TORONTO - The numbers are fascinating. Or horrifying. Take your pick.
Either way, the Boston Red Sox have been hell on earth for Toronto Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero.
Understand that Romero, through almost four full seasons in the big leagues, has established himself as one of the better young lefthanders in the game.
He went into Thursday’s start with a career 40-28 record, 3.76 ERA and WHIP of 1.322. Very acceptable numbers.
But against the Red Sox? Oh-my-goodness.
In 11 career starts against Boston, he was 2-6 with an 8.08 ERA and a WHIP of 2.178. He had managed to stay on the mound for just 52 innings in those games and allowed 47 earned runs. And it’s not just a few games that skew the stats. He has been universally awful against them.
In five starts during the 2009 season, he had a 7.66 ERA and the Red Sox had a .371 batting average against him. In four starts during the 2010 season, he had a 7.17 ERA and they hit him at a .322 clip. This year, in his first two starts against Boston, he's lasted a total of just 8 2/3 innings, had an 11.42 ERA and the Red Sox hit .405 against him.
Which brings us to Thursday at the Rogers Centre and a remarkable reversal of form. Romero went to work against his tormentors and, for 6 2/3 innings, heard something wonderful: the sounds of silence. No loud bangs. Just the soft thud of balls landing in gloves.
He gave up a double that should have been caught to the first man he faced in the first inning, Jacoby Ellsbury, as teammates Jose Bautista and Mike McCoy got tangled up in the outfield. Romero then gave up just four hits thereafter. He walked three batters, struck out seven, did not allow Boston a sniff until Ellsbury doubled in a run in the seventh. Through six, only two Red Sox hitters advanced beyond first base.
“When they hurt me in the past, I was behind in the count,” said Romero. “I think at times I was trying to trick them, trying to nibble. Today I just went with my instincts and it worked.”
Meanwhile, the Jays offence caught fire early and the entire package turned into a 7-4 Toronto victory.
J.P. Arencibia belted a three-run home run, Edwin Encarnacion and Eric Thames each chimed in with solo shots and the Jays came out of the four-game series with three wins.
“I think I have them my next start in Boston,” said Romero. “I’ll just try to get ready for them again. It feels good to beat those guys. They’ve been on me for a few years and I finally had a good one and it’s satisfying.
“At times as pitchers we give hitters a little too much credit. I feel like when you pound the zone, no matter what team it is and you’re throwing strikes and controlling the tempo, it goes a long way.
“I had a good curve and kept them off balance with that.”
In the seventh inning, with one on and two out, Boston’s Darnell McDonald beat out an infield single by an eyelash and then Ellsbury knocked Romero out of the game with a double. Reliever Casey Janssen gave up a two-run single to Marco Scutaro before getting out of the inning.
Toronto’s offence wasted little time getting Boston starter Andrew Miller in trouble. In the bottom of the second, Toronto's Kelly Johnson beat out a slow bouncer over the mound for an infield single. Then he and Brett Lawrie executed a perfect hit and run as Lawrie shot a single through the right side of the infield, putting runners at first and third. David Cooper then punched an RBI single into left field, driving in Johnson with the game’s first run.
Arencibia worked the count full against Miller, then launched his 22nd home run, a majestic shot that carried to the fourth deck in left field to make it 4-0 Toronto.
An inning later, Encarnacion made it 5-0 with an opposite field shot to right, his 16th homer of the season.
After Boston got within two in the seventh, Thames added to Toronto's lead with his 10th home run in the bottom of the inning.
Cooper later drove in his second run of the game in the eighth with his third hit and second double.
In the ninth, the Red Sox tried to rally against reliever Frank Francisco. Jason Varitek hit a leadoff homer and Boston actually got the tying run to the plate, but Dustin Pedroia struck out to end the game with two men on.
School of hard knocks
Jays starter Brandon Morrow may look at Wednesday’s 4 1/3-inning, eight-run shelling as something unspeakable, but manager John Farrell sees it as a teachable moment.
“If on a day when you’ve got maybe not your best velocity, then you’ve got to incorporate other pitches that will make whatever velocity you have effective,” said Farrell. “You don’t have to necessarily shy away from your fastball, but reading swings, having a feel for what your body has on a given day, and maybe knowing you have to be a little bit better with your overall command.
“It’s all part of experience. And this is what we’re into right now. These are learning experiences that are going to benefit him as we go forward.
“We all would like there to be an elixir to everything but that’s not the case. These are experiences he’s going through for the first time, being that he’s into or going to be into 170-plus innings and what he’s learning either through frustration or success, those experiences are going to continue to form him and the pitcher he eventually becomes.
“Sometimes the best teacher is the hard way and some of those lessons are being learned right now.”