By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox entered the MLB playoffs with three days of rest to prepare for the Cleveland Indians, but their two biggest division rivals this season still had to win to make it to the next round.
The AL Wild Card play-in game took place Tuesday night between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and delivered a nice taste of playoff baseball, capped by Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning.
MLB StatCast estimated the home run at a distance of 440 feet as Encarnacion tried to hit an over-the-middle fastball from Ubaldo Jimenez to the CN Tower but had to settle for the second deck in left field.
The game narrowly avoided a major controversy in the bottom of the seventh inning when a fan threw a beer can at Orioles left fielder Hyun Soo Kim and nearly hit him in the head. It was a clear attempt to distract Kim from making the play, which could have resulted in fan interference anyway, but the fan also could have injured Kim in the process. It was an unfortunate incident that made an otherwise loud, adrenaline-packed crowd at the Rogers Centre look horrible.
Oriole manager Buck Showalter offered some measured thoughts about the incident after the game.
“People have a different way of handling their emotions. … [I] don’t like it. Nobody likes it. I’m sure the Toronto Blue Jays don’t like it. But it’s tough when you have that many people in the ballpark and one person does something that reflects poorly on all of them. It could happen in any ballpark. I don’t like anything about putting our guys in harms way just like [Blue Jays manager John Gibbons] wouldn’t at our place. It’s just unfortunate that, for a lot of different reasons, people lose some good decision-making when they get over-emotional. Good thing ballplayers don’t do that as often.”
Speaking of Showalter, he is facing heat Thursday morning for not using closer Zach Britton, who will earn Cy Young votes after a masterful season in which he compiled 47 saves with a 0.54 ERA. Setup man Brad Brach pitched the eighth inning and part of the ninth, before Darren O’Day took over the close out the ninth and pitch the 10th. Brian Duensing recorded an out in the 11th inning before Showalter brought in Jimenez, who allowed singles to Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson before allowing Encarnacion’s walk-off home run.
ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield called the decision to hold off using Britton late in the game a “disgrace” and “one of the worst managerial decisions in postseason history.” It’s easy to have that perspective after the O’s blew the game, but it’s also perfectly justifiable considering that Jimenez faced three batters without recording an out and lost the game while Britton sat in the bullpen.
The best news coming from this game, however, is that we now get a rematch of last year’s incredible ALDS between the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, who cleared the benches after Jose Bautista’s infamous (or iconic, depending on your point-of-view) bat flip in last year’s playoffs and had a bench-clearing brawl between Bautista and Rougned Odor during the 2016 regular season. One game in and the MLB playoffs are already delivering the drama, and the next round of AL matchups promises to bring even more.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.