Marco Scutaro and his teammates finally combined to give Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay an offensive cushion to work with yesterday.
The run support in the 7-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre was the most offence that the Jays have gift-wrapped for their standout right-handed pitcher since May 27.
Scutaro, the Jays shortstop and leadoff hitter, was front and centre with four hits, including a two-run homer in the third inning to give the Jays a 3-2 lead after his error a few minutes earlier led to the Orioles second run of the game.
A career .261 hitter prior to this year, Scutaro's impressive outing pushed his season batting average to .300 and his on-base percentage to .391, tied for eighth in the American League. He also now has a career-high 10 homers.
The 33-year-old Venezuelan credits Toronto manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Gene Tenace for his turnaround at the plate. Scutaro also revealed that Gaston called the Jays together before their series against the Orioles to finish the season strong and play with pride in what will be a demanding final 55 games of the season.
When Gaston returned as the Jays manager on June 20, 2008, he noticed after one game how Scutaro was a much better batter with two strikes on him because he would widen his stance.
Gaston and Tenace mentioned it to Scutaro and he got a hit in the next two games.
"He's a kid who listens, he's coachable," Gaston said. "When he widens his stance he has quick hands. When he gets too close, he starts jumping in too much with his body. We just have to remind him every once in a while."
The change to his approach has catapulted Scutaro to among the game's top leadoff hitters and he no doubt will be highly sought after if the Jays allow him to become a free agent in the off-season.
Scutaro remarked that he desires to remain in Toronto. A big reason for his pro-Blue Jays sentiments has to do with what Gaston and his coaching staff have meant to Scutaro's 14 month improvement. He is fifth in the Majors having reached base safely 198 times either from a hit, a walk or a hit-by-pitch.
"I would love to stay here. I love the people, I love my teammates and I love the manager," he said. "But, on the other hand, you don't have control over what happens. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
Scutaro and the rest of the Jays also can't wait to see if Halladay can reach the 20-victory mark. It seemed a certainty at the beginning of the season, when with consistent run support Halladay marched out to an 8-1 start. But then the Jays stopped crossing the plate with Halladay on the mound.
"We just couldn't score enough runs for him," Gaston said. "He's been dealing with that for a few years here. At the start of the season every time he pitched we scored him some runs and he looked like he was going to cruise to an easy 20 wins.
"It's the first time he's had some run support in some time. It certainly was good for me to see that happen for Doc."
Halladay wasn't as sharp as usual. He did surrender nine hits in his eight innings, an improvement over the 10 and 11 hits he yielded in his past two outings against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, respectively.
At 12-5, Halladay could make 11 more starts in 2009 if he remains healthy.
"In a lot of cases, when you score early, you take the wind out their sails," Halladay said. "It's obviously harder to come back offensively when you're down."