The hitting man was hitting and the running man was running.
And when you mix in a quality outing from J.A. Happ, the underappreciated starter in the rotation, it proved to be another winning recipe for the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon.
With the roof at Rogers Centre pulled back for the second time over the weekend and the season’s fourth capacity gathering (45,227) on hand, the Blue Jays continued their torrid play with a 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
The A’s (30-20) came to town on Friday with the best record in Major League Baseball only to be vanquished in three straight by the Blue Jays (29-22).
Toronto has now won six in a row and 11 of its last 13 to grab ahold of first place in the American League East, leading the New York Yankees by two games.
“Ride it, ride it,” came the succinct comment after the game by Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team is playing almost flawless baseball of late.
“I don’t know if you ever see it coming,” Gibbons said of the roll the club is on. “When it comes down to it, I’ve been saying over and over, we’re just playing good baseball. The starting pitching’s been really good, the offence is alive, we’re doing some things on the bases and the bullpen’s been solid.”
Gibbons was not around to see the Blue Jays put the finishing touches on their fourth series sweep of the season, getting ejected in the fifth inning for voicing his opinion to the umpires after a reviewable play at second base did not go Toronto’s way.
It was replica jersey giveaway day with the first 20,000 people inside being handed a free Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion model.
The crowds started lining up outside of Rogers Centre hours in advance of the gates being opened in hopes of snagging one of the freebies and the atmosphere within the stadium was decidedly festive.
Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen, who is now 7-for-7 in save situations this season after a three-up, three down ninth inning, said the team is feeding off all the good vibes.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, it’s still May,” he said. “But we’re tasting it, we want to stay here.
“We want to see this place rocking in September. We want to be where we are now in the standings when September comes around. Doing it in May and then falling off the face of the earth doesn’t do anything for us.”
Happ, unhappy earlier in the season when the Blue Jays utilized him out of the bullpen after he came off the disabled list, was solid, scattering four Oakland hits over seven shutout innings to improve to 3-1 on the season.
“He’s put his money where his mouth is,” Gibbons said of Happ and his continued effectiveness in a starting role.
The Blue Jays also utilized both power and speed to trump the A’s, who have now dropped four in a row for the first time since last season.
Encarnacion got it going in the fourth inning, ending Oakland starter Drew Pomeranz’s consecutive scoreless innings streak at 18 when he stroked a home run to left field.
It was Toronto’s first hit of the game and the 14th homer of the season for the smoldering Encarnacion, who has stroked 12 of them this month.
The Blue Jays added their second run in the fifth when Kevin Pillar came in from third base on a single to left by Bautista with the bases loaded.
Jose Reyes was cut down at the plate on the play trying to score from second, but it was the only time the A’s were able to catch up to the Toronto shortstop.
A hamstring injury in his first at-bat of the season sidelined Reyes until April 19th and his running game, a key component to his effectiveness, has slowly been rounding into form, along with his bat.
Reyes opened the game with a leadoff walk and has now reached base safely in 21 of his last 22 games.
He went 2-for-3 against Oakland and his ability to unnerve the opposition was never more evident than in the seventh when Reyes led off with a single.
Reyes stole second and then third and scored Toronto’s third run when Bautista lifted a sacrifice fly to left field.
Reyes finished with three stolen bases in the game, matching a career high he has accomplished eight previous times, the last back in September, 2008 against the Chicago Cubs.