When Edwin Encarnacion hits a home run, upon reaching first base, he’ll bring his right arm up in a Gordie Howe pose as though preparing to elbow an opponent into the boards. It’s become a unique signature, what some call a “chicken-wing move.”
Encarnacion demonstrated it again to a sold-out Rogers Centre in the second inning on Sunday when he belted homer No. 21 this season, and drove in four runs overall, as the Toronto Blue Jays capped a statement-making, three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles with a 13-5 barrage.
Watch: Jays turn win streak up to 11 by beating Orioles
It was the Jays’ 11th consecutive win, putting them five games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, and 2 1/2 games out of a wild-card berth. The Blue Jays play seven consecutive games against the AL East this week – three in Tampa starting Monday before heading to Boston on Thursday.
The Blue Jays are so hot that, after shortstop Jose Reyes (ankle) played his third game at Triple-A Buffalo on rehab assignment on Sunday, Toronto manager John Gibbons wouldn’t commit to a return date, rousing suspicion the club may wait until the streak is broken, out of superstition. A more plausible rationale, however, is to avoid testing his ankle on Tropicana Field’s artificial turf.
The Jays have won 15 of 18 games since June 2, outscoring opponents 102-53. They played to raucous, youth-skewed crowds of 35,472 in a 7-6 win on Friday, 43,261 for a 4-2 win on Saturday, and 45,214 on Sunday.
“I have been waiting for this,” Encarnacion said. “I know what this team can do.”
A force during the Jays’ turnaround, Encarnacion hit a two-run homer over the left-field wall in the second inning for a 4-0 lead Sunday. As has become the routine, he locked his arm into position upon reaching first base and held it in place until high-fiving coach Luis Rivera while rounding third.
Once home, the next ritual is to face fellow Dominican Jose Bautista and clench muscles in a show of power, no matter which player has hit the homer.
Hitters need to earn the right to such demonstrations, even modest ones such as Encarnacion’s, lest pitchers drill them for showboating. Soft-spoken and generally shy of the cameras, Encarnacion has earned that respect from teammates and opponents alike.
Encarnacion, 30, created the move subconsciously in April of 2012, upon hitting a grand slam against Seattle pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. “That’s when I started to be more consistent,” Encarnacion said. “I got excited and my arm came up from my side. Everybody liked it, so I kept doing it.”
Demoted to Triple-A for a spell in 2010, he began hitting consistently in the second half of the 2011 season and put it together last year, hitting 42 home runs.
Now he ranks second in the AL for home runs, behind Baltimore’s Chris Davis, and third in RBIs, with 63. He’s hitting .353 with runners in scoring position.
“In this game, you have good months and sometimes you have bad months,” Encarnacion said. “At the beginning, I don’t feel good at the plate with my timing. Now I am feeling better, feeling good.”
In May, Gibbons shuffled the lineup, moving Bautista to second from third in the order, and Encarnacion to third from fourth. In that slot, Encarnacion has averaged .339 after going 3-for-5 on Sunday, and the Jays are 25-12 since May 11, for the top winning percentage in baseball over that time.
“Who knows the reason, but it’s worked,” Gibbons said.
Adam Lind, averaging .337 for second overall in the AL, has a unique vantage point to watch Encarnacion at work, from the on-deck circle in the fourth slot.
“He’s got a lot of balance right now,” Lind said. “He’s not chasing [bad pitches].”
Encarnacion added a two-run double in the third inning for a 9-0 lead. Bautista hit a three-run double in the seventh, after the Orioles had closed to 9-4 on Ryan Flaherty’s two-run homer off Josh Johnson, who won for the first time this season.
The 6-7-8 hitters in the order, Colby Rasmus (homer No. 14), Maicer Izturis and J.P. Arencibia, went a combined 7-for-13 with three RBIs.
All of it overshadowed by Encarnacion’s power show.
Toronto Blue Jays (38-36) at Tampa Bay Rays (39-37)
Monday, 7:10 p.m. (ET): RH Esmil Rogers (3-2, 3.14) vs. RH Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 5.50).
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.: LH Mark Buehrle (4-4, 4.60) vs. LH Matt Moore (9-3, 4.13).
Wednesday, 12:10 p.m.: RH R.A. Dickey (6-8, 5.15) vs. RH Roberto Hernandez (4-8, 5.14).
Notes: The Rays have dropped seven games in the standings to the Blue Jays over the past 12 games. … On Saturday, the Rays fell percentage points behind Toronto into fifth place in the AL East, the first time they’ve been in last after the first month of the season since 2007. … With a win over the Yankees on Sunday, they have lost eight of their past 12 contests, and 10 of 15. … While Toronto’s rotation has turned it around, the Rays’ starters have completed seven innings only once during the past 12. … The Jays are 4-3 against Tampa, with four games decided by one run. … The Rays are 18-23 vs. the AL East, the Jays 15-20. Eleven of those losses have been decided in the ninth inning or later. Overall, their bullpen has blown 11 leads in the seventh inning or later. … Hellickson is 3-2 with a 3.04 ERA in eight career starts against the Jays. … Evan Longoria has feasted on the Jays, hitting .500 in seven games with seven doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs. … In the first trip to Tropicana Field, J.A. Happ was hit on the head with a line drive.