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Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista hits a home run off New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova during third inning AL action in Toronto on Monday August 23, 2010. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista hits a home run off New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova during third inning AL action in Toronto on Monday August 23, 2010. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Bautista shoots down steroid rumours Add to ...

Several hours before Monday's series opener against the New York Yankees, Jose Bautista went about his business in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse - a routine that included some playful banter in Spanish with teammate Yunel Escobar before he turned his attention to his iPad.

Were he surfing the Internet, the 29-year-old outfielder's sunny demeanour could easily have turned sour, with more and more conjecture cropping up in cyberspace that his sudden discovery of home-run power must have been fuelled by steroid use.

"I haven't heard it once," Bautista responded evenly when asked for his reaction to the unfounded allegations. "Nobody's said anything to me, and I don't see why they should. Baseball has a strict policy against those performance-enhancing whatever you want to call them."

No doubt the debate will continue, with Bautista increasing his major league-leading homer total to 40 with two more Monday against the Yankees - including the eventual game-winning run on a solo shot in the eighth inning to lift the Blue Jays to a scrappy 3-2 win.

After stroking No. 40 to left field off reliever David Robertson, Bautista obliged the excited Rogers Centre gathering of 29,198 by stepping out of the dugout and doffing his cap, to a huge roar of approval.

It was a spirited affair between the American League East division rivals, in which Escobar was ejected from the game for an unspecified reason by home plate umpire Jerry Meals, shortly after the player ran onto the field to prepare for the top of the sixth inning. Meals then did the same to Cito Gaston, the irate Blue Jays manager, after he rushed from the dugout to confront the ump.

Things turned zany again in the bottom of the inning, when Bautista took unkindly to having to hit the deck after a high and inside heater from Yankees starter Ivan Nova.

Meals immediately issued a warning to the pitcher but that wasn't enough to appease Bautista, who slowly started to walk toward the mound. It prompted a mass exodus of both dugouts and bullpens for a bit of a square dance around home plate, before order was restored without any conflict.

Bautista's first home run came in the third inning, a two-run moon shot that landed in the second deck in left field and provided Toronto with an early 2-1 lead.

He has been red-hot with the bat of late, as 16 of his home runs have occurred since the all-star break, nine in the month of August.

He said there is nothing nefarious behind his dramatic power surge, that he just tinkered with his swing on the advice late last season.

"It's not a secret and I didn't reinvent the wheel," Bautista said. "I keep saying it because it's the truth. It's as simple as getting [his swing]started earlier, and I've got Cito and [hitting coach]Dwayne Murphy to thank for that.

"They kind of brought it to my attention and they worked with me extensively and it's sort of the renaissance of my hitting. I owe it to them because without them it wouldn't have been possible."

Bautista said he doesn't consider himself a power hitter - "I don't aim over the fence" - but he sees no reason why he can't continue to hit with the same authority in years to come.

"If I can remain consistent, I don't see why not," he said. "I think I'm still pretty young. I keep myself in shape and don't abuse my body."

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