Small ball, big results

MIKE RUTSEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

With the steroid era perhaps gone and long ball taking less prominence, teams are searching around for other ways to score runs.

A single, a bunt single, a walk and a two-base error doesn't quite lift the fans out of the seats the way, say, a three-run blast into the upper deck does, but for the Blue Jays, it is becoming the norm. At least through their opening five games.

The Jays once again presented their version of Itchy and Scratchy at the plate yesterday afternoon against the Red Sox, doing enough of the little things right and capitalizing on a glaring Boston error to emerge with a convincing 10-2 victory. Now they look for Roy Halladay to lead them to a sweep of the World Series champs this afternoon.

Vertically challenged David Eckstein (Where else could he play but shortstop?) has plied the scratch and claw trade throughout his major league career and it was on full display at the Rogers Centre.

Eckstein drove in three runs on a pair of singles and also displayed his wheels when he slid under the tag of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek to score from first on a sixth-inning double by Alex Rios.

The Jays would turn a close 4-2 game into a rout with a six-run sixth with Eckstein's bat and hustle helping to open the floodgates.

Touted as being a "sparkplug" for the offence, Eck was firing on all cylinders.

"He's a factor. He's one of those guys at the top of the lineup that is looking to play hard pepper and he's good at it," DH Frank Thomas said. "I've watched it for years and he's a battler out there. He will continue to put the ball in play and that's what he's good at. He's a true leadoff guy."

The Jays sixth opened with two walks and a sacrifice bunt before Eckstein delivered, slapping a two-strike pitch to right.

"We had a lot of good at-bats today, played a lot of small ball to get everything going and that was the key for us today," Eckstein said of the Jays' 11-hit attack. "The key to our win was when Hilly (Aaron Hill) laid down the bunt, making it first and second and it just gives life to the club.

"When you execute the game like that, that's how you put added pressure on the other club and it gives your offence an easier shot to go out there and score some runs."

It's an approach that Eckstein said the Jays will keep throughout the season.

"We've done a good job sticking to the plan, no matter what," Eckstein said of the opening five games. "We were able to get some opportunities that we didn't capitalize on in New York, but that's going to happen.

"The more situations we put ourselves in to be successful by putting guys where they're supposed to be and staying with our approach, that's when we're going to start doing what we did today."

Chicks, though, still dig the long ball and the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Thomas, who capped off the sixth with a two-run homer to centre. It was his first of the season.

Although Bill Buckner wasn't in the Boston lineup yesterday, Sean Casey pulled off a pretty fair imitation in the fourth inning.

Buckner, of course, is the celebrated goat of the 1986 World Series after a ball bounced through his legs in the sixth game against the New York Mets, denying the Red Sox a World Series triumph.

The stakes weren't quite as high in Game 2 of this series but with the bags loaded, one out and trailing 2-1 in the fourth, Gregg Zaun hit a grounder down the first-base line that Casey couldn't handle, allowing two runs to cross the plate. Casey collected the error and Zaun an RBI in the three-run inning.

"When we get 'em, you've got to take advantage of them," manager John Gibbons said of cashing in on the break.

It wasn't bang ball and it wasn't pretty but for the Jays this season, it's going to have to do.

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THE BUZZ

CLAY PIGEON

Left fielder Matt Stairs has faced Boston youngster Clay Buchholz in just two games but as far as the veteran Canuck is concerned, it's two times too many. Stairs was 0-for-3 versus Buchholz yesterday, all three at-bats ending in a strikeout. In six career at-bats against Buchholz, Stairs has struck out every time.

BIG HURT

DH Frank Thomas connected for his first home run of the season in the sixth inning yesterday, appropriately enough, against the Red Sox. It marked his 41st career home run against Boston, which is tops among all active players.

START THIS

Although Jesse Litsch picked up the win yesterday by going five-plus innings, he snapped the Jays' streak of quality starts at four. A quality start is defined by a starter allowing three earned runs or less over six innings.

TALENTED TALLET

Lefty Brian Tallet has become one of manager John Gibbons' go-to guys in the bullpen. Tallet retired all three batters he faced yesterday in relief of Litsch. In three appearances this season -- four innings -- Tallet hasn't allowed a run or a hit.

HEAD GAMES

Trying to change his luck at the plate, Thomas called out to equipment manager Jeff Ross before the game and said, "I need a new helmet. I can't use this one anymore." Thomas was wearing a retro helmet when he delivered the game-winning hit Friday and decided that after a slow start in his old black helmet, it was time for a change. "We're superstitious about everything," Thomas said. "New helmet. New gloves. New hats. New pants. New jocks. Everything."


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