Everything that clanked before is clicking now for the Blue Jays.
After a 5-2 win over Colorado extended Toronto's win streak to eight games on Wednesday, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle pointed to a single out as an example of how the season's turning around. In the fifth inning, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki had pulled first baseman Adam Lind off the bag with a throw, allowing Jordan Pacheco to reach base on the error and putting two runners on base rather than ending the inning.
Not so long ago, this situation would have imploded and speaking with reporters in the clubhouse afterwards, Buehrle would have taken the blame for failing to 'pick up' a teammate. This time, Buehrle pulled the string on Tyler Covin, throwing a 71-mph changeup on a full count to end the inning. He called the strikeout the biggest out of the game as it preserved a two-run lead and moreover, it saved Kawasaki, "a guy who's out here every day busting his butt," from inflicting damage on the team at a crucial juncture.
The three-game sweep over Colorado followed a four-game sweep of the Texas Rangers, improving the club's record to 12-4 in June. The Jays now face 10 consecutive games against AL East opponents, beginning Friday against Baltimore. Against the AL East, their record is 12-20.
The Jays (35-36) closed to within one game of .500 for the first time since April 15, when their record was 6-7.
"We're getting the big hits, the big pitch when need it, the guys are playing great defence behind us," Buehrle said. "I don't know what's happening but hopefully it'll continue as long as it can."
Pitching is the reason for the recent turnaround, and no element is so strong as the bullpen. The four scoreless innings logged by pitchers in relief of Buehrle (4-4) extending their streak to 24.
In the seventh inning, left-hander Brett Cecil set a club record by striking out Michael Cuddyer (17-game hit streak) in the middle of a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Cecil has not allowed a hit in 38 consecutive plate appearances, breaking a mark held by David Cone, with 36 in 1995. He's on a run of 17-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings during which he's retired 50 of 55 batters.
"I didn't know it was a record until after," said the soft-spoken Cecil, who had to prove himself during spring training to earn a place on the roster. "It's still sinking in but it's not going to change anything. It is what it is. I'm not here to break records. I want to win a World Series. So I'll think about it tonight, then [Thursday's] an off day and Friday I'll be thinking about Orioles hitters."
While Buehrle (4-4) lacked the sharpness that had accounted for him holding opponents to a .224 batting average and 2.54 ERA over his previous seven starts, he was able to exploit an early lead provided by Adam Lind's three-run homer in the first inning. He allowed eight hits and a pair of runs in five innings, before turning the game over to Neil Wagner, Cecil, Steve Delabar and Casey Janssen. They each worked an inning, and allowed only one hit, a two-out double off Janssen in the ninth.
"I got lucky today," said Buehrle. "There were a lot of pitches I got away with. Early in the season those pitches were getting hit for home runs and getting us down early. Getting those three runs early was a big help. You can relax a little, knowing you make a mistake, can give up a home run and still have the lead."
The solo homer allowed to Carlos Gonzalez in the fifth inning snapped the pitching staff's 56-inning streak without giving up a long ball.
Where infield defence sabotaged the pitchers through much of April and June, Kawasaki's throwing error aside, the Jays turned in the latest in a string of solid defensive efforts on Wednesday. Second baseman Emilio Bonifacio provided the highlights, diving right to snare a liner from leadoff hitter D.J. LeMahieu in the first inning and leaping high to bag a Nolan Arenado line drive in the third inning, with a runner on first.
During the win streak, the rotation has compiled a 1.87 earned run average against the White Sox, Rangers and Rockies. In three of those eight, a starting pitcher has allowed no earned runs. In seven, they staff has allowed two runs or fewer.
Colorado, a team that came into the game leading the majors in hits and leading the National League in extra-base hits, managed just five runs in the three-game interleague set.
Lind reached the right-field seats against Juan Nicasio (4-3) for his ninth homer of the season, in the first. He broke a tie with Fred McGriff with his 126 career homer, to place ninth on the team's all-time list.
Bonifacio hit a run scoring grounder in the fourth for a 4-1 lead, and Kawasaki tripled in the seventh before scoring on Melky Cabrera's single for a 5-2 lead. Pacheco doubled in the second inning for the Rockies and scored on Yorvit Torrealba's single.