TORONTO - Edwin Encarnacion knows home runs.
He knows home run trots.
He didn’t know he was watching a home run hitter when Munenori Kawasaki stepped into the batter’s box in the seventh inning Friday night with the Jays down by two against the Baltimore Orioles.
As 35,472 fans chanted “Ka-WA-sa-KEE! Ka-WA-sa-KEE!” Sportsnet cameras picked up Encarnacion doing the same chant.
Not big-league cool. Not by any standards where players cover their mouths with a glove to ask: “Uh, what time is batting practice?”
But neither is Kawasaki, signed by assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish to be the backup shortstop at triple-A Buffalo.
He has fun. And it looks like it is spreading.
Whether it’s pre-game headstands, in-game bows or 10-pitch at-bats or post-game readings from his quote book of English phrases ... he is having fun.
Kawasaki hit his first homer in his 290th career plate appearance, a two-run shot off Tommy Hunter, tying the score on Friday.
Encarnacion has 20 homers this season in 322 plate appearances and 179 in his nine-year career.
And on his past 56, he has toured the bases as if he’s seated in a car, his right arm resting on an open window. He calls it his chicken wing.
“The first time I did it was last April, they walked Jose Bautista to load the bases to face me,” said Encarnacion.
Encarnacion hit Hisashi Iwakuma’s first pitch deep to right for a grand slam in a 7-0 win over the Seattle Mariners in April of 2012.
Guess who pinch-hit that same game for Kyle Seager and drew a leadoff walk against Carlos Villanueva?
Talks of a move to re-name the Rogers Centre the Kawasaki Dome are unfounded.
Enjoy him while you can.
Jose Reyes made his second start at Buffalo on Saturday on Star Wars Night and isn’t far from this galaxy.
This city fell in love with John McDonald as a backup player on bad teams.
It won’t lose its crush on Kawasaki when he becomes backup.
“How is the tryout camp going?” asked the veteran American League scout at Wrigley Field on June 9.
“Yeah, the Jays are running arms in and out of there every day,” said the evaluator of the team’s recent pitching turnstile. “Reminds me of an independent league team having workouts before the season opens. That’s no way to build a team.”
Well, the Jays lost the next night in the fog across town against the Chicago White Sox. But the following night, it was as clear as a Bell land line at U.S. Cellular. The latest “tryout” arm, Chien-Ming Wang made his debut and all he did was turn in the fourth longest outing of the season (71/3 innings) and the Jays won in extras.
They have not lost since. They have won three of Wang’s starts, plus two each by Esmil Rogers, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey and one by Josh Johnson, who starts Sunday’s finale against the Orioles.
Who figured in March, when you were reading stories with Dunedin datelines, that you’d be reading about starters named Rogers and Wang getting the Jays on a roll?
Remember last season, when starters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, plus reliever Luis Perez all needed Tommy John surgery. And Brandon Morrow was lost to an oblique injury?
Everyone thought, myself included, they could never ever have a season like that again.
But Wang was the 12th different starter used this season, matching last season’s total and we’re not even at the all-star break.
They have used 17 relievers, while a year ago they used 22.
Wang was signed from triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at the urgings of Jays pro scouts Mike Alberts, Steve Connelly and Brad Matthews.
“We certainly didn’t expect this,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos of the veteran right-hander. “We expected strikes, we expected ground balls, we didn’t expect the performance.
“He’s on a nice run, the same as the team.”
Wang worked 61/3 innings during Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Orioles, allowing one unearned run, lowering his ERA to 2.18, though he was not involved in the decision. When Wang arrived, only two Jays starters had sub-5.00 ERAs: Injured J.A. Happ and Chad Jenkins, now at Buffalo.
“Chad was doing a fine job, but we thought adding Chien-Ming Wang gave us depth,” said Anthopoulos. “J.P. Arencibia has done an excellent job of pitch-calling in all three of his starts.”
Such as a first-pitch, change-up to slugger Chris Davis on Saturday.
“We didn’t promise anything beyond one start, we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves,” said Anthopoulos.
First, they’ve been trying to get to .500 and then get ahead of another team. The win Saturday gave them a winning record and they’re now tied for fourth in the East with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Jays now have a 19.5% chance of making post-season play (up from 2.8% two weeks ago when our last notebook appeared) ... Joe Carter homered, while Fernandez doubled and tripled 20 years ago Sunday, as the Jays fell 4-3 to Buck Showalter’s New York Yankees with lefty Jimmy Key taking the win, Todd Stottlemyre the loss. The Jays were one game back of the Detroit Tigers in the AL East with a 43-29 record ... Missed starts since 2012: Drabek 23, Hutchison 21, Morrow 15, Johnson and Happ eight apiece.
FRESH LOOK AT THE ORIGINS OF BASEBALL
Award-winning journalist, Chip Martin has hit another home run with his latest book: Baseball’s Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story (McFarland, $35).
The ground-breaking work suggests the origin of the story about the game invented in Cooperstown actually lies in Canada. Bob Barney, former president of the North American Society for Sport History, says the book presents new evidence for the continuing debates on the game’s origins,” and is a “must read.”
A London Free Press staffer, Martin has done exhaustive research on the game’s origins, originally credited to Abner Doubleday in 1839 in Cooperstown and promoted by Graves. Turns out stories told by Dr. Ford and mining engineer Graves, who both lived in Denver, are similar.
Martin sheds some light on this mystery.