TORONTO -- A day after the Pirates beat the Blue Jays by taking advantage of several mistakes, Toronto returned the favor. The Jays capitalized on the Bucs' misplays and made Chris Rowley a winner in his Major League debut, evening the series with a 7-2 victory on Saturday at Rogers Centre.
Rowley, a non-drafted free agent and West Point graduate less than two years removed from active duty with the United States Army, allowed one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings in his first big league start. He left the game with a three-run lead and received a loud standing ovation from his home crowd. The Jays made the most of Pirates starter Trevor Williams' unsteady command and two errant throws by Pittsburgh's infielders as they scored two runs in the fifth and three more in the seventh.
"I felt pretty calm, I got pretty nervous last night in anticipation but once I got out there and started throwing, I felt calm for the most part," Rowley said. "When I came off the field, I got a little emotional. That was a pretty cool experience. When you've got 45,000 people standing on their feet, that's the first time I've ever seen that in person. That was pretty cool."
"He battled. He competed every pitch," Pirates bench coach/acting manager Tom Prince said of Williams. "We had a chance. When you don't have your best stuff and he goes and competes like that, give him credit. It's a pretty good outing."
Williams allowed only four hits and struck out seven over six innings, but he walked a career-high four batters and plunked two. Still, the Bucs stayed within striking distance until the seventh. With two on and one out, Mike Ohlman hit a grounder to third base. Josh Harrison tried to make the barehanded play but threw away the ball, allowing two runs to score. Ohlman wheeled around to third base and scored on Kevin Pillar's sacrifice fly.
After completing the climb back to .500 on Friday, the Bucs fell a game under and remained three games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs, who lost to the D-backs.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hit-by-pitch and run: Both of the batters hit by Williams eventually came around to score. The Blue Jays capitalized on Williams' shaky command in the second inning. Pillar was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, took second base on Rob Refsnyder's single, moved another 90 feet on Jose Bautista's walk and scored when Williams walked Donaldson with a full count and the bases loaded. Donaldson fell behind Williams in the count, no balls and two strikes, then worked his way back to walk in the go-ahead run.
"You hate walking a guy with the bases loaded, but I'm not going to give in to Josh Donaldson so he can get me for four runs or two runs or clear the bases," Williams said. "I'm OK walking him there. I just wasn't going to give in to certain guys, so we kept going for the corners. Not necessarily nibbling, but avoiding their hot spots."
"Awesome, really, and we've been looking for that. He looked very confident out there. He had good life on his fastball, good sink to his fastball. Threw some good breaking balls. A debut is never easy but I thought he did a tremendous job. He ought to feel proud of himself and excited." -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, on Rowley
"You just have to trust your stuff. We got outs with my strengths as well. It was just a weird game in general. I shot myself in the foot a few times, leadoff guys getting on base, whether it's a walk or hit batter. It's hard to pitch around that. I didn't necessarily make it super easy on myself, and that compounded with pitching around certain guys. It wasn't super efficient, but it was one of those things where my back was against the wall and I had to battle through it."-- Williams
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Toronto won a game without hitting a home run for just the seventh time this season. The Blue Jays are 7-23 in homerless games.
Rowley became the 12th pitcher to start for the Blue Jays this season, which is one shy of a franchise record. Toronto used 13 starters in 1979, 2002 and 2013.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer homered in the ninth inning, his only ninth-inning homer this season and just the second of his career. He tied his 2016 home run total and pulled within one of his career high of 12, set in 2014. Seven of his 11 homers have been solo shots.
Already playing without center fielder Andrew McCutchen (left patellofemoral discomfort) on Saturday, Pittsburgh lost Polanco to an apparent left leg injury during the fifth inning. Polanco chased after Josh Donaldson's fly ball to shallow right field but couldn't get to it in time, and the ball landed for a single. Polanco came up limping, favoring his left leg, and exited the game with head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk. Polanco is day-to-day.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Right-hander Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates as they finish their three-game series against the Blue Jays at 1:07 p.m. ET on Sunday at Rogers Centre. Kuhl has put a rough start behind him with an outstanding stretch on the mound. Since July 1, Kuhl owns a 2.93 ERA while completing six innings in five of his seven scheduled starts. McCutchen's availability for the series finale is unclear after he sat out Saturday due to left patellofemoral discomfort.
Blue Jays: Left-hander J.A. Happ (5-8, 3.77) will take the mound for the Blue Jays when they close out this series on Sunday afternoon. Happ has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all but one of his last 11 starts this season. This will be a matchup against his former team after Happ briefly pitched for the Pirates following the 2015 non-waiver Trade Deadline.