He jumped up at second base, all dirt and anger and hunched over to flex his chest and arms. Forget the Lo Viste salute or the bowing. This was what has been missing from the Toronto Blue Jays, and until Jose Reyes returns some time in July, Brett Lawrie is the only one who can deliver it.
Rushed back onto the 25-man roster following Reyes’s severely sprained ankle, Lawrie had just three hits in 21 at-bats until he pulled a two-run double down the left-field line – barely fair – in the sixth inning on Sunday, driving in the go-ahead run en route to a sweep-averting 8-4 win over the New York Yankees.
Lawrie, who came home with the sixth run on a Melky Cabrera single, made a diving stop to begin an inning-ending double play in the eighth. In a delightful malapropism, Lawrie mused afterward that a “quick memory” is required to play this game, coming on the heels of his role in a botched play at third base on Saturday that was costly in a 5-3 loss in 11 innings.
“A good, big, win for us,” was the apt description from Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team saw a 2-1 lead turn into a 3-2 deficit on back-to-back walks by Josh Johnson with the bases loaded in the fifth and who admitted “the feeling when you’re going through this is like: ‘Here we go again,’ but they fought through that and played a really good ball game.”
‘This’ is an 8-11 start to the 2012 season that has come perilously close to being a complete buzz-kill after a frenetic off-season makeover. Sunday’s crowd was 45,575, the third sellout of the season and the seventh time the Blue Jays have played in front of crowds of 40,000-plus at home. They’d lost five of the previous six, and the losses were often characterized by ham-handed defence and a lack of clutch or, for that matter, any hitting.
The Blue Jays, who are on the road for three games against the Baltimore Orioles and four more in the Bronx, had been outscored at home 39-62 before Sunday’s outburst.
Sunday’s game still had its moments. Maicer Izturis couldn’t get down a bunt to move Lawrie over to third after his double (the Blue Jays have one sacrifice hit all season) and Jose Bautista was doubled off first base when he charged halfway to third on a line drive by Edwin Encarnacion that was speared at the wall by Vernon Wells.
Encarnacion is 0-for-25 in six games against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Johnson, who gave up three singles before issuing consecutive walks with two out in the fifth, said, “it seems like a couple of times a year you just lose it.”
The Blue Jays, at least, can say they haven’t been swept this season.
Lawrie plays the game on the edge of baseball convention, which is maddening at times but on days such as Sunday’s wholly fitting. He slid tummy first across home plate on Cabrera’s single (cue more flexing and face cringing) and practically punched Bautista on the hand as the Blue Jays right-fielder waited to greet him.
In Reyes’s absence, there has been an unnerving stasis around this team.
The Jays’ paucity of good days had Gibbons brushing off back-to-back wins over the Kansas City Royals last weekend as “basically, one good day.”
Gibbons – who said before Sunday’s game that Munenori Kawaski would lead off against right-handers and Rajai Davis against lefties, for the time being – reiterated that in a perfect world Lawrie would have been given more time in the minor leagues to get ready after straining his left oblique muscle at the World Baseball Classic. He needed to see more breaking pitches, especially.
The key, Lawrie said, is seeing the ball well and “feeling my hands.
“I know I need reps,” he added. “But it’s nothing to panic about. I know it will come around some time.”
Even if that some time is a few at-bats away, Sunday was a tonic.
“It’s just nice to have him [Lawrie] back,” said catcher J.P. Arencibia, whose seventh home run was a two-run blast that extended the Blue Jays’ lead to 8-4. “There’s a lot of things he does well defensively. His energy is always enjoyed, but there are lots of positive aspects to having him back.”
Like for once making a sell-out crowd at the Rogers Centre sound like a sell-out crowd.