John Gibbons scoffed at the suggestion that Mark Buehrle just might be the most surprising aspect of the Toronto Blue Jays season so far this year.
Casting a world-weary stare at an inquisitor, the Blue Jays manager began to rattle off all the 35-year-old Buehrle’s accomplishments during a 16-year run in Major League Baseball.
“He’s had a great career, people forget that sometimes,” Gibbons said, successfully resisting the temptation to reach for a 1/2-full bottle of Tums that resides on his cluttered desktop in his office. “He’s got a perfect game, a no hitter. He’s pitched for a World Series team, close to 200 wins. How many Gold Gloves has he won?
“It’s not like he’s some guy who came out of nowhere and is a great story. He’s had a tremendous career.”
Gibbons was checking off Buehrle’s attributes a couple of hours before the left-hander took the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night hoping to once again make the mundane magnificent. With a fastball that rarely clocks in at over 85 mph, Buehrle has been the star of the Blue Jays starting rotation this season, and was trying to become MLB’s first nine-game winner.
The Blue Jays (31-22) once again resorted to the long ball to help their ace (now 9-1) reach that goal as Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion both homered back-to-back in a four-run fifth inning to help stake the Blue Jays to a 9-6 victory over the Rays (23-30).
Juan Francisco added another dinger in the seventh, his ninth of the season, as Toronto remains the hottest team in baseball. It was the Blue Jays eighth straight victory and their 13th in the last 15 outings, helping them maintain their grip on first place in the AL East.
It was a pretty good pitching duel early on between Buehrle and Alex Cobb, a nice-looking right-hander who started on the mound for Tampa.
Cobb came into the game riding a steak of 21.3 scoreless innings over his previous three starts.
With the score deadlocked at 2-2, Jose Reyes began the fifth inning by ripping a dangerous grounder up the middle that appeared to clip Cobb in his upper right leg.
Reyes was safe on the play and Cobb dropped to the ground.
The entire Rays’ infield, along with manager Joe Maddon and a team trainer, gathered around the mound to check on the pitcher’s condition.
After a few moments, Cobb got up, threw a couple of practice throws, and proclaimed himself ready to continue.
But Cobb was not the same after that.
After a ground out by Melky Cabrera, Cobb gave up a single to Jose Bautista that scored Reyes from second base and put Toronto ahead 3-2
Lind and Encarnacion then followed with back-to-back home runs that drove in three more Toronto runs and bring the score to 6-2.
It was the second straight game the Blue Jays have registered back-to-back home runs.
And for Encarnacion, he will forever look kindly on May as the home run was his 14 in the month, extending his own club record.
The homer also ties Jose Bautista’s club record of most home runs in any month by a Blue Jay, something Bautista accomplished in June, 2012.
That would be all the support that Buehrle required, going 6.2 innings for the win, allowing four Tampa runs (three earned) off eight hits.
Back in spring training, nobody in the Blue Jays organization was anticipating this type of domination from Buehrle, whose most successful season was in 2002, when he went 19-12 for the Chicago White Sox.
Always a workhorse who has logged more than 200 innings for 13 consecutive seasons, Buehrle enjoyed a 16-8 year back in 2005. But since 2009, he has hovered around the .500 level with close to 13 wins each season.
Last season Buehrle was 12-10.
At the rate he is going, Buehrle is a shoo-in to be the starter for the American League in the All-Star Game, to be played July 15 in Minnesota.
“To have the dominant season he’s had, I don’t think anybody saw it coming,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “But I’ve seen him good at times last year and in the past. And I know what he’s capable of.
“So not totally shocked. Pleasantly surprised.”