Among all the statistics that have swirled around the Orioles' all-or-nothing slugger Mark Reynolds through the years, there was one that was particularly hard to explain.
Reynolds is absolutely terrible in his career with the bases loaded. Head-shaking, mind-numbingly bad. He had struck out in half of his 52 official at-bats with the bases juiced and had never hit a homer in that situation.
Until the sixth inning on Saturday night, when he smashed a 94-mph fastball from Toronto's electric lefty Ricky Romero into the left field seats for his first career grand slam, one that gave the Orioles an eventual 5-3 win.
"Obviously, that's the best result possible, but I'm just trying to get a pitch to hit," said Reynolds, who entered the at-bat hitting .186 on the season. "Obviously, with the way I've been swinging the bat, I've been struggling a little bit and I was trying to barrel the ball. The home run was a bonus."
The announced crowd of 20,086 jumped to its collective feet as Reynolds trotted the bases in celebration of a little personal history. It was his 129th career longball. It not only saved Jake Arrieta (7-3) from getting the loss, but it effectively handed the Orioles right-hander the win, putting him in a tie for the American League lead in victories at seven.
"It wasn't relief," Reynolds said about hitting the homer. "I was more happy for getting Arrieta off the hook and giving us the lead, and our bullpen came in and did a great job, and shut it the rest of the way. So it's just good to get the win."
Reynolds technically has had a grand slam for the Orioles — in their Feb. 27 intrasquad game. In his first at-bat in an Orioles' uniform, Reynolds hit one against minor leaguer Chorye Spoone.
Before Saturday, the Orioles had just one grand slam in a game that counted this season: J.J. Hardy's blast against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 9-3 blowout on May 15. This one was a game-changer, though, for a team that had lost six of its previous seven. The Orioles (26-30) also had dropped their last four against the Blue Jays (29-29), dating back to last season.
They didn't have a lead in the game, and didn't really threaten against Romero until getting three consecutive singles to start the sixth. Trailing 3-1, J.J. Hardy grounded into a force for the first out before Romero tried to throw the fastball past Reynolds.
In his previous 52 at-bats with the bases loaded, Reynolds had 26 strikeouts. He had just six hits in those situations — an average of .115 — four doubles and two singles. He had walked 11 times and hit five sacrifice flies for 32 total RBIs.
"That's pretty good," joked Reynolds, who has 28 RBIs and a team-leading eight homers. "I don't know what (the reason) is. I get too jumpy maybe, swing at some bad pitches and I just forget that the pressure's on the pitcher. He was pounding me in all night and he left one kind of middle-in, and I was able to get the barrel out."
It was a clutch moment for an offense that has struggled mightily, especially against left-handers. The Orioles entered the night 6-12 when facing a left-handed starter. And that trend looked to continue for the night's first half as Romero (5-3) allowed just one run in five innings.
It was scored by first baseman Derrek Lee, who came off the disabled list on Saturday and hadn't played since May 16 due to a strained oblique. He singled in his first at-bat in the second inning and scored on a Hardy groundout. Lee finished with two hits and two runs scored in four at-bats while making several good defensive plays.
"Derrek had a great game at first base," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's a difference maker defensively on a couple plays. Never any panic to him. He's a very calm defender. And everybody was real happy to see him out there tonight. He gave us a lot of presence."
Early on, it looked like it would be a difficult night for Arrieta. On the game's fifth pitch, Arrieta's former teammate, Corey Patterson, hit a solo homer that landed on the flag court above the right field wall. He allowed another run in the second on a Rajai Davis sacrifice fly. It was set up by his own throwing error on a pickoff attempt at first.
He was on the ropes again in the third, allowing the bases loaded and no outs, but Juan Rivera hit a high bouncer to third that Reynolds grabbed and immediately threw home. Patterson was forced at the plate and catcher Matt Wieters threw to first to get the slow-footed Rivera and complete the 5-2-3 double play. The next batter, J.P. Arencibia, flied to right to squander a chance at blowing the game open.
"I think that was the turning point in the game. Jake was struggling. It looked like he was pretty close to coming out of the game right there if they got a big hit or something," Reynolds said. "He [bore] down, made a good pitch and we were able to turn a double play. And I think that kind of settled him down and he was able to keep going and pitch six innings and hold them for us."