Jose Bautista is the man with the bad hamstring that everybody wants to know all the intricate details about.
With the New York Yankees arriving in Toronto Monday night, intent on kicking sand in the face of the Blue Jays once again, Bautista, the Blue Jays slugger, found himself surrounded by members of the media about 90 minutes before game-time.
Jose, how’s your hamstring feel? How’d you hurt it? Have you ever tried to play through a serious injury before? Think you’ll be able to avoid the disabled list?
Those were just some of queries lobbed at Bautista, who answered each time with his usual measured calm.
But when it was suggested that skeptics felt the Blue Jays’ recent struggles were more in line with the true nature of the team this season, Bautista’s Latin blood began to boil.
“Good for them,” Bautista shot back.
“I don’t have to defend ourselves. If they want to root for the Yankees or the Red Sox, just be my guest. They shouldn’t be Jays fans if that’s how they feel, is my opinion.”
Then the Blue Jays – what’s left of them, at least – went out to prove they have their injured leader’s back, laying a very satisfying 8-3 thumping on the Yankees Monday night at Rogers Centre to restore just a bit of their swagger.
A six-run, seven-hit barrage in the second inning against beleaguered New York starter Chase Whitley did the trick for a Blue Jays offence that has been mostly missing in action of late.
The key blow was a mammoth three-run home run stroked by Adam Lind, the designated hitter who is still limping around the clubhouse with a sore right foot.
Lind, who singled home Toronto’s first run in the first inning, went two-for-four with a walk in the contest. That was more than enough support for rookie starter Marcus Stroman, who was brilliant in just his fifth career start, allowing one New York run off just three hits over eight innings.
Stroman, now 4-2 on the year, also struck out seven, his lone blemish a solo shot by Mark Teixeira in the fourth.
Last week the Blue Jays headed into the Bronx, where the Yankees rolled all over them, sweeping the three-game series.
The Blue Jays then went to Cincinnati only to depart limping, their lead atop the American League East down to 11/2 games after dropping two of three to the Reds.
Even worse, two of Toronto’s top players – Bautista and third baseman Brett Lawrie – were injured in Sunday’s loss.
And suddenly, a team that had lost two in a row, five of its past six and nine of its past 12, looked vulnerable coming home to play AL East rival New York again.
Earlier on Monday, the Blue Jays did as expected and placed Lawrie on the 15-day disabled list with a broken right index finger – but he will be absent for much longer, perhaps as long as six weeks.
The Blue Jays feel they might have dodged a bullet with Bautista, who pulled up lame with a sore left hamstring in Sunday’s game.
It has been diagnosed as a mild strain and the Blue Jays are hoping a couple days off might do the perennial all-star some good.
“I think we lucked out there,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
To fill in the roster gaps, the Blue Jays have recalled outfielders Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar from Triple-A Buffalo. Backup catcher Erik Kratz was optioned to Buffalo. Until Bautista’s situation has been further clarified, Pillar and Gose will platoon in right field, with Gose getting start against right-handers, which was the case Monday night.
And he made his presence felt, making a fabulous catch while crashing into the fence to track down a well-stroked line drive off the bat of Brendan Ryan in the top of the sixth inning.
That brought many of the 36,554 on hand for the first of the three-game set on their feet in appreciation.
At third base during Lawrie’s absence, Juan Francisco will carry much of the load, with Steve Tolleson providing backup as necessary.
Despite all the aches and pains, Bautista said there is no doubt in his mind that the Blue Jays can play good, competitive baseball.
“I think we have capable guys who can fill in on a short-term basis and hopefully do a great job,” he said.
“Certainly the other guys that are in the lineup that are still regulars, they’re plenty good to carry the offence and the team on the field.”