It was the kind of game that you have come to expect the Toronto Blue Jays to fritter away these days with their popgun offence misfiring on all cylinders.
Then, with a big swing of the bat by Melky Cabrera, all was good in Blue Jays nation once again – at least for the time being.
After the Blue Jays had squandered a three-run lead, the Toronto left fielder settled into the batter’s box in the seventh inning at Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon to face reliever Neftali Feliz, who had just entered the game for the Texas Rangers with the score deadlocked at five-all.
Three pitches later, Cabrera was joyously rounding the bags after redirecting an 85-mile-an-hour Feliz changeup over the wall in right-centre for a home run, the decisive blow in what turned out to be a 9-6 decision for the Blue Jays (51-48) over the Rangers (39-59) before 36,011 satisfied customers.
“We came to life,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons, who hasn’t been able to say something like that of late.
“I felt a little more energy in the dugout too, the guys seemed a little more relaxed, some funny comments,” the manager continued. “We’ve been grinding pretty hard lately and it’s been wearing on them.”
Dioner Navarro also stroked a home run that ignited a three-run second inning for the Blue Jays and provided them with an early 3-0 lead.
It marked the first multi-home run outing for the Blue Jays since July 2, a span of 12 games. The Blue Jays spanked out 15 hits with six players enjoying a multihit game, including Cabrera, who went 3-for-5 with three runs batted in.
Along with his home run, his 12th of the season, Cabrera stroked a two-run single in Toronto’s three-run eighth inning that ultimately sealed the Rangers’ fate and provided Toronto with a 2-1 series victory.
The victory was earned by Todd Redmond, who came into the game in the seventh in relief of Mark Buehrle (10-6), who remains 0-5 with three no-decisions over his past eight starts.
The lefty allowed five Texas runs off eight hits and issued a balk with the bases loaded in the sixth that brought in the first of three Texas runs that knotted the score at 5-5.
During a pregame interview with reporters, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said it is evident to anybody who has watched the team go about its business the past six weeks or so that it is the lack of offensive punch that has dragged the Blue Jays down.
Over the first 57 games of the regular season, when the Blue Jays were soaring high, the team was averaging five runs a game.
Over the next 41 games, where the Toronto went 17-24 and fell out of first place, the Blue Jays managed just 149 runs, an average of 3.6 per outing. Only the Boston Red Sox, who scored 147 runs over the same time frame, put up a worse number in the American League.
And while the offence is one area that the club clearly needs to improve, Anthopoulos suggested that help in that regard might soon be on the way.
Adam Lind, who is recovering from a broken right foot, has discarded the walking boot he has been wearing, and has started taking some cuts off the batting tee, as has Edwin Encarnacion, the team’s home and RBI leader, who is recuperating from a quad strain.
And outfielder Nolan Reimold, recently scooped up off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles, is also progressing from a calf strain that also landed him on the disabled list.
“We haven’t set a timeline or timetable,” Anthopoulos said. “Just in speaking with our training staff they wouldn’t be surprised if these guys have a chance to get into rehab games by the weekend.”
And third baseman Brett Lawrie, out since mid-June with a broken right finger, was with the team on Sunday taking some ground balls and doing some light throwing.
According to Anthopoulos, Lawrie still needs to improve his grip strength when swinging the bat before he can contemplate a return, but at least he is progressing in the right direction.
With the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31 looming, Anthopoulos was evasive when he was asked if he could take on additional salary if it meant being able to work a deal to help the team’s fortunes over the second half and make a concerted run for the postseason.
The payroll for the Rogers-owned club is currently around $135-million (U.S.), a franchise high.
“We can add players, so we have the ability to have that dialogue at any time,” Anthopoulos said. “I don’t see any reason why we won’t be able to add players and obviously players make money, no one plays for free.”