Leukemia victim inspires Jays
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
|Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero fires smoke against the Rays Thursday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont. Romero dedicated his near flawless pitching performance to 2 1/2 year-old Oshawa native Ryley James Martin, who died of leukemia on Wednesday. (MARK O'NEILL/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Ricky Romero got the win and J.P. Arencibia belted a two-run home run but in the aftermath of the Blue Jays 3-2 victory over Tampa there was sadness, too.
Ryley James Martin of Oshawa, an energetic 2 1/2 years old who entertained both Romero and Arencibia with his smile and enthusiasm prior to the Jays April 2 game against the Minnesota Twins, died of leukemia on Wednesday.
The two players received the tragic news about young Ryley, the lone boy of the Martin triplets, prior to last night’s contest against the Rays. Both dedicated Thursday’s game to his memory.
With added inspiration, Romero came up with his second consecutive powerful performance as he held the Rays to three hits — one a solo home run — over seven innings for the win while Arencibia snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run, seventh-inning homer.
In the post-game scrum, Arencibia held up a picture of himself and Ryley taken back in April when he was cavorting in front of the Jays dugout.
“I shed a few tears after that home run,” Arencibia said. “It’s one of those things that were for him, the game was for him and I’m glad that we were able to come out on top.
“When I hit that home run and it gave us the lead, in my head, I said: ‘That’s it, we’re going to seal this deal.’ I came inside as quickly as possible and took a look at this picture. In the grand scheme of things, that home run is a home run but life is precious. It puts stuff in perspective for us. It shows you how blessed we are.”
After the game Arencibia got the game ball and it was signed by all the players and it will be given to the family along with a message written by the rookie catcher.
Romero was as deeply touched as Arencibia.
“It’s sad, a little kid full of life,” Romero said. “To hear the news, my thoughts and prayers are with his family. In the grand scheme of things there are other things out there in life much tougher (than baseball).
“Today every time I looked at the back of the mound (at the letters RJM he scribbled into the dirt) I kept looking at his initials and remembering that time we were playing in front of the dugout, just the smile he had. It’s definitely something you carry with you forever.”
As it turned out the difference in the four home run game — two by each team — was a one out walk by Juan Rivera preceding Arencibia’s blast to centre.
Rivera, who had been mired in a dreadful funk — 0-for-12 and 4-for-37 — hit the first one of the game in the second, his third of the season.
Tampa’s B.J. Upton hammered his sixth of the season in the fifth, then came Arencibia in the seventh and finally, Kelly Shoppach in the eighth off of Jays reliever Marc Rzepczynski.
There was more drama to come.
In the ninth after closer Frank Francisco had retired the first two batters, Upton popped up in foul territory on the first pitch. Both third baseman Jayson Nix and Arencibia converged on the ball in front of the Jays dugout but at the last instant, both pulled away, allowing the ball to drop.
But this day the Jays weren’t to be denied and Francisco retired Upton on a long fly to centre that reached the warning track.
“That was probably the longest fly ball to centre field in my career,” Arencibia said of watching Upton’s drive to centre with his heart in his throat. “It was miscommunication and thankfully Frankie was able to get that last out.”