Before Sunday’s series finale with Baltimore, Blue Jays’ manager John Farrell was asked if he was wishing for the day when his team would have a five-run lead late in a ballgame. Farrell’s answer? “Today could very well be that day.” And lo and behold, it was. A seven-run lead, even.
The Blue Jays shook off an opening week’s worth of offensive frustration in Sunday’s sixth inning – scoring as many runs in that one frame as they had in any one full game all season. They sent 13 men to the plate and seven of them came across to score, turning a 2-1 deficit into an 8-2 lead on the way to a romp.
The inning began when Jose Bautista (still suffering from the loss of the Man In White, according to one BlueJaysTalk caller) ripped a double to left-centre, just past the outstretched glove of Orioles’ centrefielder Adam Jones. Edwin Encarnacion followed by plastering his third home run deep to left-centre to give the Blue Jays their first lead of the game. Four hitters later, O’s starter Brian Matusz walked Rajai Davis to put two men on with two out, and he was lifted for Kevin Gregg, who took a while to get to the mound because he was lugging a massive gas can with him.
Gregg, who had 37 saves for the Jays in 2010 – all of which, it feels in retrospect, were sweaty-palmed nailbiters for the fan base – saved his absolute worst for this outing. As nervous as he made the fans as a Blue Jay, he still got the job done far, far more often than not. Sunday afternoon, the only job he got done was making sure the Orioles didn’t get a sweep.
Gregg gave up a single to Jeff Mathis, scoring one run. He then coughed up back-to-back doubles to Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson, cashing three more. Bautista and Encarnacion then each drew walks to load the bases, bringing up Brett Lawrie, who had earlier hit his first home run of the season (first extra-base hit, too – he should do the pre-game with me more often!). Gregg got ahead of Lawrie 1-2, then hit him in the back, driving in the Blue Jays’ seventh run of the frame. Finally Ben Francisco popped out to right field, probably more out of a sense of mercy and empathy than anything else.
It was the Blue Jays’ first real romp of the season, though they did have a 7-1 lead on the Red Sox going into the 9th inning this past Tuesday night, but the Sox did manage to get the tying run to the on-deck circle.
Not to be lost in all the scoring was Kyle Drabek’s fine outing. He threw 7 1/3 innings – the first time in his career that he’s ever recorded an out in the 8th inning of a game he’d started – while allowing just one earned run on six hits, striking out six against one walk. He dutifully went out to the mound in the top of the first inning and drew a huge X on the dirt on the downward slope, marking the spot where his left foot should land if he’s maintaining his lines properly and staying in his mechanics. And then he went and did it for 103 pitches, almost flawlessly.
I have noted before that Drabek got off to a pretty good start last year, too, before falling apart before mid-season and having to be shipped out, but there’s a big difference (so far, anyway) between last year and this. This year he’s not walking people. In his first three starts of last season, against noted free-swingers Minnesota, Anaheim and Seattle, Drabek allowed just four earned runs on 13 hits over 18 2/3 innings in three Blue Jays wins, but he also served up 10 walks.
In his first two starts this season, against notoriously-patient Boston and not-all-that-free-swinging-but-not-exactly-the-Yankees Baltimore, he’s walked four in 12 2/3 innings, and two of those walks came in his final inning of work in the Boston game.
Drabek has incredible stuff, that’s never been in question. The only thing that has held him back is his ability to control both his stuff and himself. He seems to be very definitely on the right track, and a successful, reliable Drabek would be a tremendous shot in the arm for the Blue Jays’ hopes both for now and the next few years. Remember, he’s still only 24.
Evan Crawford made his major-league debut in the win, pitching the 9th inning. His first big-league pitch was a strike, as were 9 of the 13 he wound up throwing. He struck out Wilson Betemit for his first big-league whiff, and went on to pitch a shutout inning, allowing only a two-out double to Chris Davis. He’s not a huge man, but he certainly has a big left arm, and though it appears he’s ticketed to head back to the minors on April 21st, when the Jays likely call up one of Joel Carreno, Chad Jenkins or Drew Hutchison to move into the rotation, Crawford seems to have a pretty bright future in the big leagues.
We had a special Super-Extendo version of The BlueJaysTalk this afternoon, and here it is, for your listening pleasure:
As well, we had a radio version of The Blue Jays This Week, which was so well-received in podcast form last year. Here’s that, with Ben Ennis sitting in with me, so that you can give it a listen:
The Blue Jays have the day off Monday, and get back at it when the Tampa Bay Rays come to town for the first of a three-game set on Tuesday night. The Rays are reeling at the moment, having lost four in a row, and they have a Patriots Day game in Boston to contend with Monday morning before they head into town. Ricky Romero will start for the Jays against tall Tampa righty Jeff Niemann. We’ll have all the action for you beginning at 7:00PM Eastern – join us, won’t you?
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590. You can find my The Blue Jays This Week co-host Ben Ennis @BennisSnet.
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