THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — A home run on his first big-league pitch. A double, single and another homer in the at-bats that followed. A curtain call where fans showered him with adoration. The crowd of 24,168 chanting his name.
That’s the stuff of fairy tales when it comes to a debut in the majors.
That was J.P. Arencibia’s afternoon Saturday.
The 24-year-old catching prospect made an instant impact, fitting right in on a memorable day of home-run derby for the Toronto Blue Jays in a 17-11 rout of the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I could never have imagined this, ever," an emotional Arencibia, at times fighting back tears, said afterwards. "I was pretty surprised because my first at-bat, I really wasn’t that nervous. I was pretty even-keeled and then after that I was pretty comfortable in the box.
"But I imagined I’d have at least one strikeout in my debut, just because of the nerves."
Instead, Arencibia looked like he belonged from the start. Even home-plate umpire Mark Carlson was impressed.
"He’s like, `Man, you’ve got a great day,"’ relayed Arencibia. "I was like, `Where am I going to go from here?’ This is not going to happen every day."
Neither is the type of offensive show his team put together.
Aaron Hill also homered twice while Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and Lyle Overbay went deep too as the Blue Jays (58-52) belted eight longballs for just the second time in franchise history. The other was Sept. 14, 1987, when they hit a major-league record 10 against Baltimore.
The eight homers allowed set a new franchise low for the Rays (67-43) while a shellshocked James Shields became just the eighth pitcher in the modern era to give up six bombs in a single outing.
"Disgusting is pretty much what it was," said Shields.
The game was a stat geek’s dream, with seemingly every hit having a footnote attached to it. Among the other highlights:
– The last pitcher to get rocked for six homers in a game was R.A. Dickey for Texas by Detroit on April 6, 2006;
– Arencibia is the first Blue Jays player to homer in his first at-bat since Junior Felix did it May 4, 1989 against the Angels. Felix, who took Kirk McCaskill of Kapuskasing, Ont., deep, also did it on his first pitch;
– The last player to collect four hits in his big-league debut was Minnesota’s Wilson Ramos on May 10, 2010, but Arencibia is the first player to have two homers among the four hits;
– Arencibia is only the fifth big-leaguer with two homers in his first game, and the first since Kansas City’s Mark Quinn on Sept. 14, 1999;
– According to baseball-almanac.com, Arencibia is the 26th player to homer on their first pitch in the majors;
– The last big-leaguer to homer on his first pitch was Boston’s Daniel Nava on June 12, 2010.
In short, it was a good day not to be a pitcher.
It was, however, an excellent day for Arencibia, a 2007 first-round pick whose arrival in the majors has long been anticipated.
"J.P. had a heck of day, one that he can go back and tell his grandkids about," said manager Cito Gaston. "I don’t know if anyone would believe it, though."
The Miami native has been smoking hot at triple-A Las Vegas all season after struggling last year with vision problems caused by an astigmatism and a kidney issue. Both were corrected with off-season surgery and he returned to clubbing minor-league pitchers until getting called up Wednesday, after all-star John Buck’s right thumb was caught by an Alex Rodriguez foul tip.
Arencibia will get the bulk of the catching duties until Buck returns, but all bets are off after that. The coming days do, however, give him a chance to provide the front office a first-hand look at his progress calling games and handling a pitching staff, the two areas he most needs to develop.
He was in a comfort zone with former Vegas teammate Brad Mills on the mound, but few catchers could have helped the pitchers in this one.
"Catching Mills right off the bat was huge for me as far as knowing the guy and being comfortable with the guy," said Arencibia. "At this level, all the guys I caught today, you set up and these guys are pretty easy to catch, they’re going to put the ball where they want it.
"My job as a catcher is a lot easier with the kind of pitchers we have on this staff."
Mills, taking over in the Blue Jays rotation for surgery-bound Jesse Litsch, was handed an early 8-2 lead but couldn’t escape the fourth and ended up surrendering five runs. He left the bases loaded for Brian Tallet (2-4), who allowed two of the runners to score but escaped the jam up 8-5 and held things together from there.
Shields (10-10) had an even more miserable performance, giving up eight runs in four frames on nine hits and four walks. And that scoreline was fortunate given he worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the first.
Yunel Escobar opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first, Arencibia’s two-run shot in the second made it 3-0, and after B.J. Upton’s RBI double and Dan Johnson’s run-scoring single made it a one-run game in the third, the Blue Jays took control in the bottom half on homers by Lind, Hill, and Encarnacion.
Bautista and Hill added solo shots in the fourth and after Tampa Bay’s three-run fifth, an RBI single by Vernon Wells, a two-run single by Lind and a two-run double by Hill, who matched a career-high with four RBIs, made it 13-5.
Arencibia’s second homer came in the sixth and Overbay added a three-run blast in the seventh after Johnson ripped a two-run shot in the top of the frame.
"It’s really not this easy, that’s what I was thinking," Overbay said of Arencibia’s performance.
Reid Brignac’s sacrifice fly scored one run and Travis Snider’s throwing error allowed another to come home in the top of the ninth off David Purcey, while Gabe Kapler added an RBI double and Willy Aybar a run-scoring groundout against Casey Janssen.
Arencibia’s teammates doused him with shaving cream and two drink coolers on the field afterwards — "I’ve got pretty much every hole in my face covered," he said — before he shared a hug with his mom Irene and a couple of close family friends.
"I couldn’t have dreamed of it any better," said Arencibia, who was given two tickets and the balls from his homer and double. "I knew (my mom) was there, and that was huge for me. It’s just been a really special day that I could have never pictured like this."
Notes: Bautista has now homered in 10 straight series, matching Carlos Delgado’s franchise record. … Jose Molina will catch Brandon Morrow in Sunday’s series finale, as he has exclusively for most of the season, but the right-hander has no problems with manager Cito Gaston’s desire to break up the pairing at some point. "That’s fine," he said. "Having Mo back there has been extremely beneficial in learning how you have to approach pitching a game. The way he calls a game has really kind of opened my eyes to what kind of pitches I need to be throwing." … Arencibia and Mills met with Molina, Buck and pitching coach Bruce Walton before the game to go over the game plan. … Tampa Bay scratched Sunday starter Jeff Niemann with a sore shoulder, with Andy Sonnanstine to take his place.