Next?

The Blue Jays will face the Rangers in the American League Division Series in a rematch of last year’s five-game classic.

Texas won the first two contests, but Toronto came storming back with three straight wins that included Bautista’s memorable bat flip in Game 5. The Rangers, with the best record in the American League at 95-67, will look for revenge this time around.

Texas boasts a formidable lineup with Rougned Odor and Adrian Beltre and was fourth in the AL in runs scored and fifth in home runs.

Toronto will be playing from behind in the starting pitching department after using Stroman and Liriano, but it was 4-3 against the Rangers this season. Game 1 is set for 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday.


Postgame Reaction

Britton said he was fine and called watching the last inning “frustrating,” per Crasnick.

Jimenez described the final pitch, per MASNSports.com’s Steve Melewski: “Was trying to get a sinker down and get a double play. But it didn’t do anything. It stayed up.”

Jones commented on the fan who threw a beer at Kim, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun: “That’s just as pathetic as it gets. I hope they find the guy, and I hope they press charges.”

The Blue Jays shared their celebration on Twitter:

“That’s why I want to come back here—because that happened tonight,” said Encarnacion, who is set to be a free agent after the season, per Chris Johnston of Sportsnet.

Scott MacArthur of TSN reported “Osuna told me he felt tired and a bit of a stretch in his shoulder. His self-prognosis is to be good for ALDS.”

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