TORONTO – Kevin Pillar drove in pinch-runner Erik Kratz with the winning run to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 5-4 walkoff victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night at Rogers Centre.
Pillar hit a flare to right field off Casey Fien that brought Kratz home from second base.
Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run homer and Jose Reyes added a solo shot for the Blue Jays, who overcame a blown save by closer Casey Janssen to take the opener of the three-game series.
Encarnacion’s blast – his 20th of the season – gave Toronto (39-26) an early lead after Minnesota (29-33) started the game with back-to-back homers off Toronto starter R.A. Dickey.
The Blue Jays remained 5 1/2 games ahead of second-place Baltimore in the American League East division standings. The Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox 4-0.
Minnesota scored a pair of quick runs before many fans had taken their seats on a glorious spring evening at Rogers Centre. Danny Santana hit his first career leadoff home run and Brian Dozier followed with a rainbow shot just inside the foul pole in left field.
Dickey followed with two quick outs before issuing a walk to Oswaldo Arcia. That brought up newly signed slugger Kendrys Morales, who struck out in his first at-bat of the season.
In the Toronto half of the frame, Melky Cabrera hit a one-out single off Minnesota starter Ricky Nolasco and Jose Bautista walked. Encarnacion turned on a 1-1 pitch to give the Blue Jays the lead.
The Blue Jays had a chance to pad their lead in the third inning after Reyes singled, stole second, and then swiped third as Bautista struck out for the second out. Adam Lind grounded out to leave him stranded.
An inning later, Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C, lashed a two-out single and Josh Thole reached on a walk. Nolasco escaped by getting No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose on a strikeout.
Reyes hit his fourth homer of the year in the fifth inning. He has a 10-game hitting streak and has reached base safely in 34 of his last 36 games.
Dickey, meanwhile, settled down after his shaky start. He retired 11 straight batters before giving up a one-out triple to cleanup hitter Josh Willingham in the sixth.
Arcia was hit by a pitch and Morales walked to load the bases. Dustin McGowan replaced Dickey on the mound and got Trevor Plouffe to ground into a double play to end the threat.
Dickey allowed five hits, two earned runs, two walks and had three strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
Nolasco was pulled after giving up a two-out single to Lawrie in the bottom of the sixth. Left-hander Caleb Thielbar came on to face pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro and got the Toronto catcher to fly out.
McGowan gave up a single to Kurt Suzuki to open the seventh but the Toronto reliever used the double-play to his advantage again. He speared a comebacker by Eduardo Escobar and started a 1-6-3 double play before Santana flew out for the third out.
Aaron Loup worked the eighth inning for the Blue Jays before Janssen (1-0) allowed two runs in the ninth as the Twins tied the game.
The Toronto closer gave up a one-out double to Kurt Suzuki that scored pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez. Escobar followed with a flare to shallow left field that brought Suzuki home with the tying run.
Navarro opened the bottom of the ninth with a walk off Matt Guerrier (0-1), who was pulled after striking out Gose for the first out. Fien came on and gave up singles to Reyes and Pillar.
Announced attendance was 19,428 and the game took two hours 53 minutes to play.
© The Canadian Press, 2014