The bunt was perfect, a work of art produced by Jose Reyes, the Toronto Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter.
Reyes squared to address the pitch thrown by Tampa Bay lefty Erik Bedard in the first inning, and the ball came off the bat without a sound and almost burrowed into the dirt cutout that surrounds home plate and rolled slowly out toward the pitcher’s mound.
By the time Bedard bent over to pick it up, he didn’t even bother to try to make a play as Reyes was already speeding over the bag at first.
And when Melky Cabrera, the next Toronto batter, drove a line drive off the wall in left-centre for a double, it was a given that Reyes would ramble all the way around the bases to score Toronto’s first run.
The Blue Jays would go on to score two in the first and then hang on to record a 10-5 victory over the Rays in a wild ride Monday night at Rogers Centre.
Cabrera had a big night at the plate as the Blue Jays (30-22) won for the seventh straight time, and for the 12th time in their past 14, to maintain their two-game lead atop of the American League East. Entering the game with the second-most hits in the Major Leagues, he went 3-for-3 during a 15-hit barrage by the Blue Jays, with three runs batted in in the first of a three-game series against their American League East foe.
Dioner Navarro and Steve Tolleson stroked back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning for Toronto to help starter Drew Hutchison earn a rather cheap win; his record is now 4-3.
Edwin Encarnacion also chipped in with a home run in the sixth, his 15th homer over all and 13th in the month of May, setting a franchise record.
It is no mere coincidence that the Blue Jays’ recent wave of success has coincided with Reyes finally rounding into peak form after an early-season hamstring worry. The 30-year-old shortstop can do it all – run with authority, defend like Fort Knox, and hit for both power and average.
And he does it all with an infectious enthusiasm, and a hint of showmanship, that is a joy to behold.
“I think he really likes playing in front of the big crowds,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said before the game. “It kind of energized him.”
With his bunt single on Monday, Reyes has now reached base safely in 22 of his past 23 games. The Blue Jays came into the contest having won 16 of their past 21. And with his legs now beneath him, Reyes leads the AL with 10 stolen bases in May.
Just before the game, the Blue Jays altered their lineup, moving Jose Bautista from right field into the designated hitter’s spot. Kevin Pillar shifted from DH into right field. The Blue Jays did not immediately provide a reason for the move.
The Rays headed into Toronto on a high, winning four in a row, including a three-game sweep at home over the stumbling Boston Red Sox.
Tampa manager Joe Maddon said he is not surprised by how well the Blue Jays are doing, noting the team is pitching well, can run the bases, and is stacked with dangerous bats.
“They’ve got supreme power in the middle of their lineup,” he said. “They’ve got ridiculous power.”
The game was a hit fest.
After Reyes helped the Blue Jays into a 2-0 lead in the first, Tampa came back to tie it in the two-run third with David DeJesus chipping in with a solo home run shot.
Toronto tagged on three more in the fourth, aided by the back-to-back home runs by Navarro and Tolleson, but Hutchison once again gave it back.
Tampa went back-to-back on their own in the top of the fifth with Desmond Jennings and then James Loney going long, that knotted the score at 5-5.
Hutchison departed after five, allowing five runs on seven Tampa hits (three of them home runs).
But Hutchison would collect the win to improve to 4-3 on the season after the Blue Jays erupted for another four runs in the bottom half of the inning to move in front 9-4.
The Blue Jays sent nine batters to the plate in the fifth, collecting four hits, including back-to-back opposite-field doubles by Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie, to help finally subdue the Rays.
Neither starter pitched especially well. Bedard, a native of Navan, Ont., was slapped around for eight of the Toronto runs (seven earned) off 12 hits through just four innings. His record is now 2-3.