It was a frustrating end to a weekend when all your Toronto Blue Jays dreams seemed possible: First-pitch swinging Adam Lind hits a curveball that was Joe Nathan's 31st pitch of the inning, rolling out down the first-base line with the bases loaded in the ninth inning after Jose Bautista had worked Nathan for an eight-pitch walk.
I like the manager's response to the outcome against a closer who was making his first outing in a real game since coming off ligament-replacement surgery and who - speaking of dreams - hits 94 miles an hour only in the land of nod.
"A great opportunity," Blue Jays manager John Farrell called it, more matter-of-factly than anything. Some place, you could hear a page turning …
The Blue Jays were done in on Sunday by a puzzling start from Brett Cecil and an unimpressive outing by closer Jon Rauch in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins in front of 35,505 on Jose Bautista bobblehead day at the Rogers Centre. The Jays have hit their first off-day having done nothing to kill the buzz of opening day. Two wins in three games against the Twins? I'll take it, and so should you.
The pitching: Danny Valencia's home run on a 2-1 pitch to lead off the third on Sunday snapped a stretch of 20 homerless innings by the Blue Jays' staff, the longest to start a season since 1999. Saturday, Kyle Drabek, Shawn Camp and Mark Rzepczynksi combined for the 22nd one-hitter in club history in the Blue Jays' 6-1 win. On Sunday, Cecil's fastball didn't seem to have the life of last season - he gave up six hits and a pair of earned runs in 5 2/3 innings - so if you want you can show the concern about velocity that he himself revealed in spring training.
Except, Cecil wasn't having any part of it, muttering instead about leaving pitches up in the zone.
"Really," said his catcher, J.P. Arencibia, "the only time he was hurt was when he was up." Farrell said Cecil relied on his sinking two-seamer against the Twins "by design" because the Blue Jays' plan against the fastball-mashing Twins was to beat them down in the zone. Keep in mind that Joe Mauer (who didn't play Sunday) and Justin Morneau (a couple of weeks removed from not playing due to postconcussion syndrome) will be better when the teams play again in May at Target Field. By then Rauch will not likely be the closer. That one-out homer in the ninth he allowed to Denard Span on Sunday is, shall we say, disconcerting in a Kevin Gregg kind of way.
The hitting: Juan Rivera let down his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pedigree on Sunday and failed to go from first to third on Bautista's first-inning single, but all signs point to Bautista being right when he says the Blue Jays have "more options this season." Rajai Davis is expected back Tuesday after missing two games with a right ankle injury, but in his absence, Yunel Escobar looked okay leading off.
One weakness exposed this weekend? A lack of lefty hitting off the bench.
Bautista, meanwhile, drilled his second on Sunday, and he didn't do that in 2010 until the 14th game of the year, when he homered twice. And the Blue Jays drew 16 walks in three games against a team that has been among the top three in the American League in that category every year since 1997. Yeah, it's early. Still …
The fielding: Travis Snider sent a message to the American League when he threw out Valencia at the plate on Sunday, but the guess here is third baseman Edwin Encarnacion's messages resonated the loudest. Three errors in the series, including two on Sunday, yet E-5 will be back at third base Tuesday, according to Farrell. Encarnacion whiffed at a line drive off the bat of Valencia that for all the manager's defending is a play made by 99 per cent of major-league third basemen. He also threw the ball away on a Michael Cuddyer grounder, and anybody who saw Cliff Floyd's hand explode in 1995 when the New York Mets' Todd Hundley collided with him on a throw up the line ought to be lighting candles for Lind at first base.
The fans: Total attendance for the three games against the Twins was 110,683. Attendance for last season's first home series was 69,098, but that needs to be put in context. Last season's first home series started on a Monday as opposed to a weekend. This season's three-game total was the most for any three-game series since Sept. 19-21, 2008, against the Boston Red Sox. Farrell admitted that part of the team's selling job is "gaining the trust" of fans. Not killing the buzz is a good first step.
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