The baseball gods giveth ... and, they taketh.
Saturday they were in a more forgiving mood when it came to the Blue Jays.
Toronto dusted the Seattle Mariners 7-0 in a result that was the polar opposite of Friday’s 9-5 loss.
They won this one after an error by third baseman Kyle Seager opened the door for two unearned runs in a three-run third inning.
Friday, an error by Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie opened the door for a Seattle comeback that was capped by Michael Saunders’ grand slam.
Saturday, Edwin Encarnacion continued what could turn into the best season of his career, capping Toronto’s win with an eighth inning grand slam.
Guess turnaround is fair play.
Toronto’s offensive heroics were wrapped nicely around six shutout innings by Brandon Morrow, who rediscovered a devastating fastball and recorded a season-high nine strikeouts. “He has this capability every time he walks to the mound. He’s got the ability to take over the game and dominate the opposition,” said manager John Farrell.
It just hasn’t always been evident this year.
Morrow has been trying to reduce his pitch count (he had one of the highest per inning totals in the league last year) by using more off-speed pitches and getting groundball outs. And, it has worked. To a point. He was 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA coming into the game. But he had also surrendered seven homers — tied for second highest in the majors and he had fanned just 4.05 per nine innings. He’d led the league the past two seasons with more than 10 strikeouts per inning.
Then, there was a four-game losing skid the team was looking to shake. Not to mention Morrow’s sad 2-5 record and a 7.01 ERA in his last nine starts at Rogers Centre. So, not to suggest he was about to jump off one of the catwalks over centre field, but ... “The extra energy I had was (to ditch) the losing streak. When you get in a rut like that you need something to spark you,” said Morrow. “I hadn’t pitched well at home. I needed to get it going.”
He did, resorting mostly to a slider/fastball combination, then sneaking in a changeup in the later innings to hand over a 3-0 lead to the bullpen. “When he’s getting strikeouts the pitch count (104 pitches, 66 strikes) may run up a bit but we’ll take six shutout innings every time,” Farrell said. “He was powerful ... threw a lot of strikes. He made a couple of big pitches to get strikeouts with men in scoring position and less than two outs. He kept the game under control until the big blow in the eighth inning.”
Jose Bautista ripped a hopper that left Seager shaking his glove hand in pain and scoring Yunel Escobar, who’d singled in the third. Adam Lind plopped a double inside the left field line to score Kelly Johnson, who had singled. A sacrifice fly by Encarnacion made it 3-0.
And, there it sat, until the eighth when Seattle reliever Munenori Kawasaki gave up a single, double, intentional walk and the blast by Encarnacion — and it only took him nine pitches. Game over, making for a happy getaway for a nice late-afternoon crowd of 30,765.
With Bautista and Lind toying with the Mendoza Line, the middle of the Toronto batting order has been a bit of a Bermuda Triangle.
But, Lind had two hits and an RBI. Bautista was in the middle of both Toronto rallies with an RBI, a double and, said Farrell: “hopefully it’s a sign the middle part of the order is coming to life a little bit more.”
Fourteen of Encarnacion’s 26 hits this year have gone for extra bases. Only twice in 19 games has he not had a hit. Much of the reason for his early success is a more compact swing. “That’s No. 1,” Encarnacion said. “That’s the key. I worked all off-season trying to get shorter. It’s working ... it’s made me better.”
His five RBIs Saturday give him a club-high 19, providing much of the offence with Lind and Bautista scuffling.
“You can’t say enough about what Edwin has done,” said Farrell. “He hasn’t chased out of the strike zone. You look at the swing he’s using right now, two-handed swing, you don’t see the top hand release like you did a year ago and it’s enabled him to be more compact.”
Kelly Johnson and Lind tripped over each other in the fifth, and it could’ve spelled big trouble. Johnson dropped a one-out pop-up after a Michael Saunders double.
“I was there. He’s got priority. He called it,” explained Lind, grinning a bit sheepishly after he had backed off a Manuel Olivo floater. “I tried to get out of the way. He tripped (on Lind’s back foot). I saw him stumble thought ‘oh God.’ Then I saw him catch himself and I thought he’d catch it. It just popped out. One of those freak things.”
Morrow, of a couple years ago might’ve let that unravel both him — and the lead. Not this time. Not anymore. He retired the next two Mariners.