Justin Smoak entered Tuesday night with a strange batting line, which is one of the amusing aspects of early-season baseball: crazy and meaningless statistics to distract us from more important issues such as the Cubs' run differential or the Yankees' hopelessness.
Anyway, Smoak was batting .225/.404/.250 in 52 plate appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays, with no home runs but 11 walks and 19 strikeouts. So he had walked or struck out in 58 percent of his trips to the plate. There's a saying in baseball, "Three True Outcomes," referring to when the batter walks, strikes out or hits a home runs. No fielders necessary. Well, Smoak was more like a member of the much more exclusive and less popular "Two True Outcomes" club.
Then he did this:
The game-tying home run came off Texas Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson, off a 1-2, 94 mph fastball. The walk-off home run, the first of Smoak's career, came on a first-pitch fastball from Phil Klein and gave the Blue Jays a 3-1 victory, a much-needed lift for an offense struggling to score runs and a team that is now 13-15. The last time a scenario like this unfolded? Fourteen years ago.
The last player before Justin Smoak to hit a game-tying HR in the 9th and then a walk-off HR in the 10th was Joe Crede (CHW), 8/27/02 vs TOR— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 4, 2016
Smoak also became the first Blue Jays player to tie the score in the ninth with a home run and win it in the 10th with a home run. Neither pitch was in a terrible location; give Smoak credit for taking both to the opposite field:
Pitch locations that Smoak hit out weren't that bad: pic.twitter.com/BJ3bwGNy5w— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) May 4, 2016
Smoak's career has been a bit of a disappointment, or maybe the expectations had simply been too high. The Rangers drafted him in the first round out of South Carolina, a switch-hitter who was projected to hit for power and average. He went to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal, and Seattle gave him four seasons as the team's first baseman, understandably giving up on him after he hit .202 with just seven home runs in 80 games in 2014. Like other Mariners hitters, Smoak seemed mentally defeated at times by Safeco Park. Before joining the Jays, his career splits included a .207 average at home, .240 on the road, with 43 of his 74 home runs on the road.
In the middle of last year's powerful Toronto lineup, Smoak went unnoticed and mostly platooned at first base with Chris Colabello, limited to his better left side. He hit .226/.299/.470, with 18 home runs in just 296 at-bats. Nothing special, and he benefited from his home park, posting an .819 OPS at the Rogers Centre compared with .712 on the road.
With the Blue Jays scoring fewer than four runs per game compared with 5.50 in 2015, Smoak has to become a more important part of the offense, especially with Colabello suspended after a positive PED test. We'll see what kind of season he has; he certainly just had the best night of his career, and that's kind of cool.
As for the Rangers, manager Jeff Bannister burned through his relievers after pulling Martin Perez after five innings and 90 pitches. He used Jake Diekman and Tony Barnette in the seventh, so after the obligatory one-inning stints from Sam Dyson and Tolleson, he went to Klein, arguably the low man on the Texas bullpen totem pole. I'm not faulting Bannister here. His plan works if Tolleson finishes the game; he didn't. It was Tolleson's second blown save, and while his ERA was high, he'd allowed runs in just two of 12 appearances. Still, I'd suggest he's not a lock to remain the team's closer all season. He gave up nine home runs last year, 10 the year before and now two this year, so he's prone to the long ball. Dyson certainly has the more overpowering stuff. A change isn't imminent, just something to keep an eye on.