Blue Jays reach 30 wins in a hurry
Jays' Jose Reyes celebrates Steve Tolleson's home run at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont. on Monday May 26, 2014. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)
The Blue Jays’ 30th win of the year, and seventh in a row, wasn’t exactly an exquisite masterpiece. More a case of blunt force trauma perpetrated against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Any complaint lodged against the Toronto pitching staff at this point is really just nitpicking. They’ve earned a free pass this month as a driving force in the team’s 17-5 record in the last 22 games.
This 10-5 victory was all about the offence. Every starter had at least one hit, 15 in all. Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion each had three of them, including Encarnacion’s 15th home run of the year and his 13th of the month, breaking Jose Bautista’s club record. Dioner Navarro and Steve Tolleson hit back-to-back homers in the fourth inning. Seven players had at least one RBI. Cabrera had three and Navarro two.
Early on, every time the Jays got a lead, the Rays tied it up until Toronto’s four-run fifth-inning uprising broke a 5-5 tie and sent them on their way to win No. 30, about three weeks faster than they got there in 2013.
Drew Hutchison earned his fourth win, but he wasn’t happy about his ragged performance, giving up five runs on seven hits and an uncharacteristic four walks.
“It was just one of those nights,” said Hutchison. “Nothing was very good about that except for our offence and our bullpen. They’re on a roll right now and I was lucky enough to have that.
“I wasn’t locating my fastball at all. It was a grind. Nothing was good, nothing was sharp. It just happens.”
Hutchison gave up all five Tampa runs on seven hits and Aaron Loup picked him up with two scoreless innings while Todd Redmond and Rob Rasmussen each pitched a shutout inning.
Navan, Ont., native Erik Bedard took it on the chin for the Rays, tagged with eight earned runs on 12 hits over four-plus innings.
The Blue Jays had five consecutive base hits against Bedard to start the game, but only came away with two runs.
Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single that didn’t even draw a throw. Cabrera followed with a ringing double off the top of the wall in left-centre, scoring Reyes from first. Bautista then drove Cabrera home with an excuse-me single into right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
“Hitting is contagious,” said Navarro. “Reyes started the game with a bunt single and Melky is hitting about seven thousand this month. We just feed off that. Kevin (Seitzer, the hitting coach) has been doing a great job feeding us information and we’re trying to do our best job when we go out there.
“I know we’ve had some changes in the roster, but everybody who comes in is welcomed and has fit in so well with us.”
In the top of the third inning, David DeJesus led off with his fifth home run of the season into the second deck in right. Consecutive walks, followed by a single to right, loaded the bases for James Loney, who lofted a sarifice fly to left field. An intentional walk to Wil Myers loaded the bases again, but Hutchison escaped further damage, getting a grounder to second baseman Steve Tolleson.
Toronto struck again in the fourth when Navarro and Tolleson hit consecutive Bedard pitches into the left-field seats, putting Toronto up by two. Later in the inning, after Pillar reached on an error, went to second on a Gose sacrifice bunt and on to third on a Reyes ground-ball out, Cabrera drove him in with his third hit of the night to make the score 5-2.
Needing a shutdown inning after taking the lead, the Jays did not get it. With one out, Joyce doubled into the left-centre gap. On the very next pitch, Desmond Jennings went opposite field with a homer that barely cleared the wall in right-centre to cut the advantage to 5-4. A moment later, James Loney scorched a line-drive homer to centre, tying the game at 5-5.
“You have enough starts, you’re not going to be great every time out,” said Hutchison. “You just have to grind through it and try to do enough. Fortunately (the offence) is hot right now and they were able to overcome what I did.”
The Blue Jays broke it open in the bottom of the inning. Encarnacion led off with a double into the right-field corner. Lawrie scored him with a double of his own, just inside the first base bag. Navarro’s single then brought Lawrie home and drove Bedard from the game in the process.
Alex Colome came out of the bullpen, making his first appearance after serving a 50-game drug suspension. He walked pinch-hitter Juan Francisco. One out later, Anthony Gose beat out a ground ball at first, with Colome covering, loading the bases. Reyes walked, forcing home Navarro to make it 8-5 before Cabrera’s sacrifice fly to centre capped the four-run inning.
“It was a battle early on,” said Gibbons. “They came back and tied it and we opened it up late. I thought Hutch laboured tonight. There wasn’t a lot of pop there. It was coming out real well.
“Then our bullpen came through and did a good job.”
Bautista was originally set to play, as usual, in right field, but Gibbons made a late change, putting Pillar in right and DH-ing Bautista.
“Bautista’s legs were sore, a little banged up, so we figured that he could DH and we put Pillar out there,” said the manager.
FINESSE AND POWER
The Blue Jays are built to slug, no question about that, but they’re also developing a bit of finesse that will carry them through some long-ball dry spells.
“I’m seeing it,” said manager John Gibbons. “Guys like (Steve) Tolleson, (Anthony) Gose and (Kevin) Pillar add to that. Look at the way we started the season, basically with a team of sluggers, so that’s what we’ve been trying to address. We’re better hitters than to just grip and rip it. We can take our hits the other way.”
Sluggers such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have been making teams pay for their radical defensive shifts. Encarnacion hit a single and a double to right field on Monday. Bautista’s only hit was an RBI single, also to right.
With the bottom of the order getting on base more, it is giving Toronto’s hottest hitter — Cabrera — opportunities to drive in more runs.
“Cabrera was as hot as anyone in baseball from the get-go and he was setting the table for the big guys, but if those guys on the bottom had been getting on base, we would have scored a heck of a lot more runs,” said Gibbons.
“We were missing that early on. We missed that a lot last year. With the guys we have now, we can platoon a little bit and they have that ability to get on base with bunts, or stuff like that. That adds a lot to your team.”