April 16, 2012
Bautista, Lind and bullpen in rut
By Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The Tampa Bay Rays are more than just a collection of good players who are a recurring threat to win the East Division pennant.
They are a team that regularly tortures the Blue Jays as would a youngster zap an ant with a magnifying glass.
To finish ahead of the Rays, the Jays had better figure out a way of beating them, a chore that has eluded them for the past number of years.
Last year the Jays went 6-12 vs. the Rays which represented the fewest number of wins against any of their East Division opponents in 2011.
So it behooved the Jays to start 2012 on the right note.
Helping the Jays achieve that goal Tuesday was an uncharacteristically poor defensive game from Tampa’s all-star third baseman Evan Longoria. He committed three errors — two fielding, one throwing for a career high — and they led to three unearned runs in a game the Jays would win by a 7-3 margin.
Longoria’s gaffes aside, the Jays also received an effective one-two combination of Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.
“A number of good things offensively tonight, particularly from Jose and Adam,” manager John Farrell said. “It’s good to see Jose as we saw over the weekend start to gain some consistent timing and that was the case tonight.
“With Adam, being able to stay inside the ball and use the whole field as he’s done when he’s really swung the bat well, that was the case tonight.”
Starter Ricky Romero, meanwhile, wasn’t great but he was good enough in his six innings plus two batters as he held the Rays to three runs on eight hits and received rock solid defence behind him.
“It was a little tough for me, it was a battle but when I needed to make pitches and get double plays I did it,” Romero said. “Other than that I was just happy to come out with the win. I was just a little out of sync today and fighting myself more than anything.”
Bautista had himself a pretty good game just in the opening inning alone.
In the top of the inning he made a fine defensive play in right when he scooped up a one-hopper off the wall by Carlos Pena and fired a dart in the air to Yunel Escobar at second, his throw beating Pena to the bag by about 10 feet.
“The first inning sets the tone,” Lind said. “That turns into a double, that sets the tone for Tampa. We have a Gold Glove right fielder out there and he set the tone for us.”
Perhaps still fired up by his outfield assist, Bautista then crushed the second pitch he saw from Jeff Niemann and ripped it into the second deck in left for his second home run of the season and first since Opening Day.
The game also saw Lind get off the schneid when in their three-run third, he stroked a two-run home run into the Jays bullpen in left. It marked his first home run of the season.
Then in the seventh he poked a single to left on a 3-2 count scoring Yunel Escobar from third. It was his third hit and RBI of the game.
It was the first game where Lind looked locked in with all three of his hits going the other way — a positive sign.
“I think we had a good game plan as a team and quality at-bats up and down the lineup,” Lind said. “When it’s going good it’s not a forced thing, it just happens with good swings and that’s the key (for him). In order to do that you have to have good swings and so far this season I felt I’ve had good swings.”
The third inning was set up by back-to-back fielding errors by Longoria. His first error was dubious as J.P. Arencibia hit a one-hop rocket that bounced off Longoria’s chest. Longoria collected the ball but his four-hop throw to first was too late to retire Arencibia.
With one out and runners on the corners, Bautista drove in his second run of the game with a sac fly to left.
Two pitches later, Lind made it 4-0.
The Rays made a game of it starting in the fifth when they scored two runs on RBI singles by Reid Brignac and Chris Gimenez.
It could have been more as with runners on second and third and two out, Romero struck out Carlos Pena as he got him to chase a breaking ball on a full count.
“It was a big situation and I was trying to keep him off balance,” Romero said. “I had a good curveball going and I wasn’t going to give in there (and throw fastball) 3-2. I talked it over with J.P. (Arencibia) when he came out and told him I want to throw a curveball. He said ‘Fine’ and we were successful.”
Still, you can’t count on Longoria making three errors every night. The Rays rarely come bearing gifts.