Cito Gaston loves San Diego. He played six major-league seasons here in the early 1970s - enjoying some the best baseball of his career - so there's the nostalgia factor. And then there's the reason everyone else likes Los Angeles's low-key, cheery cousin.
"It's one of my favourite cities, and the weather has a lot to do with it," the Toronto Blue Jays manager was saying as his club was getting ready to take the field for a late afternoon start at Petco Park against a cloudless sky.
But Gaston admitted that, weather aside, he's about ready to head back to the not-so-sunny Rogers Centre.
They'll be arriving on a high note after scoring a 7-1 win over the surprising San Diego Padres in the rubber match of their three-game series against the National League's best team.
But that's merely window dressing on a disturbing road record of late: Toronto finished its nine-game road trip 3-6 and has been the loser in eight of its last 11 games as a visitor.
"We need to get home," Gaston said. "We have been playing good on the road, but these last two road trips have been tough."
The opposition has been tough, including American League East co-leader Tampa Bay, Colorado, which is playing better than .500, and the Padres, a lineup chock full of cheap, young prospects playing above their pay grade.
But Gaston wasn't having that.
"This trip here, you look back at the games we should have won. I guess we won the ones we won," he said.
Before games played Wednesday night Toronto was seven games behind the division-leading New York Yankees and Tampa Bay and four games behind the Boston Red Sox in third. Toronto is baseball's best fourth-place club at 36-31 but the Jays' big power numbers - their 103 home runs lead the majors - are mascara on a couple of more disturbing trends: the team is last in the American League in batting average (.240) and in on-base percentage (.308) - solo home runs can only take you so far.
Wednesday night the Jays got a bit more diversity in their attack as they rapped out 11 hits. Catcher John Buck, for example, waited until Lyle Overbay singled before driving him home with his third homer of the series and 12th of the season. Before the game Gaston had tabbed leadoff hitter Fred Lewis as someone who could help the Jays scratch out some runs without the long ball and was proven correct. Not only did Lewis start the game by banging out a triple and scoring on a fielder's choice, he stroked a double in the fifth and came around to score on a single by Aaron Hill to give Toronto a 4-1 lead, with Vernon Wells's line-drive homer, his 16th, to lead off the sixth adding to the total.
Lewis finished the scoring in the top of ninth by cashing a two-run single. As the Jays try to right their ship it's the likes of Lewis that will need to keep getting on base to set the table for those behind.
But Gaston, for one, wasn't forseeing his club pull itself back into playoff contention merely by working walks and scratching out infield singles.
"You have what you have. That's what I said in spring training, we would have six or seven guys who could hit 20, 25 home runs, and it looks like that's what it's going to be. If that's what you got, that's what you got, and if you're going to hit home runs a lot, you're going to strike out a lot. It'd be nice to see us get a couple of hits and then get a home run, that'd be great … but that's what most of these guys are, home run hitters."
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