Just when it looked like the Toronto Blue Jays had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, the umpires huddled, looked at a replay and called interference on Jose Bautista, which meant Edwin Encarnacion was out too and Toronto’s comeback was suddenly over.
The Jays were done in by the new “Chase Utley Rule,” named after the Dodgers second baseman’s takeout slide resulted in New York Mets infielder Ruben Tejada suffering a broken leg when Bautista made contact with Tampa Bay second baseman Logan Forsythe as he slid into second. Forsythe’s throw skipped in the dirt and passed first baseman Steve Pearce, allowing the tying and go-ahead run to cross the plate, but it wasn’t meant to be.
It was a by-the-book call, but it also felt like a good baseball play overturned on review. There was nothing malicious about Bautista’s slide – he was clearly trying to connect with the base, not Forsythe – and yet it landed the Jays on the wrong side of a double play that was never actually completed on the field itself.
Toronto landed on the wrong side of the score heading into the ninth after lefthander Brett Cecil gave up a two-run home run to Forsythe in the eighth, bringing his lengthy scoreless innings streak to a close and costing Aaron Sanchez a win in his season debut.
While the final play brought the comeback to an end, Toronto can’t blame it all on the umps and the Utley Rule. They had the bases loaded with one out, needing a base hit to either tie the game or give them the lead and they couldn’t manage one. For the club’s prowess putting the ball over the fence, they struggle to get knocks in crucial situations time-after-time and it cost them here.
Player of the Game: Aaron Sanchez
The converted reliever was outstanding in his first start of the season, tossing seven innings of five-hit ball, striking out eight, allowing a single run and not allowing a walk to exit the game in line for the win.
Heading into Spring Training, there were plenty of questions about whether Sanchez should remain in the bullpen, where he has been outstanding in two stints over the last two seasons, or given a shot to claim the fifth spot in the rotation, where he’s shown flashes, but failed to find consistency. He pitched too well during Grapefruit League play to be denied a starting spot and showed on Tuesday that his days as a reliever might be over.
While it’s important to not overreact to one outing, there is no reason to under-sell Sanchez’s performance either. He was locked in from the outset and only made one mistake on the evening, leaving one up against Corey Dickerson, which the new Ray deposited deep into the right field bleachers. Other than that, Sanchez was on-point.
His performance this season will play a big part in Toronto’s success and despite the late inning stumble, you have to feel good about this team through three games.
On Deck: the series wraps with a get-away day game at 1:10pm ET/10:10am PT with each team sending a lefty to the hill as J.A. Happ gets the start for Toronto opposite Matt Moore.