TORONTO – Jose Bautista hit a home run (his 15th), threw a runner out trying to score, lined into a triple play and was denied a catch down the right field line thanks to fan interference (although the hitter, Tony Cruz, was ruled out when the Blue Jays challenged the ruling).
All in a night's work for the slugger as the Jays won a sixth-straight game, 3-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I think it's got to be the most eventful game I've ever had in my career,” said Bautista. “I'd like to see if anybody could find somebody else to have a game with that combination of plays. That'd be pretty awesome.”
What's becoming clearer as the days go by is that this is a good Blue Jays team. Mediocre or bad teams don't win nine in a row, drop a couple and then respond with another win streak that's now reached six. Toronto's been victorious in 20 of its last 24 games, is at or near the top of the sport's key offensive statistical categories and continues to get solid starting pitching and defence.
“We're playing great baseball and we're enjoying a great couple of months and we need to keep doing that so we can get to the playoffs,” said Bautista. “We just need to stay with the consistency. Same approach, same effort that we're putting forward every single night and it's a lot of fun when you're winning. It's the first time I've ever experienced anything like this at this level so I'm enjoying it a lot as well.”
Marcus Stroman won his second-straight start and improved his big league record to 3-0, hurling six-plus innings of one-run ball. After a shaky start - he allowed the run in the first, and backed by strong defensive plays by Bautista and Brett Lawrie - Stroman settled in and ended up striking out seven Cardinals. His curveball, which confounded the Royals last Saturday, made for more misery for another Missouri-based team.
“It's been huge just because I don't feel like I necessarily have to throw a fastball in a fastball count,” said Stroman. “Just being able to mix it up and keep guys off balance has been pretty good this year.”
When Stroman was lifted by manager John Gibbons in the seventh, the fans gave him a standing ovation.
“Yeah, it's pretty special,” said Stroman. “I tried to do my best tough guy impersonation and tried not to smile but it was definitely pretty special walking off. Just to go out there and put my team in a position to win was awesome.”
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF ROGERS CENTRE
Jimmy Key threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Ernie Whitt on Friday night. The two formed the battery for the first ever pitch thrown at SkyDome, a strike to Milwaukee's Paul Molitor on June 5, 1989.
It was a trip down memory lane in a stadium that so often is unfairly maligned. A technological wonder when it was built, some still see it that way.
“It's a nice piece of architecture,” said Jose Bautista. “You come in here and you expect it to be kind of old and beat down and look out of place because it's so old but it actually looks pretty modern from the outside looking in. I was surprised the first time I saw it. I was expecting something different. I was pleasantly surprised.”
Fans old enough to remember that June night in 1989 and the four Blue Jays playoff appearances in the SkyDome's first five years may have a different opinion of the facility than the younger crowd that's yet to experience a winner.
Still, fond memories abound, even those of the more recent variety.
“It'd have to be probably the day that I hit the 50th home run,” said Bautista of September 24, 2010. “It was a pretty nice crowd in a day game and one of the unique features of the stadium was highlighted that day, you know, open roof on a beautiful day.”
Only Cito Gaston has managed more games in Rogers Centre/SkyDome than John Gibbons.
“It's an entertaining place,” said Gibbons. “Exciting, fans come here because some crazy things can happen. The ball flies. You've got some bouncy turf. I really enjoy this place. One thing you're guaranteed, you're always going to have a game because they can close that roof.”
When a team has won six in a row, 15 of 17 and 20 of 24 like the Blue Jays have after Friday's action, chances are resiliency is one of its characteristics.
The club's star player sees it.
“It's something that I always thought, even from last year, that we never give up,” said Bautista. “We had a lot of tough games last year. We lost a lot of close games and we battled back from some blowouts and came close, not quite enough to come out with a win. I always noted that about this team where we never give up and we always fight.”
Amid the wreckage of last year's lost season, 32 of Toronto's 74 victories were comeback wins. So far this season, the Blue Jays have 13 come-from-behind victories.
RASMUS AND SANTOS UPDATES
Centrefielder Colby Rasmus is nearing a return to game action as he recovers from a right hamstring injury.
“Colby's doing baseball activities down (in Florida),” said Gibbons. “We figure at the beginning of the week he'll probably get into a game.”
Rasmus has been on the disabled list since May 13. What he originally believed wouldn't require a DL stint has turned into a near-month absence, a reminder of how uncertain muscle injuries can be.
Sergio Santos threw a bullpen session before Thursday's game in Detroit. Gibbons wasn't clear on the plan moving forward. Earlier in the week the plan was for Santos to throw sides on Thursday (he did) and on Sunday and if he passed both tests, he'd leave for Buffalo and a rehab assignment perhaps as early as Monday.