TORONTO — Rarely does it serve a pitcher to be amped up when takes the mound.
Too much adrenaline usually results in overthrowing, which leads to walks and fat pitches in the strike zone.
However, Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez admitted he was fired up Tuesday when took the mound at Rogers Centre. He couldn’t help but have the adrenaline pumping up following an emotional pre-game speech by teammate Josh Donaldson.
Sanchez channeled that emotion in a positive way as he and three relief pitchers kept the Blue Jays’ season alive by combining on a two-hitter in a 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The Blue Jays still face steep odds as they trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. The only team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the postseason was the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who rallied to beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
“He just showed his emotion,” Sanchez said of Donaldson, the third baseman who won the AL MVP award last season and is a candidate again this year. “He said ‘understand it’s a must-win game, just to go out there and give everything you’ve got. You may not be able to play again tomorrow, so just be aware of the situation.’”
Sanchez took the words to heart as he pitched six strong innings, allowing one run on two hits while striking out five and walking two.
The Blue Jays staked Sanchez to a 2-0 lead on a home run by Donaldson in the third inning and an RBI single by Ezequiel Carrera in the fourth. Sanchez made the lead hold up, allowing only a run-scoring double in the fifth to Roberto Perez that sliced the Jays’ lead in half.
The Blue Jays scored just three runs in the first three games of the series. Though the hitters didn’t provide Sanchez with much cushion, they did give him at least a small margin of error for a pitcher who went 15-2 with an AL-leading 3.00 ERA in 30 regular-season starts.
“He’s been a horse for us this entire year, and to be able to jump out to a lead and kind of allow him to do his thing and not have to worry about giving up a solo homer or whatever was important,” Donaldson said.
Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna closed out the victory with one perfect inning each.
Sanchez was much better than his other start in this postseason, when the baby-faced 24-year-old was tagged for six runs in 5.2 innings by the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of their American League Division Series on Oct. 9.
The Blue Jays rallied to win the game and complete the series sweep. That was also Toronto’s last win until Tuesday.
Sanchez changed his approach this time around, throwing more curveballs and fewer fastballs.
“I think the book is out that I’m aggressive with my heater,” Sanchez said with a smile. “I knew I need to get them off that a little bit.”
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Sanchez’s fastball was “really jumping” right from the start and felt he was going to turn in a strong performance.
“He came through, which he’s really done so much this year,” Gibbons said. “But never in a game like this.”