Manager John Gibbons started his post-game media session with one word: “Phew.”
Edwin Encarnacion hit two home runs, becoming the first player in two seasons to reach the fifth deck at the Rogers Centre with the first, providing a wounded team a big dose of relief with the second.
After the Blue Jays had thrown away a two-run lead in the seventh, Jose Bautista drew a walk after falling behind 1-2 in the count with two out. Encarnacion followed with a two-run, go-ahead shot to centre field off relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa, leading to a 9-7 win over the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, to start their three-game series.
On the preceding road trip to Baltimore and New York, all seven games had been decided by two runs or fewer and the Blue Jays lost six; despite taking the lead in each of the four games against the Yankees, they were swept in the series.
“This is a good hitting team and we’ve been silent,” Gibbon said. “I’ve been saying over and over, it’s just a matter of time.”
On Tuesday, they had 4-0 and 6-3 leads before falling behind, 7-6, on what could have been a demoralizing David Ortiz three-run double in the top of the seventh.
Two days earlier in New York, general manager Alex Anthopoulos had declared the Jays (10-17) comfortable with standing pat at shortstop until Jose Reyes returns from injury. Tuesday, Gibbons brought in Munenori Kawasaki as a defensive replacement in the seventh. With one out and one on, Kawasaki double-clutched on the throw to second after fielding a routine double-play grounder, the ball going wide right into shallow right field.
Steve Delabar replaced Loup and issued a walk, bringing up Ortiz who was hitting .516 in his eight games back from injury going into the game. To this point, he was 14-for-23 against right-handed pitchers including a solo homer off starting pitcher Brandon Morrow in the fourth. Delabar, a right-hander, had held left-handed hitters to a .150 average (3-for-20); something had to give. Ortiz doubled home all three runners for the 7-6 lead.
“It was very important for us to come from behind, good for the team after the way we have been [losing],” said Encarnacion, adding: “Everybody was happy after the game.”
Encarnacion has hit home runs in five of the last seven games to wrap up April with nine overall, after starting slowly. “Looking for my pitch now,” he said. “Beginning of the season, I was swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.”
Meantime, off to their best start since 2002, the Red Sox had won five straight and with 18 wins, had already guaranteed the best record in the majors for April. A win would set a club record for victories for the month.
Further, the Red Sox had a 7-2 record on the road and their pitchers had limited opponents to three runs on average in those nine games. Their starters had a record of 15-4 overall, and Tuesday’s starter, undefeated ace Jon Lester, had shut out the Blue Jays on five hits over seven innings on April 7, pushing his career record to 12-7. Moreover, in his previous nine starts at Rogers Centre, he had held the Jays to a collective .203 batting average.
This time, the Blue Jays got to him for seven hits and six runs (five earned) in six innings. They scored the first run for the 10th time in 28 games, as Bautista, batting .192, drove home Rajai Davis from second with a double in the first inning. In the third, the Jays had the bases loaded with Encarnacion at the plate when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw into right field trying to pick Bautista off first, allowing two runs to score, and a third came in on J.P. Arencibia’s two-out double.
On Saturday in New York, the Jays had taken a 3-0 lead with a couple of runs in the top of the fourth inning, only for starting pitcher J.A. Happ to walk the first two batter faced in the bottom of the frame before surrendering a three-run home run to Travis Hafner. Gibbons must have been in deep-sweat déjà vu in the fourth inning Tuesday, immediately after the Jays had been handed a 4-0 lead. Ortiz and Mike Carp answered with solo homers before Lawrie stifled the potential continuation of a rally, lunging to snare a Will Middlebrooks one-hopper and throwing from his knees to start a double play.
That play preserved a 4-3 lead and in the bottom of the same inning, with Rajai Davis aboard on a single, Encarnacion became the 14 player to reach the Rogers Centre 500 level, his home run travelling safely inside the left-field foul pole for a 6-3 advantage.
Colby Rasmus drove in the insurance run in the ninth and Casey Janssen collected his seventh consecutive save.