TORONTO - A flurry of trades leading up to the deadline made the Toronto Blue Jays look like a serious contender. Even before all the reinforcements arrived, they proved they could beat the American League's best.
The Blue Jays erased two different three-run deficits, and Josh Donaldson capped things off with a walk-off single in the 11th inning to give them a 7-6 victory against the AL Central-leading Kansas City Royals on Friday night at Rogers Centre.
Donaldson saw the moves made by general manager Alex Anthopoulos to get ace starter David Price, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe and outfielder Ben Revere and could feel the momentum building around the Blue Jays, who have won three straight to move closer to a playoff spot.
"With the trades and everything that happened this week, I think what it gave us is more confidence in ourselves," said Donaldson, who went 3 for 5 with two doubles and four RBI. "Alex believes in this team, the city believes in this team and we believe in this team. And when you add extra pieces like he did, it's starting to really come together."
Coupled with the Minnesota Twins' loss to the Seattle Mariners, the Blue Jays cut their deficit in the wild-card race to one game. Toronto kept pace with the New York Yankees, who won in Chicago to maintain a six-game lead in the AL East.
Tulowitzki, who homered in his Blue Jays debut Wednesday night, scored the winning run in the 11th inning. Donaldson, an off-season trade pick-up, hit his third walk-off of the season.
While last-minute additions Revere and Lowe were still on their way, Price watched from the dugout as Toronto turned in a respectable performance against new Royals ace Johnny Cueto, making his debut after a trade from the Cincinnati Reds.
Then Price got to watch the Jays hit around what has been an exceptional Royals bullpen.
"Whenever you're facing a guy like Cueto, that's a tough hill to climb," Price said. "We did that, we chipped away. That's what good teams do, and that's we showcased today. It was very impressive."
Toronto scored three runs on seven hits against Cueto, who struck out seven in six innings.
"I felt good on the mound and I thought I made one bad pitch," Cueto said through an interpreter, citing Donaldson's two-run double that in the third. "You've got to execute every pitch. With a lineup like this, you make a mistake and you're going to get hurt."
Toronto starter Drew Hutchison allowed just four runs, three earned, to keep his team in the game.
Aaron Sanchez, Robert Osuna, Brett Cecil and Liam Hendriks were perfect in relief from innings seven through 11.
Donaldson pointed to the Royals and AL East-leading New York Yankees in saying that good teams have "guys at the back end of the bullpen that can put up zeros in a hurry." The Blue Jays' bullpen did just that Friday night.
"What that does for your offence is it buys your offence time when they're putting zeros up not to have to feel pressure to score," Donaldson said. "When they're going out there doing their thing like they have been the last couple days, as an offence, we feel like it's just a matter of time before we really break through because you look at our lineup, it's the best lineup in baseball."
Toronto rocked reliever Ryan Madson, who entered the seventh inning with a 1.69 ERA. The Blue Jays erased one three-run deficit against Cueto and then another against Madson before Donaldson broke through in the 11th off Franklin Morales.
"What separates him is he still thinks base hits at the right time," manager John Gibbons said of Donaldson. "He's definitely one of the guys you want up there."
Notes — Edwin Encarnacion returned to the Blue Jays' lineup after a two game absence with a jammed left middle finger. ... With Price set to make his Blue Jays debut Monday against the Minnesota Twins, R.A. Dickey will pitch on short rest Sunday in the series finale with the Royals.
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