With runners at first and second and nobody out for the Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista worked the count to 3-0 against Daniel Bard, a relief specialist making his first major league start for the Boston Red Sox.
It is a situation Bautista, one of the game’s most feared power hitters the past two years, has been known to excel at.
This time Bard dug in, worked the count back to 3-2 before striking out the frustrated slugger, who thought he’d earned a walk on the previous pitch.
Fortunately for Bautista, he was picked up by Adam Lind, the next batter who promptly stroked a ringing single into centrefield that scored the first of two Toronto runs that helped the Blue Jays record a convincing 7-3 victory over the Red Sox at Rogers Centre Tuesday night.
Behind a solid starting pitching performance from starter Kyle Drabek, the Blue Jays have evened the three-game set at 1-1 with a chance to win their second straight series to begin the year with a victory in Wednesday afternoon’s finale.
“I think tonight is another step and a sign that he’s maturing as a pitcher,” Toronto manager John Farrell said of Drabek. “He continued to make pitches rather than just think about reaching back and trying to get extra velocity to try and throw a ball by a guy.”
That Toronto’s record is 3-2 at this early juncture of the season had been more of a testament to some solid pitching and excellent defence than a potent offence, which up until Tuesday’s outing has been sporadic at best.
Through the first four games, the Blue Jays were hitting a collective .190, with an on-base percentage of .266.
Against Boston, Toronto broke out for 11 hits, a season high.
“We’re starting to get a couple more guys involved in the overall offence,” Farrell said. “We’re not anywhere close to where I think we’ll be. But we’re showing signs of getting there.”
Bautista appears to be in a bit of an early-season funk, a trend that can be traced back to the second half of last season where both his power and his batting average took a plunge.
After posting almost surreal numbers in 2011 heading into the all-star break with 31 home runs and a .334 batting average, Bautista was merely okay the rest of the way with 12 homers and a .257 average.
Against Boston on Tuesday, Bautista went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts to see his average dip to .200.
It being so early in the year, those numbers can improve quickly -- but it can’t happen too soon for a Blue Jays team where the offence wasn’t expected to be an area of concern this season.
“We’ve all become accustomed to see Jose just continue to hit balls in the seats,” Farrell said. “But there were times last year and I’ve sure the year before where he goes through some stretches where his timing is off a little bit.”
The two most consistent hitters for the Blue Jays starting off have been second baseman Kelly Johnson and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion hasn’t had many bad cuts so far this season, and he carried his hot bat into Tuesday’s game, where his hard-hit grounder to the left side in the first inning proved too much for Boston shortstop Nick Punto to handle.
Encarnacion was on with a single, scoring Yunel Escobar from third base in the process for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
The capper came in the seventh when Encarnacion launched a home run to right field, his first of the season.
After Toronto went ahead 3-0 the Blue Jays broke it open in the sixth, piling on three more, the key blow a bases-loaded single by Arencibia that scored two of the runs.
Drabek lasted 5-1/3 innings, allowing one Boston run off three hits while walking three and striking out four.
He was helped out in a big way by veteran reliver Jason Frason, who entered the game in the sixth with one Boston run already in and runners at first and third with one out.
Frasor managed to induce a double-play ball off the bat of Kevin Youkilis to quell the rally.