For the Seattle Mariners and manager Darrell Johnson, tonight’s game was an opportunity to prove to their 1977 expansion cohorts, the Toronto Blue Jays, who was the most-improved of the two: the Mariners currently held the better won-lost record, had an 8-0 advantage in head-to-head meetings in 1978, and could boast a 16-game winning streak from earlier this season. But they’d recently fallen on hard times, and were eager to not only get back on track and make a run for the AL West lead, but to keep their perfect record against the Blue Jays intact. “It’s about pride,” said Johnson before the game, “and we’re out to show people we’re not the same team we were last year.”
Neither, apparently, were the Blue Jays, who clawed back from a 4-3 deficit to tie the game in the seventh, then scored the game-winner on a sacrifice fly from first baseman John Mayberry in the tenth, good for a thrilling 5-4 win in front of a jubilant Junior Jays Night crowd at chilly Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
Toronto had built an early 2-0 lead on RBI singles by Roy Howell and Bob Bailor, but the Mariners bounced back to even the score when team home run leader Leon Roberts clubbed his 22nd, a two-run shot with nobody out in the fourth. The two squads then engaged in a see-saw scoring battle over the ensuing three innings: the Jays took a 3-2 advantage on a solo HR from Al Woods, a run-scoring double from M’s catcher Bill Plummer re-tied the game, and after Roberts struck again with an RBI double in the seventh, Toronto came back in the bottom of the frame when Howell’s triple to the gap was misplayed by Ruppert Jones at the wall, allowing Howell to circumnavigate the basepaths, knotting the game once more, this time at 4-4.
Oddly enough, M’s manager Johnson appeared to be intoxicated at times throughout the game, and at one point almost sent Bruce Bochte to the plate instead of Lee Stanton, which nearly resulted in an automatic out for the Mariners. Now, he suddenly called for the removal of Abbott and summoned Shane Rawley from the bullpen to pitch the eighth. Toronto manager Roy Hartsfield had already made a pitching change an inning earlier, replacing starter Balor Moore with Don Kirkwood, a four-year veteran who was playing his first season in a Jays uniform, and his last in the major leagues. Both relievers pitched a pair of uneventful shutout innings, and the game went into extra frames still deadlocked 4-4.
Joe Coleman was now on the mound for the Jays, and threw a perfect tenth; Rawley opened the bottom of the inning by striking out Luis Gomez, but it would be the last out he’d secure for the night; Woods followed with a sharp single to right, advanced to second on a pinch-single by Otto Velez, then moved to third when Rawley plunked Bailor with an inside pitch. With the bases now loaded and still only one out, Johnson made his way the mound, dismissed Rawley, and waved Enrique Romo in from the bullpen to face clean-up batter John Mayberry.
Romo, a right-hander who currently held the team lead in saves with seven, watched the left-hand-hitting Mayberry drive his first offering 347 feet to the warning track in right-center, where Roberts made the running catch at the base of the wall. However, Roberts could do nothing else as Woods tagged and easily trotted home from third with the game-winning run, snapping Toronto’s eight-game losing streak against their Pacific Northwest rivals and sending the cheering Jays partisans home on a high note.
The loss was a dispiriting one for the Mariners, who were riding a wave of enthusiasm after their 3-game winning streak of the previous week, and tonight were hoping to gain ground on the fourth-place A’s. For the Jays, the victory improved their record to 40-56, and they became the first cellar-dwelling team in the majors this season to reach the 40-win mark. The teams will continue their short 2-game set tomorrow at 7:30.
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