This game should be a mismatch, but in the Jays’ favour this time: Lefty Joe Saunders pitches poorly on the road, and Brandon Morrow is due. Heck, the whole team is due, no, overdue. Let’s see how this one plays out over 9 innings.
The early returns are promising. As Buck Martinez mentioned the team “has their hitting shoes on” and that is indeed the case. A double and a sac fly in the first and a single-single-single-RBI ground out had the Jays up 3-0 in the 2nd inning. For his part, Morrow is throwing strikes and getting the bats back out on the field quickly. The way this season has gone to this point makes me cautious, though: I’ll reserve judgment until the later innings.
Michael Saunders is Canadian and a pretty good ballplayer but I hope that he’s injured the next time TOR plays SEA. Well, not injured unless it’s a hangnail or something equally innocuous. Maybe paternity leave or having visa/passport problems is the solution. His big offensive game has been followed by a terrific defensive effort. He robbed Edwin and JPA each of two-base hits in the bottom of the 3rd inning to prevent the Blue Jays from adding a couple of runs to their lead.
Joe Saunders isn’t fooling the Jays at all: they have 5 hits in 3+ innings and have hit the ball very hard on several other occasions. Let’s see if more of these fall into play. Buck and Jack Morris said that the Jays need a laugher. John Gibbons said the Jays need a walk off or something similar to help them ‘breathe easier’. I want them to execute the fundamentals consistently on offense, defense, and on the basepaths and gut out a few wins. Some have said they need to stop swinging for the fences, hit according to the situation, and play more ‘small ball’. There’s no question that something needs to happen: the nature of that ‘something’ is anyone’s guess.
Morrow struggled to open the fifth inning. He walked the first two batters on 8 pitches and only a terrific play at 3B kept a sharp grounder by Jesus Montero on the infield. All hands were safe, though, and the bases were loaded with no one out. The next batter, Robert Andino, hit a ball into the hole at short and the Jays recorded an out, but a run scored. The specter of facing Michael Saunders with runners on base is now a reality. Saunders walked to re-load the bases, bringing Kyl Seager to the plate. Prior to the 5th inning, Seager was the only batter to work Morrow for a hit (a 2B in the first). Seager hit a sac fly into medium depth LF to make the score 3-2. Another walk—four in the inning—to Kendrys Morales has loaded the bases again, and the ‘pen is getting ready. The M’s mini-rally ended with a fly ball to medium-shallow CF. Brandon Morrow’s failure to be aggressive (Jack Morris: “he’s being too fine”) let the M’s back into the game. TOR can’t break through offensively against anyone this year, and the pitchers exacerbate the problem by refusing to rely on their ‘stuff’ and pitch situationally. Prior to this inning, Morrow retired 10 in a row; he gave up two hits and four walks in the inning. They were lucky to retain the lead.
Maybe this is what they needed: Melky Cabrera hit his first home run of the season after Morrow struggled so greatly in the top of the inning. His teammates ignored him—no high fives, ‘lo vistes’ or anything—when he returned to the dugout, before they eventually congratulated him. Jose Bautista followed with a walk. The Jays have done a few things to re-take the momentum. Yet again, though, an OF made a nice play on a ball the Edwin hit very well. JP Arencibia singled through the left side for the Jays eighth hit of the afternoon against Joe Saunders and the M’s. Mark DeRosa then homered to CF to give the Jays a 7-2 lead. Subbing for Lawrie today, DeRosa has homered and doubled. After circling the bases, he sat down beside Brandon Morrow on the bench. He also called the players only meeting this past wee. He’s putting his veteran leadership to good use. Ground outs by Izturis and Bonifacio brought a very productive inning (HR, BB, single, HR; 4 R) to an end.
Alright, here’s one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen in a while: Brandon Morrow needed fewer than 10 pitches (I didn’t count; it was something like 6 or 7) to retire the side and get his hot-hitting team back to the plate. (I like having Mark DeRosa on this team.)
How about this? Edwin Encarnacion has hit the ball very hard twice today, only to have the M’s OF make two good plays. This time, with Kawasaki, Melky, and Bautista on base, Edwin hit a weak grounder to 2B that was too softly hit to turn a DP, and he drove in a run. It’s like the proverbial ugly goal in hockey: it doesn’t always take a Chara slapshot or a series of Crosby moves to beat a goalie. Sometimes the puck bounces off Tim Kerr’s head.
In the top of the 7th Morrow continued to pitch to the strike zone and the situation. Good sliders, change-ups, splitters, and a high-octane heater have the M’s grabbing their gloves to play some D. The Jays’ hot offense is coming up quickly again. The first batter, Mark DeRosa, popped up to very shallow CF, but it was into no-man’s land. He hustled the whole way, and when the ball hit the turf amidst three Seattle defenders, DeRosa slid into 2B with a double. As they say, it looks like a line drive in the boxscore. Izturis followed with a weak 99-hopper to the hole in short, and was safe without a throw for his third hit of the game. DeRosa advanced to 3B to put runners on the corners with no one out. Kawasaki singled to CF to drive in the Jays’ ninth run of the game. That’s right, their 9th run on 14 hits. Topping it off, there’s no one warming up in the ‘pen, partly because Morrow re-gathered himself and is throwing a 2-hitter. He’s given up 5 walks, but 4 of those came in the troublesome 5th inning. A soft line-out to RF by Rajai was followed by Melky’s third hit and second RBI of the game. Could this be his turnaround game? Let’s hope so. He had 51 hits last May when he was juicing. I’d take a 35-hit May without the juice.
In the top of the 8th Kendrys Morales popped up right over the pitcher’s mound. DeRosa and Edwin converged, Morrow backed off, and then Edwin called for it repeatedly before tripping UP the mound. Morales was safe at 2B. Given the situation, it was one of the most comical things I’ve seen on the diamond. Morrow picked up his teammate by inducing a ground ball to SS and striking out Jason Bay. Everything has gone the Jays’ way today. Any other day, that (mis)play happens with the bases loaded, it scores a couple to make the score 5-1 M’s, and then three more runs score subsequently. Not today.
Brandon Morrow pitched 8 complete innings. Big deal? He’s the first Jays’ starter to do it this season. Steve Delabar is being asked to close this game: strike out, ground out, strike out.
That game was just about as refreshing as a bottle of ice water in the Sahara. They played well in every aspect of the game, they picked up each other (base running, fielding, etc.), Melky and Izturis had multi-hit games, and Mark DeRosa not only played well but he continued to demonstrate leadership qualities. There’s nothing bad to say about this game or their effort. Nothing at all. Great game, but there’s no time to celebrate: Tampa Bay is their next opponent.