Sports

MLB

Buehrle's four-hitter propels Jays to win in Tampa

By Mike Rutsey, Toronto Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - 

Back in July of 2009, Mark Buehrle twirled a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last night he made do with blanking the Rays on four hits over 8.2 innings.

The veteran left-hander came within a whisker of a complete-game shutout but third baseman Brett Lawrie couldn’t squeeze a bullet line drive from Ben Zobrist that was ruled a hit.

Coupled with a pair of solo shots by Jose Bautista, the Jays hung a 3-0 victory on the Rays and lead the four-game series 2-1.

With a victory on Thursday, the Jays would log their first series triumph at the Trop since April 6-8 of 2007 — and that’s not a misprint.

For Bautista, it was the 22nd multi-homer game of his career.

The story, though, was Buehrle who completely mesmerized the Rays hitters as he logged 11 strikeouts — one shy of his career high — catching eight of them looking.

Buehrle, who tops out at 85 m.p.h. and throws the majority of his fastballs (really ???) in the 83 range, kept the Rays completely off balance.

The zero runs weren’t a surprise but the 11 punchouts were, and Buehrle was asked when he became a strikeout pitcher?

“Apparently today,” he replied. “I got 33 starts a year and 11 of them are going to feel like this where you feel like the catcher puts up the glove and you’re going to hit it there. A lot of ’em (starts) you’re going to feel okay and a lot of them you don’t know where the ball’s going.

“Today was one of those 11 where I was putting the ball where I wanted to and location-wise, movement, everything, it was there. It was one of those total days.”

Buehrle made his first start of the season after a great spring where in four starts he had a 2.93 ERA and didn’t allow a home run.

Had he changed anything this year in his preparation for the season?

“No idea, I haven’t changed anything,” he said. “Maybe throwing a few different pitches, I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint anything. Going out there and just hitting my location, my location’s a bit better this year.

“My fastball’s getting slower and slower and it’s getting out of the hitting speed even more,” he joked, “I have no idea.”

The Rays had no answers for what he was throwing.

“It shows my ball was moving and again hitting my spots,” Buehrle said. “Just keeping them off balance and getting ahead in the strike zone. Obviously the defence was amazing. If they don’t make some of those plays I’m probably not out there past the sixth inning.”

The game featured some dazzling defensive plays by both third basemen — Lawrie and Evan Longoria of the Rays.

Edwin Encarnacion also made a terrific pick on a hot smash up the first-base line and turned two on a 3-6-3 in the seventh.

The Jays took a 2-0 lead in the fourth.

Bautista opened the inning in a big way with a shot into the seats in left-centre. The Jays right fielder had a big spring banging out six and this was his first of the regular season.

Encarnacion followed with a double into the left-field corner — his first hit of the season to snap a 0-for-9 start.

Dioner Navarro brought Encarnacion home with an opposite-field single to centre, just like former catcher J.P. Arencibia used to do.

The next inning the Jays came within a few feet of opening a 5-0 lead when Encarnacion’s drive to left ended in the seats but just missed the foul pole. Instead he struck out.

In the bottom of the inning, Lawrie made a great snare of a line shot off the bat of Sean Rodriguez, leaping high into the air.

Logan Forsythe opened the inning with a double but that was as far as he got as Buehrle retired the next three batters with a big thanks to Lawrie.

The Jays let a golden opportunity pass in the sixth when they loaded the bases.

Jake McGee, the second reliever of the inning then came in and Cabrera hit a pop fly to centre on the first pitch to end that rally and keep the Jays lead at two.

In the seventh, Bautista struck again with a moon shot to left to make it 3-0.

WEB GEM

The Jays could have, should have opened a two-run lead in the first but Longoria had another idea.

The Jays had runners on first and second with two out thanks to a leadoff single by Melky Cabrera and walk to Bautista.

With two out catcher Navarro hit a grounder up the third-base line.

The ball hit the third-base bag as Longoria was converging on it and shot up into the air. So, to did Longoria and he was able to snare it, preventing it from bouncing into shallow centre.

Longoria came down with the ball and stepped on third for the force, just a half step ahead of Cabrera. With Bautista running on the play, he too would likely have scored from first if the ball had gotten by Longoria.

Instead, the Jays got zilch.

 

 


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