BALTIMORE – There is a presence around Brett Lawrie that is palpable.
Beyond the hype, beyond the sky-high expectations, the 21-year-old third baseman generates a buzz on the diamond with his fierce competitiveness and frenetic energy. Even Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell, usually stoic and measured in his comments, seemed caught up in the moment.
“Pretty exciting day,” he volunteered to a group of reporters.
“He carries an air about him that stands out in a good way,” Farrell expanded later. “He’s an aggressive personality and it’s been nothing but positive from the day he’s joined the organization. He had a very impressive spring training, the interactions with everyone in the clubhouse have been outstanding, even in the reports from triple-A, where you get a number of veteran players at the level, guys gravitated to him because of his abilities and the personality that he is.”
Unsurprisingly, Lawrie’s big-league debut was an eventful one for the Toronto Blue Jays in a 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.
With parents Russ and Cheryl and sister Danielle, a fellow Olympian, looking on, the Langley, B.C., native lined an RBI single up the middle in his first at-bat to cut into a 2-0 deficit, made an error in the bottom of the frame, failed to snare a Matt Wieters smash in the sixth to allow a run to score, and then singled again in the eighth only to watch Colby Rasmus get thrown out at home to end the frame.
All told he enjoyed a solid 2-for-4 night that finished with a couple of celebratory shaving-cream pies to the face and a water-cooler shower.
Welcome to the big-leagues, kid.
“I had a lot of fun out there, a dream come true,” said Lawrie, who when asked what would stick with him most from the experience replied: “Just the feeling when I was standing there down the line, listening to the national anthems, and then when that first pitch was thrown, I was like, ‘OK, it’s game on.’
“It meant a lot to me to be out there with those guys, and to come away with the win is an even bigger plus, and I’m glad I could contribute to it.”
The Blue Jays (57-55) led 5-3 through 7½ frames, and they were able to hold things down in a bounce back from Thursday’s tough-to-swallow 7-6 loss in 12 innings at Tampa Bay. After watching two late leads disappear in that one, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, allowing an RBI double to Nick Markakis before recording his 11th save, put away the Orioles (43-66) in the final two frames.
The Blue Jays went ahead 4-2 in the third on an RBI single by Rasmus and Aaron Hill’s run-scoring fielder’s choice and never looked back in helping Brad Mills (1-1), who allowed three runs in 5.1 innings, to his first win of the season.
“He hung in tough,” said Farrell, who was ejected in the seventh inning. “He fought himself a little bit trying to find a consistent release point and then in the fifth and even part of the sixth he did a much better job of using his curveball. Our bullpen came in, held on and did a job.”
The lead-up to Lawrie’s debut is perhaps unprecedented in franchise history, as for months his ascension to the majors has been one of the main focuses for angst-filled fans, some of whom have viewed his arrival as a panacea that will cure all that ails the Blue Jays.
Lawrie admitted seeing the near-constant calls for his promotion – “I know I’ve got a lot of people behind me,” he said – but also sought to turn down the expectations.
“I’m no saviour,” said Lawrie. “I’m here to play baseball and do what I’ve always done which is go out and compete and help the ball club win.”
Few doubt that he will, but some wonder about when it will happen.
Blue Jays utilityman Mark Teahen first played with Lawrie on the Canadian squad in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and remembers that even then, “the ball just jumped off his bat differently than your average guy.”
But as for expecting him to jump in and star right away, he warns: “You have to remember it takes time, very rarely does a guy come to the big-leagues and dominate right away. In Kansas City I got to see almost too much of that, the franchise being put on one guy. But I think it’s a good thing here where the team is already playing well and hopefully he can just settle in and do what he’s been doing at triple-A.”
That is exactly what the Blue Jays hope he does.
Rather than focus on the results, Farrell said the trap too many young players fall into when they are first called up to the majors is that they try to change their game, do more instead of just simply doing the things that got them there in the first place.
For Lawrie, as much as the big numbers, it was his ability to be selective at the plate and control the strike zone in triple-A Las Vegas that finally earned him the promotion.
It’s an approach he described as “controlled aggressiveness.”
“It’s hard to work on because when you go up there you want to do damage, you can’t go up there looking to walk and worrying about striking out,” he said. “I think those things happen, and I think plate discipline and pitch recognition is a big part of not striking out and walking.”
Lawrie seemed calm and relaxed before the game, and said he took a few deep breaths before stepping into the batter’s box for the first time.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was in Vegas where the batter’s box kind of falls apart, I felt very comfortable in there, took a deep breath and said, ‘Here we go,’ and that’s it.”
So it is, and not only is another piece of the future in place for an extended audition for 2012, a catalyst for an even more aggressive club may have been added to the mix.
“We felt it when we saw him in spring training, you can feel the explosiveness and the energy to that,” said Farrell. “You almost feel like that engine is revving when he’s in the batter’s box. When he stays with that focused aggression, that’s when he’s been able to do some special things.”