Mark Buehrle could have easily handled the lazy little infield pop-up off the bat of Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game.
The pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays has not earned three Gold Glove awards, the annual hardware handed out each year in Major League Baseball to those individuals judged the best fielders at their position, for nothing.
But like all good pitchers, when Buehrle heard the bark from Toronto first baseman Edwin Encarnacion that he had it, the pitcher dutifully stepped aside.
That is when things turned murky for Encarnacion, struggling to track the ball in the bright sunshine that was streaming into Rogers Centre through the open roof.
At the last moment, Encarnacion lost it in the sun. The ball bounced off the stadium’s springy artificial surface just off the pitcher’s mound along the first base side without being touched.
The ball then continued its unlikely journey, rolling several feet until it passed over the foul line, and the play was ruled a simple foul ball.
Instead of being at first base, Cain had to resume his at-bat, and Buehrle proceeded to strike him out to end the inning.
It has been that kind of a season for Buehrle, when even the blunders have silver linings.
“I’ve got a horseshoe stuck up my rear end pretty far right now, so I’m not complaining,” Buehrle would later acknowledge.
The veteran lefty continued his special season on Sunday, confounding the Royals over eight innings of work, allowing just six hits during a workmanlike 4-0 Blue Jays victory.
Buehrle is now 10-1 on the season as the Blue Jays (34-24) won a second consecutive game over the Royals (26-30) to earn a split in the four-game set. Buehrle’s earned run average is now 2.10.
Dioner Navarro stroked a home run in the second inning for the Blue Jays giving them all the offence they would need on this day.
Anthony Gose was credited with an RBI in the fourth when he hit into a fielder’s choice.
And Encarnacion, coming off a splendid month of May where he clubbed 16 home runs, is picking right up where he left off, knocking a two-run shot out of the yard in the eighth to ice the victory.
Toronto manager John Gibbons was asked what was left to say about Buehrle, who is already sitting on 10 wins by June 1st.
“Well, he ought to be starting the all-star game,” Gibbons said. “Today was as good as he’s been all year. But you know what, he’s really been great. It seems like every time I come in here you’ve got to describe it the same way. But that’s what he does.
“He keeps you off-balance, he never gives in. He hits both sides of the plate. To sum it up, he’s a pitcher.”
Ned Yost, the Kansas City manager, was equally impressed.
“He’s a master at what he does,” Yost said. “He commands the baseball so well, changes speeds off everything he has. He has the ability to read the hitter’s reaction to the pitch before to know what he’s going to throw next. If the hitter is gearing up, he backs off, if the hitter is backing off, he gears up.
“He just pitched a phenomenal game.”
With the Minnesota Twins beating up the New York Yankees 7-2, Toronto’s lead atop the American League East standing is now 3 1/2 games as the Blue Jays head into Detroit on Tuesday to begin a three-game series against the Tigers.
A live band was cranking out the hurtin’ tunes from the centerfield stands as a healthy gathering of 38,008 streamed into Rogers Centre before the start of the game.
It was a “Country Day” promotion and free straw cowboy hats were handed out to the first 20,000 patrons.
It was the perfect backdrop for Buehrle to perform, a good-old country boy if there ever was one.
It was only last July that Buehrle, after two-hitting the Twins in a 4-0 Blue Jays victory in Toronto, quickly departed the stadium so he could go see country star Tim McGraw, who was performing at a nearby venue.
Encarnacion’s miscue aside, the Blue Jays have been playing superb defence, and Sunday it was Jose Reyes who provided the highlight reel play.
The shortstop ranged far to his right to pluck a ground ball off the bat of Billy Butler in the sixth inning where Eric Hosmer made the unwise decision to try to advance to third from second base.
Reyes managed to keep his balance and made a good throw to Juan Francisco at third base and the lead runner was tagged out.
“In a two run game, that’s big,” Gibbons said. “That’s what good shortstops do.