The Blue Jays nine-game homestand provides an opportunity to make up ground in the AL East, with the first seven games against division foes Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
In the first of those games, Edwin Encarnacion smashed a three-run double off the left field wall in the seventh inning to break a tie and propel the Jays to a 7-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
R.A. Dickey (4-5) worked eight innings in the Rogers Centre with the roof open, allowing four hits and the three runs. Josh Lueke gave up three walks and Encarnacion’s two-out hit to take the loss.
Toronto started the game 10 games behind the Yankees in the division, and Monday’s attendance may have reflected an increasingly disenchanted fan base. Last year through 43 games the Jays had a 24-19 record, and 41,867 attended Rogers Centre for a Victoria Day game against the Mets. On Monday amidst idyllic weather, the Jays (18-26) sold 29,885 tickets. At that, the crowd was 3,000 higher than the club had estimated would show for the game.
The uphill climb goes through Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston, and they’ll next play inside the division on June 21.
The Jays got off to a promising start in the first inning. Adam Lind, in the cleanup slot with regular catcher J.P. Arencibia sitting out - Henry Blanco catches Dickey - came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out. He worked starter Jake Odorizzi for a 12-pitch at-bat before hitting a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead, and Brett Lawrie followed by drilling a run-scoring triple to the right-centre gap for a 2-0 lead.
The lack of consistent, basic infield defence has sabotaged the Blue Jays from Opening Day, and the bugaboo surfaced once more in Tampa’s second inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Sam Fuld hit the classic ‘tailor-made’ double-play ground ball to second baseman Emilio Bonifacio. Attempting to flip the ball back-handed rather than make a standard throw, Bonifacio double-clutched and that split-second disruption wrecked the timing of the play. They got the forceout at second, but shortstop Munenori Kawasaki couldn’t get his weight behind the relay to first and Fuld beat the throw, allowing Evan Longoria to score from third.
The Jays made it 3-1 in the second on Melky Cabrera’s bloop double. Next inning, Longoria hit a two-out, two-run double over Jose Bautista’s head in right field to tie the game. In five games against the Jays this season, Longoria has 11 hits and nine RBIs.
In the eighth inning, the Jays padded the lead as Blanco, 41, scored from first base on Kawasaki’s triple. Anthony Gose, called up from Triple-A Buffalo on Monday morning, had replaced Cabrera in left field. He ended the inning with a pop fly to left.
Casey Janssen gave up a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth to former Blue Jay Yunel Escobar. In his 13 previous appearances, the closer had allowed one run on a total of four hits. He gave up a single to Desmond Jennings, then issued his first walk of the season to Matt Joyce, before striking out Ben Zobritst on an off-speed pitch to end the game.
Escobar, suspended by the Blue Jays last year for etching a gay slur into his eye black, then traded after the season to Miami, had been booed on each trip to the plate in his first appearance back in Toronto. He hit the home run on a 3-2 pitch, with two out, and after crossing the plate, he gestured with an umpire's safe sign.
"I don't think he did anything directed at me," said Janssen, who'd made his first appearance in eight days. "We were good teammates. Move on. ... I did hear a chorus of boos, and I'm sure he was a little frustrated."