TOP OF THE NINTH: ORIOLES 3 (1) – 2 BLUE JAYS
O’s against Osuna, in the top of the ninth. J.J. Hardy at the bat. The standings close, Baltimore back two games in the Wild Card hunt—Tigers and Mariners looking to sneak up for a final spot. North of the border, at a packed-house Rogers Centre. Osuna with his hat tucked low down to his brow. Shiny rosary beads around his neck, coming untucked with every pitch.
Tucking them back in as he paces around, twisting the ball between his palms.
Small handfuls of fans in each section rise to clap, one or two per row. Proud delegates sent by the lazies, stepping up and half-rousing the others.
Osuna’s face looks out from the shadow of his cap’s brim as he sets up. Strike three called on Hardy. Fastball down the middle. Everyone feeling good. The Jays’ dugout watching with fingers crossed beneath their chins.
SIT DOWN HARDY YOU GOT NOTHING ON OSUNA MATATA 😎🍁 #BlueJays
— Ricky Mundorff (@Rick0424) September 29, 2016
Jonathan Schoop steps up, Osuna flashing casual speed for a first-pitch strike. He leaves the next one up over the plate, a slider without the slide, and Schoop lines a single the other way to right field.
The call from Buck Showalter: Michael Bourn in to pinch run. Hyun Soo Kim in to pinch hit.
He’s late on the first pitch, a fastball popped foul the other way, and Donaldson’s just short of it, tracking down the line as it drops two rows into the stands. Ready for his Derek Jeter moment, to shore up the Wild Cards spot, the season, a few yards short and it’s back to Kim at the plate.
The fans now rise in full. The pitch comes low. Bourn breaks for second. Russell Martin pops up onto his knee, whips the ball over the mound to second, he’s just just under the tag from Barney. Slapped on the knee as Bourn’s spikes slam into the bag.
Schoop singles, Bourn pinch runs and steals 2nd. Hyun Soo Kim at the plate…
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 29, 2016
Osuna meets Martin on the mound, his glove over his mouth, sharing the most confidential of secrets. One out. One-run lead still for Toronto. A runner on second.
Kim fouls another pitch away, off into the stands.
The crowd lull between pitches turns back into the cheers. Another foul. Another lull. Another build-up back into cheer. Kim pops another ball foul, skied over the backstop netting.
Another foul. Sticks his tongue out, taps his helmet, steps out and steps back in. A fan in the stands fields a kiss from his girlfriend, his arms crossed, stress stamped onto his face. The crowd with the clapping gone and their hands together now in prayer.
Osuna flings home another fastball, on the inside edge of the plate.
Kim lines a deep drive to right. The inside-out swing, with his front leg straight, uncurling into an uppercut with the barrel whipped through the zone. And the ball crashes over the wall, into the Orioles’ bullpen.
“Well,” they say quietly on the Blue Jays’ telecast, “that was totally unexpected.”
Big hugs and high-fives in the Baltimore dugout. A bucket of sunflower seeds dumped onto Kim’s head as he pulls off his helmet. Caleb Joseph screaming some half-learned Korean at him, pointing and grinning: “하지! 하지! Ha-ji, ha-ji!”
Dave Wallace gives him a bow, and a bow back from Kim.
The Orioles lead it, 3-2.
Osuna adjusts his jersey and cap as if there’s nothing else he can do. Kim sits silently on the dugout bench, beaming.
Two women in the stands put their hands on their forehead, then their chins, beset on all sides by sadness.
“I’m stunned,” one of them seems to say. “Are you stunned?”
“That was so… stunning.”
“It’s just so…” sigh…
The Blue Jays management gets on the bullpen phone. The whole arena goes quiet. The John Gibbons grimace grows more grimaced.
And the Blue Jays come up with a double play two batters later to end the half-inning. The first act of the most nervous week they’ll have all year. The Orioles just one game back in the standings. A crowd of onlookers just a game behind them, knocking at the door, unscrewing the knob, slotting a crowbar in through the keyhole, firing a blowtorch onto the hinges and waiting for their chance to step in.
One final weekend to go.