Blue Jays batter Edwin Encarnacion reacts after being hit by a pitch against the Mariners at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Sept. 13, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
TORONTO - Edwin Encarnacion, welcome to the club.
During a season where so much has gone so wrong for the Toronto Blue Jays, Encarnacion has risen Phoenix-like out of the debris.
Thursday night, the Jays DH/1B put the exclamation point on his terrific season when, in the fourth inning, he drilled a three-run home run to left field. It was the highlight of a five-run inning against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and powered the Jays to an 8-3 victory over the Mariners.
The home run was Encarnacion’s 40th of the season while the three runs scored pushed him past the 100-RBI mark to 102. He is the latest member of the 40-homer club and is the eighth Jays player to hit that plateau.
The others are Jose Bautista (43 in 2011, 54 in 2010), Carlos Delgado (42 in 2003, 41 in 2000, 44 in 1999), Tony Batista (41 in 2000), Shawn Green (42 in 1999), Jose Canseco (46 in 1998), George Bell (47 in 1982) and Jesse Barfield (40 in 1986).
“Edwin, what can you say,” Jays manager John Farrell said. “He continues to just have a monster year offensively.”
Encarnacion long ago passed his previous highs in both homers and RBI as his former home run mark was 26 in 2008 with Cincinnati, while the year before, again with the Reds, he drove in 76 runs.
His production this season has been the by-product of hard work and a more compact swing.
“For me it’s a lot,” he said of hitting No. 40. “I knew (heading into the season) I can get 30, but not 40. That’s part of my work. In the off-season I’m going to continue to do the same, come back next year and try to hit 40 again.”
Of the two milestones, though, he takes greater pride in the 100 RBI.
“It’s harder to get 100 RBI, it’s not easy,” Encarnacion said. “In a year playing in the big leagues I never got to 80, so it’s not easy to get to 100 RBI, so that’s a bigger thing for me.”
The Jays weren’t expecting those types of numbers from Encarnacion either.
“To say that we came into the start of this year thinking he was going to do this would be a little bit of a stretch,” Farrell said. “In some ways, maybe a surprise but this is a very good right-hand power hitter and he’s having one heck of a year for us.”
BUMPS AND BRUISES
Earlier in Thursday’s game, in the first inning, Encarnacion came close to seriously injuring pitching coach Bruce Walton on a freak play. At the plate with one on and one out, Encarnacion’s bat shattered on contact and the barrel flew into the Jays dugout. Walton put his arms up to protect his head and the barrel struck him on the forearm. Walton suffered a forearm contusion and was taken to hospital for X-rays.
Farrell said it was a miracle that Walton wasn’t severely injured.
“Honestly, we dodged something severe there,” Farrell said. “In that moment, we talked about the danger that maple bats (when they shatter) create — not only the bat in the dugout that hit Bruce but the other broken bat (in the second inning) that was a distraction to Brett (Lawrie) at third base.
“They’re dangerous and it’s repeatedly — every night we see a bat fly through the air and hopefully no one gets injured by it. You’d think that Major League Baseball would do something about it. It’s to the point now where you’ve got shrapnel flying everywhere and it’s a pointed object that’s got some weight and some velocity to it as it’s flying through the air. It’s a dangerous situation.
“Fortunately he (Walton) was able to get his arms up in front of his face and that’s where it was headed, right into his head.”
On the mound, Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up with one of his better efforts of the season.
Facing his idol, friend and countrymate Felix Hernandez, Alvarez was inspired and over seven innings allowed three runs on five hits to up his record to 9-12.
“I know he and Felix are buddies and he respects him a lot so he was pretty jacked up to start the game,” said Jays catcher Jeff Mathis, who contributed with a four-hit night. “He was just throwing strikes, throwing his heater to both sides of the plate and getting ahead of guys and doing what he’s supposed to do when he gets ahead of them.”