In a 162-game season, picking out a single game as a turning point can be a futile business, but the Toronto Blue Jays just might look back on Sunday's 7-1 win over the Boston Red Sox as one.
It was as complete a win as the Blue Jays mustered in two American League seasons, as all of the missing parts of their game that resulted in a four-game losing streak going into Sunday's meeting at the Rogers Centre came together for a convincing win.
The losing stretch saw the Jays pitchers give up 36 runs on 47 hits and 22 walks, but with starter and winner R.A. Dickey (2-3), leading the way, not a single walk was issued Sunday, as the Jays raised their record to 12-13.
The start was finally backed up by some fine work from the bullpen, and while the offence may have been a little late clicking into gear, the hits with runners on base came in time to preserve the win for Dickey. He left in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead on a tidy effort in which he scattered five hits and struck out six batters. It was the first time since joining the Jays at the start of last season that Dickey did not give up a walk.
"Today was a textbook win, it felt like, for a baseball team," Dickey said. "We executed, we bunted, we sacrificed guys over, we played great defence, we threw strikes.
"We didn't have a walk. Today, did we have a single walk? We didn't walk a guy as a staff. A lot of great things happened today so it was good. We can see what happens when we have a complete ball game. Hopefully that will encourage us to do the same in the future."
The victory even happened on Dickey's bobblehead day in front of an announced sellout crowd of 45,260.
"Obviously, I planned it that way," Dickey said dryly and then smiled when asked if his children will treasure their father's bobblehead dolls. "They're not going to be collectors in my house. The heads will be popped off."
There were a couple of touchy moments for Dickey, it seemed. One came in the second inning when Jays shortstop Jose Reyes pulled up on a shallow fly ball by Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr., because it looked like he expected left fielder Melky Cabrera to take it. But Cabrera never made a move and the ball fell in, driving in first baseman Mike Napoli for the only Red Sox run.
It appeared Dickey glared at Cabrera, although the left fielder redeemed himself in the third with a double that drove in catcher Josh Thole for what stood up as the winning run. When Jays manager John Gibbons came out in the seventh inning to lift Dickey after he hit a batter and gave up a double to Xander Bogaerts to put runners at first and third with one out, it also looked as if the pitcher was not pleased.
However, Dickey insisted he was only annoyed at himself for not lasting through the seventh inning and Gibbons "made the absolute right move."
The key to stopping what has been a slow start to the season for Dickey was mixing more fastballs in with his knuckleball to disrupt the Red Sox, who like to take a lot of pitches early in hopes of getting pitchers off their rhythm.
"Boston leads the league in pitches-seen, so I knew they were going to be patient," Dickey said. "Nothing is worse than seeing a fastball down the middle from a knuckleball pitcher and letting it go. If I could get them in the swing mode early that would work in our favour."
The bullpen, prone to meltdowns so far this season, provided a much-needed boost when Steve Delabar got the Jays out of the seventh inning with their 2-1 lead by getting David Ross on a long fly to centre.
"That was the game right there," Gibbons said.
Then the Toronto hitters took over. Third baseman Brett Lawrie, who had a solo home run in the second, joined first baseman Edwin Encarnacion in hitting back-to-back doubles that boosted the Jays' lead to 4-1. Encarnacion doubled again in a three-run eighth and finished with two RBI, the same as Lawrie.
The long-needed complete effort allowed Gibbons a laugh when he was asked how he felt about setting an unusual mark. He became the first manager in Major League Baseball to start six players from the Dominican Republic in a game – Reyes, Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Encarnacion, Juan Francisco and Moises Sierra.
"It might get me a job in winter ball this winter," Gibbons said.
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