After blowing late leads in the previous two games, the Toronto Blue Jays made sure to put this one out of reach.
Entering the bottom of the sixth trailing the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 on Sunday, the Blue Jays exploded for seven runs to carry them to a 9-2 win over their visiting AL East division rivals before 20,252 at Rogers Centre.
The win allowed Toronto (5-4) to salvage a game from their weekend three-game series and avoid being swept at home by Baltimore for the first time since April 2005.
On the mound, Toronto’s Kyle Drabek (2-0) continued his impressive comeback from a disappointing 2011 by delivering 7.1 innings of six-hit, two-run ball. Luis Perez came on in relief of Drabek while Evan Crawford mopped up things in the ninth in his major-league debut.
"Just another outstanding effort on Kyle’s part," raved Blue Jays manager John Farrell following the game. "It’s a tale of two people in some ways. He has kept things under control with his composure. I thought today he and (starting catcher) Jeff Mathis worked exceptionally well together."
After beginning 2011 in the Blue Jays rotation, Drabek found himself at triple-A Las Vegas by mid-June after struggling to control both his pitches and emotions on the mound.
This spring he arrived at camp with a new outlook, and some new mechanics, and during the second inning on Sunday both were put to the test.
With one out and nobody on base, Drabek dropped what he would later describe as a "two mile-per-hour ball," from Edwin Encarnacion while covering first that allowed Wilson Betemit to reach. Chris Davis, with the Blue Jays playing a mini defensive shift on the right side, followed up by chopping a double down the left field line where the third baseman would normally have been playing.
With runners now on second and third and one out, Ronny Paulino grounded out to short scoring Betemit but Drabek gathered himself to freeze Ryan Flaherty with a two-strike, 81 mph curveball to end the inning without further damage.
It was an inning that might have unfolded differently 12 months ago.
"But the fact is when things don’t go his way, either the execution of a pitch, a call, or a play behind him, he’s been able to separate from that and go out and execute the next pitch," said Farrell. "So, a huge step forward from where he finished last year in terms of his maturity."
Drabek, who gave credit to the game plan he devised with Mathis and J.P. Arencibia prior to the game, acknowledged his mental approach has improved from a year ago, but feels the biggest change since then is his delivery.
"Last year I changed my mechanics four or five times and when I came to spring training they found one that they wanted me to try that was kind of easy and it was hard at first, but real happy with where it’s at right now," said Drabek. "Sometimes I tend to get out of it when I start rushing, but that’s when I’ve got to tell myself to slow down and stay back and get back to what they taught me in spring."
As for the offence, Jose Bautista, who entered the game batting below .200 for the season, kicked things off in the deciding sixth by leading off with a double to left-centre. Encarnacion, batting cleanup at first base with Adam Lind getting the day off, followed up by driving a Brian Matusz offering over the wall in left to give the Blue Jays their first lead of the afternoon at 3-2.
Four batters later, with two outs and the bases loaded, Baltimore (5-4) manager Buck Showalter turned the ball over to his bullpen and ex-Blue Jay Kevin Gregg.
And that’s when the offensive fireworks began.
Following a Mathis RBI single, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson doubled, Bautista and Encarnacion walked and Brett Lawrie was hit by a pitch in the arm.
When Ben Francisco — batting sixth at DH with Encarnacion playing first in place of Lind — flied out to end the inning, Gregg’s line looked like this: 0.1 IP, 3 hits, 3 runs and two walks. In all Toronto sent 13 men to the plate in the sixth.
"Jose’s getting closer, he’s not where he’ll be by any means," said Farrell. "You can still see him at times when the timing is improving and it’s not fully there. What Edwin has done right from the start of the season, and really the start of spring training, is he has given us a legitimate middle of the order bat."
Escobar had three hits on the afternoon while Lawrie hit his first home run of the season, a solo shot in the fourth inning and added an RBI single for good measure in the ninth.
With his RBI double in the sixth, Johnson has now reached base safely in all nine games this season.
As for Matusz, the Orioles first pick (fourth overall) in 2008, the loss dropped the left-hander to 0-2 on the season and extended his personal losing streak to 11 games, the longest active such streak in the majors.
NOTES: Following an off-day Monday, the Blue Jays will open a three-game set on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays … Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos was activated off the paternity list prior to the game, but did not pitch.