As a homecoming present the Blue Jays received a Smilin’ Jack — a happy ending.
Following a 10-game road trip where they went 5-5, the Jays took the first of a four-game set against the Detroit Tigers 7-4 thanks in large part to a terrific game in every which way by rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia.
It was just the 12th home game of the season for the 15-17 Jays and one they almost blew. After leading 7-1 entering the ninth, the Tigers rallied for three runs against an ineffective Shawn Camp.
With two out and two on, Frank Francisco was needed to close it out for his second save.
Arencibia made major contributions with both his glove and his bat to enable the Jays to continue with their winning ways in the opening game of a series. With the victory the Jays have now taken the opener in nine of 11 series this season.
It’s building on that initial success that has proven to be so elusive.
On the field, Arencibia made a sparkling defensive play in the opening inning that prevented a run from scoring and at the plate went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. He singled in a run in the Jays three-run first and added a RBI double in the third.
Along the way he also nursed a good effort out of starter Jesse Litsch, who held the Tigers to one run over 6 1/3 innings. Litsch, who moved to 3-2, walked three and struck out a career high nine batters including striking out the side in both the third and fifth.
It was his most impressive outing of the season.
The Jays jumped on lefty Phil Coke for three runs on five singles in the opening frame.
Rajai Davis got it started with a bloop into no-man’s land in shallow centre and one out later moved to third on a single by Yunel Escobar.
The Jays followed up with three consecutive RBI singles by Adam Lind — that extended his hitting streak to 11 games — Juan Rivera and Arencibia to give Litsch an early three-run cushion.
They made it 4-0 in the third as Rivera scored all the way from first on a line drive that shot to the wall in right centre off the bat of Arencibia.
Lind added a solo home run in the seventh — his seventh of the season — while Corey Patterson doubled in two runs in the eighth to round out the scoring.
The Tigers scored their first run in the fourth. With one out and runners on second and third, Litsch induced Jhonny Peralta to ground out to third, bringing in the run. Litsch then retired Alex Avila on a fly to left to end the inning.
In the first inning it was the pure athleticism of Arencibia that prevented a run from scoring and a potentially big inning for the Tigers.
With two on and two out, the Tigers Victor Martinez sliced a single to left.
Left fielder Juan Rivera came in to take the ball on the hop with Brennan Boesch getting the wave home as he rounded third.
Rivera doesn’t have a great arm and his throw was off the mark, well up the line in foul territory. But Arencibia took the looping throw to the plate on the first hop, a nifty scoop in itself, and leapt back towards the plate where he tagged the sliding Boesch on the arm for the third out.
MORE PLAYING TIME
After the opening five weeks of the season, Arencibia appears to have climbed a rung in the pecking order.
At the start of the season, Arencibia was penciled in to be back of the plate for three of five starts with veteran Jose Molina the catcher for lefty Jo-Jo Reyes and rookie right-hander Kyle Drabek. But that has changed.
With Brandon Morrow back in the rotation and Molina his personal catcher, Arencibia was back of the plate with Drabek on Sunday for the first time this season.
The plan now, thanks to Arencibia’s progress defensively and specifically his threat offensively, is to have him adopt a more prominent role. Molina will still be there for Morrow and will get his other starts to give Arencibia some rest as in the odd day game after the night game.
On the just completed road trip, Arencibia went 6-for-23 and is more of a power threat while Molina was 1-for-14.
“The fact is J.P.’s swinging the bat well,” manager John Farrell said. “We started the season with a definitive plan and I think the fact that we have some flexibility to go with certain matchups, again we don’t want to take playing time away from either guy but J.P. handled him (Drabek) fine yesterday.”
And the fact that Arencibia’s bat is heating up hasn’t hurt either.
“He steps in the box, he’s not only an RBI threat but he’s a long ball threat for us as well (on a team lacking power other than Adam Lind and Jose Bautista),” Farrell said. “He’s settled in and really transitioned into more of a regular role very easily.”