Chants of “Zeke! Zeke! Zeke!” rain down from the Toronto faithful when he steps to the plate.
While so many Blue Jays hitters are struggling at the plate – Toronto managed only 17 hits and three runs in the first three games of the ALCS – 29-year-old journeyman Ezequiel Carrera has quietly transitioned from reserve outfielder to unlikely postseason hero.
Since signing with the New York Mets as a non-drafted free agent in 2005, Carrera bounced around the minor leagues from one organization to the next until signing a minor league deal with Toronto in 2014. After splitting his time between Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo during the 2015 season, Carrera won the fourth outfield spot out of spring training.
He had a decent season at the plate, making 310 plate appearances (270 at-bats) over 110 games during which he hit .248/.323/.356 with an OPS of .679. The lefty is certainly not known for his power; he hit one home run and six triples all season, driving in 23 runs and scoring 47.
Although this is not the first time Carrera has appeared on a postseason roster – he was on the Detroit Tigers’ playoff roster in 2014 as well as last season with the Jays – he had never previously started a playoff game. In his two previous trips to the postseason, he appeared in just five games with a .000 batting average over four plate appearances and just three at-bats.
With a lineup composed of some of the best hitters in the game, such as Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki, one could be forgiven if Ezequiel Carrera was not the first person to come to mind when imagining who would be the X-factor for the Jays’ playoff hopes.
His line thus far this postseason speaks for itself: 32 plate appearances in eight games, batting .333/.375/.567/.942 with ten hits, including two triples and a home run, three RBI, two walks and six strike outs.
The line itself is impressive, but what has garnered him the nickname of “MVZeke” is the fact that he has managed to change the complexion of a game on more than one occasion by coming up with the big hit in a clutch situation.
With the Jays down 2-1 in the Wild Card Game, Carrera singled to score Michael Saunders from third to tie the game, setting up Edwin Encarnacion’s eleventh-inning walk-off home run to send Toronto to the ALDS for the second straight year.
Though the Jays as a team had no problem scoring runs during their sweep of the Rangers, Carrera was involved in the scoring in all three games, including an unlikely home run off of Yu Darvish in Game 3. It was in Game 3 in which his bat was pivotal, though, when his lead-off singles in the first and third innings came around to score in a game in which every run was necessary to secure the 7-6 extra-inning win.
Carrera’s heroics continued at the Rogers Centre Tuesday night when, on the brink of elimination, the Blue Jays looked to avoid an early exit from the ALCS. With Troy Tulowitzki on second, Carrera singled in the fourth inning to not only score the game’s first run, but to also give Toronto their first ALCS lead. His lead-off triple and run scored in the eighth capped off a 5-1 victory to keep the Jays’ postseason alive.
What makes him particularly valuable in the Jays’ lineup is the fact that he is a very different hitter from most of the others in the lineup. He’s a lefty in a sea of right-handed batters who, in the absence of power, is simply looking to get the bat on the ball, hitting into gaps or driving the ball the other way. He also possesses speed and thus is a threat to steal or even to drop down a well-timed bunt, adding a dimension to his game that alludes many in the Jays’ lineup.
Toronto will need another offensive outburst today as they look to prolong their season by forcing a Game 6 in Cleveland on Friday. While there’s no doubt that the heart of Toronto’s lineup must come up big in order to do so, one can expect at this point that Ezequiel Carrera will somehow factor into the scoring opportunities.