For a while, Luis Rivera was the loneliest man in baseball.
There was the Toronto Blue Jays third base coach, on the field at Rogers Centre, all ready to hit some ground balls, perhaps even throw a little batting practice, in advance of Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels.
Trouble was, none of the Blue Jays bothered to show up, and that was kind of shocking given the pathetic way the Blue Jays have been performing of late.
Maybe Rivera didn’t get the memo.
Toronto manager John Gibbons, perhaps in a moment of pity for a team that had looked miserable in losing the first three games of the series against L.A., decreed that batting practice would be an optional affair.
Two minutes after the appointed hour that optional BP was supposed to begin, with nary a would-be Blue Jay batter in sight, Rivera hoisted the big blue bag filled with baseballs and slowly headed off the field.
The veteran coach had that look of a kid, the one who owned the net, who gets summoned to dinner during a robust game of road hockey.
Gibbons’s largesse proved just the tonic the Blue Jays (19-20) needed to shake out of their recent funk, their offence picking up steam behind a solid start from Mark Buehrle to earn a 7-3 win over the Angels (19-18) to avoid a four-game sweep by the visitors.
Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie both knocked home runs to pace the Toronto offence while Buehrle delivered another solid outing, going six-plus innings to raise his record to a delightfully surprising 7-1 on the season.
Prior to the game, the Blue Jays announced that they have recalled righthanded pitcher Chad Jenkins and infielder Jonathan Diaz from their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.
This comes after the team placed reliever Sergio Santos on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain that the team says will require an MRI.
Diaz got the start at shortstop on Monday in place of Jose Reyes, who has been heating up of late, batting .400 (6-15) over his last four games.
Gibbons said that Reyes just needed a day off, nothing more.
And the Blue Jays also welcomed Lawrie back to the lineup, the third baseman who missed the previous six games resting a sore hamstring.
Lawrie seemed A-OK in the first inning, ranging far to his left to snare a bounding ball off the bat of Albert Pujols and then delivering a dart to first base for the third out. And Lawrie showed that his bat speed was still in good order , hammering a first-pitch offering from C.J. Wilson in the sixth inning, to the second deck in left field, for a two-run homer that boosted Toronto’s lead to 5-2.
For Lawrie, it was his seventh home run of the season and just his second off a lefty.
The Blue Jays were in desperate need of a spark heading into a game, something to rejuvenate some life into an attack suddenly gone sour after a season-high five-game winning streak.
During that run the Blue Jays had happy bats, hitting a collective .307, cranking out 13 home runs and averaging 7.6 runs per contest. In the first three games against a tough pitching L.A. squad, Jay batters were hitting a lowly .192 with just one home run and 22 strikeouts while averaging just three runs per game.
Someone needed to step up and in the first inning on Wednesday it was Bautista, who laced a 2-1 changeup into the second deck in left, a three-run homer that provided Toronto with a confidence boosting 3-0 lead.
L.A. star Mike Trout brought L.A. back in the third, stinging a line drive off Buehrle that carried over the head of Colby Rasmus in centre for a double that scored two and cut Toronto’s lead to 3-2.
Buehrle came into the contest with a sparkling 6-1 record – his six triumphs tying the crafty veteran with Zack Greinke and Adam Wainwright for the most in the majors.
And while Buehrle’s pinpoint control was not what it usually is – his five walks over six-plus innings of work were two over his season high – he was able to get the big outs when needed.
C.J. Cron hit a solo home run shot off Toronto reliever Steve Delabar in the eighth to close the gap. But a two-run single by Juan Francisco in the eighth provided the Blue Jays with more than enough breathing room.
Casey Janssen, the closer who was just activated off the disabled list, entered the game in the ninth inning to shut down the Angels in a non-save situation.