In-sync Blue Jays top Philadelphia Phillies 3-0
Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd (right) is tagged out by Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole (left) in the sixth inning at Citizens Bank Park. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
So often this season, when the Jays hit, they don’t pitch. And when they pitch, they don’t hit. Seldom do the two elements come together in the same game.
Monday night was one of those rare occasions, at least to this point in the season, when it all dovetailed in a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
J.A. Happ, returning to face the team that drafted and developed him, gritted out five shutout innings, despite having pitched only 4.1 innings so far this season.
Happ was staked to a quick three-run lead and he and Esmil Rogers, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil made it stand up, with some help from Jose Bautista’s strong right arm and a rare replay review that went Toronto’s way.
“Happ stepped up,” said manager John Gibbons. “Early in the game he looked a little bit rusty. He hadn’t been out there in a while. But then he kicked it in pretty good. He gave us what we needed and left with a lead.”
The hitting and pitching have been out of sync all season. Over the course of the first 12 games of the season the Toronto offence was a no-show. They were averaging 3.4 runs per game and hitting .211 as a team with an on-base percentage of .286. Meanwhile during that same span, the pitching staff was cruising along with a 3.66 ERA, allowing only six home runs.
Then, everything switched. Over the next 19 games, the offence exploded, with a collective .807 OPS and averaging 5.6 runs per game, while the pitching staff fell apart, serving up a team ERA of 5.30.
The bullpen woes that have plagued the team over the last three weeks were not evident this night. In one 15-game stretch, the Jays bullpen blew seven leads of two runs or more, but not this time. They worked four shutout innings to secure Happ his first win of the year. Cecil capped it off for his second shutout, allowing a single in the ninth.
“The bullpen bounced back again today,” said Gibbons. “It’s big, especially with what they’ve been through the last couple of weeks. But they’re good and it’s not like they’ve never been successful. Sometimes you hit those ruts and it’s been an extreme rut.
“Cecil was really good yesterday and did a good job again. He’s tired but he did a heckuva job.”
Jose Reyes set the tone for the game by smacking his 19th career leadoff home run in the first inning. It was his 14th career hit and third home run against Kyle Kendrick and his 181st career hit against the Phillies. That’s the most hits by any active hitter against Philadelphia.
Later in that same inning, Melky Cabrera scored from first base on a high pop-up hit by Juan Francisco that fell right on the left field line for an RBI single.
In the top of the second, Colby Rasmus walked, then scored from first on Josh Thole’s RBI double to the wall in left-centre.
The Phils loaded the bases against Happ in the second but the ex-Phillie wriggled free, getting Kendrick to ground out weakly to Lawrie at second base.
Despite the fact he has only made three appearances logging 4.1 innings since rejoining the Jays on April 17, Happ was surprisingly sharp against his old team, inducing a lot of early contact and, for the most part, staying out of deep counts. He was at 70 pitches after four innings, then worked a very tidy fifth, using up just 10 more pitches, with Esmil Rogers warming up slowly in the bullpen.
“It helped to have an aggressive mentality, trying to go after strike one,” said Happ. “When I try to be too fine, especially later in the count, sometimes it works to my disadvantage. I was trying to force the issue the best I could.”
Happ would prefer to be starting. That’s been his role most of his career. He was asked if this game was a bit of a statement.
“I sure hope so,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what I think I do best. Today was a good step toward that.”
Rogers came on in the sixth and immediately gave up a triple to Marlon Byrd. Rogers got a boost when Byrd tried to score on a medium fly ball to Bautista in right. Bautista gunned Byrd down at the plate to complete the double play and a quick viewing of the replay by the umpiring crew confirmed it.
In the top of the seventh, the Jays missed an opportunity to add on when they loaded the bases with one out, only to have Edwin Encarnacion hit into a 6-4-3 double-play to end the threat.
When Rogers walked the leadoff man in the Philadelphia seventh, Gibbons wasted no time going to Aaron Loup. He struck out Cody Asche, gave up a one-out single to Ben Revere, struck out Freddy Galvis, then finished off the inning with a strikeout of Chase Utley.
In the eighth inning, Marlon Byrd hit a slow roller to shortstop Reyes. Byrd was called safe on the field on what would have been a leadoff infield single. Gibbons challenged the call and it was reversed by instant replay. After six previous failed attempts the Jays finally got one to go their way.
“That was big,” said Gibbons. “Leading off the inning in a fairly tight game in a small ballpark. It was a heckuva play by Reyes. Maybe the tide is turning.”