When R.A. Dickey is on the mound, it means that Josh Thole, who specializes in catching the pitcher’s signature knuckleball, is behind the plate.
And that normally means a night off for Russell Martin, Toronto’s everyday catcher, whose weary bones at this late stage of a long regular season can certainly use the rest.
But Martin has committed the sin of being Toronto’s most consistent hitter over the past couple of weeks. And with Dickey facing the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, and Thole behind the plate, Martin’s reward was not a day off to cool his heels, but a start as Toronto’s designated hitter.
It marked the first time this season that manager John Gibbons has used Martin as the DH in a game Thole has caught, and you could say the gambit was a success.
Martin clocked three hits in the game, including a double, and drove in Toronto’s first run.
He would also force in a run on a bases-loaded walk, and scored another on a heads-up base running play to help lift the Blue Jays (71-54) to a 7-2 victory over the Angels (52-73) in the first of a three-game series here in Toronto.
Michael Saunders belted a home run for Toronto in the win, his 21st of the season.
For the Blue Jays, the game against the Angels marked the start of a six-game homestand. Following the Angels, the Minnesota Twins will roll into town.
With both the Angels and the Twins bringing up the rear in their respective divisions, having combined for close to 150 losses between them this season, this would seem to be a favourable week for the Blue Jays to go on a bit of a tear.
Despite dropping two of three squeakers to the Indians in Cleveland last weekend, the Blue Jays came into Tuesday’s game in a tie with the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East.
After this week, the Blue Jays will play 15 straight games against AL East opponents, including three on the road against the third-seeded Baltimore Orioles and three at home to the Red Sox. That stretch that will go a long way toward determining Toronto’s playoff aspirations.
Martin entered the L.A. series as the team’s most dangerous hitter of late, and on his best run of the season, having homered in five of his past seven contests. Over that span, the 33-year-old Canadian has hit at a .414 clip with 11 runs batted in.
“I think it was just a matter of time that everything came together for him,” Gibbons said of Martin’s recent hitting heroics.
With the hit-and-miss nature of the Toronto offence these days, Gibbons was loath to tie his most potent bat to the bench with Thole catching, so Martin became the DH.
After Darwin Barney doubled to centre leading off the first inning for Toronto, Martin responded with a one-out single to right that lifted the Blue Jays in front 1-0.
It didn’t last long. L.A.’s Nick Buss connected on his first career home run in the second off Dickey, a towering two-run shot to right that vaulted the Angels in front 2-1.
In the third, Martin worked a bases-loaded walk off L.A. starter Tyler Skaggs that forced in Barney from third to tie the score. Troy Tulowitzki then hit into a run-scoring double play that moved the Blue Jays in front 3-2.
A sacrifice fly by Thole in the fourth made it 4-2 before Toronto added two more in the fifth to effectively put the game away. Martin counted one of the runs after singling and moving to third on a run-scoring double off the bat of Tulowitzki.
Melvin Upton Jr. then lifted a shallow-ish fly ball to left field that Martin carefully judged, ultimately tagging up and testing the arm of Buss, the L.A. outfielder.
Martin’s judgment proved correct as Buss’s throw was well up the first-base line and the catcher-turned-DH tromped safely across home plate with Toronto’s sixth run.
It proved to be a good night for Dickey, the Toronto starter who has had trouble winning at home this season.
Dickey would go 62/3 innings to pick up the win, allowing two L.A. runs off six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
Dickey’s record is now 9-13 on the year, but just 3-8 at Rogers Centre.Report Typo/Error
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