Gary Thorne, the baritone-blessed long-serving television voice for the Baltimore Orioles, stopped by the Rogers Centre office of Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on Thursday as he often does when the two American League East foes meet.
Gibbons spied Thorne’s Orioles orange tie – how could you not? – and did not let the moment pass, ribbing his old acquaintance for being so obviously a homer.
“I know who’s signing the cheque,” Thorne shot back.
The topic then turned to Jim Palmer, the former Orioles pitching great and underwear pitch man who is one of Thorne’s sidekicks in the television broadcast booth.
Palmer did not make it to Toronto for this trip, but had reached out to Gibbons in a recent text message. The Toronto skipper gleefully retrieved the note from his cell phone and shared it for the amusement of Thorne and others gathered in his office.
“I’ll see you August 27th,” Palmer wrote, referring to the next time the Blue Jays play in Baltimore. “Hope you’re still around.”
The last line was a not-so-subtle dig at the perceived state of Gibbons’s job status, as the Blue Jays seem to be falling faster than the Liberal party in Ontario.
Gibbons cackled at Palmer’s remark and later told Sportsnet that he never thinks about getting fired, even as Toronto’s ship continues to list.
Time was when hostilities never seemed to be far off whenever Toronto and Baltimore met and were vying for postseason berths.
Once teams to be feared in the AL East, the Blue Jays entered Thursday’s game in fourth place in the division with only the Orioles providing ballast from the basement.
And the Blue Jays (27-35), showing rare spunk late in a game, fought back from three runs down in bottom of the ninth to stun the Orioles (19-42) with a 5-4 walkoff win in 10 innings to snap a two-game losing slide.
“The way things have been going we didn’t see that coming,” a relieved Gibbons said about all the craziness that unfolded over the final two innings.
Teoscar Hernandez began the winning rally when he shot the ball into left-centre off Baltimore reliever Miguel Castro and made a daring dash all the way to second where he slid in safely with a double.
“That’s one of those ones you go oh-oh, don’t, nope, nope, nope,” Gibbons said. “Then you’re safe and it’s like great play.”
“In those situations, you have to take a risk,” Hernandez said. “I just put my head down and decided to go for second.”
The gamble paid off when the light-hitting Aledmys Diaz came to the plate with two out and stroked a hit into left, scoring Hernandez with the winning run.
The winning blow was then delivered by the light-hitting Aledmys Diaz, who stroked a single into left field that cashed Hernandez with the winning run.
The Orioles appeared to have this one in the bag, holding a 4-1 advantage to begin the bottom of the ninth with closer Brad Brach on the mound.
But Brach unravelled quickly, first surrendering a Randal Grichuk double, his second of the game, that brought in two runs that cut the Baltimore lead to 4-3.
Kevin Pillar then followed with a single to centre that scored Grichuk with the tying run and force the game into extras.
After a tough start to the season with the bat, Grichuk appears to be rounding into shape with five hits in his last three games, four of them for extra bases.
Back in the good old days, a game pitting these two teams meant seeing Darren O’Day, the Baltimore submarine reliever, throwing near the skull of former Toronto slugger Jose Bautista – and Bautista later responding with an in-your-face home run shot.
And who can forget the tension-fused AL wild card playoff showdown in 2016 in Toronto after the teams ended the regular season with identical 89-73 records.
The Blue Jays won that one-game standoff 5-2 in a wild 11-inning affair on the strength of a three-run walk-off home run by Edwin Encarnacion.
But that was then and this is, well, now – where an injury-riddled Blue Jays outfit trotted out the .138-hitting Gio Urshela as the third baseman Thursday night while first stringer Josh Donaldson continues to rehab from a nagging sore left calf strain.
To Urshela’s credit, he did knock a fifth inning single on Thursday.
Donaldson hopes to be able to play on Friday when he is eligible to come off the 10-day disabled list.
The Blue Jays also said that starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who has been lingering on the DL since May 9 with what is being described as right shoulder fatigue, may be one step closer to rejoining the club.
Stroman is expected to throw three innings in a simulated start at Toronto’s minor-league facility on Friday, after which his condition will be re-evaluated.
The Orioles arrived in Toronto on a relative high, fresh off a two-game sweep of the New York Mets. It was Baltimore’s first series sweep since August of 2017.
Baltimore jumped in front quickly 1-0 after Trey Mancini lit up Toronto starter Jaime Garcia with a leadoff double. Mancini went to third on a ground out and then scored on a sacrifice fly lifted to right by Manny Machado.
Toronto wasted no time fighting back when Curtis Granderson belted his fifth home run of the season leading off the bottom of the frame off Baltimore starter David Hess to draw even.
Garcia pitched well, allowing just the one Baltimore run off four hits through six innings of work and departed with the score knotted at 1-1.
Tyler Clippard then came into the game for Toronto in the seventh and promptly served up a home run to Austin Wynns. John Axford then followed suit in the eighth and was lit up for back-to-back homers by former Jay Danny Valencia and then Mark Trumbo that brought the score to 4-1.