BOSTON – Jose Bautista took the field rocking R.A. Dickey’s shorter pants and high socks, walked on four pitches in the first inning, stole second the first chance he got, and right off the bat showed that he was more than ready to grind things out.
Before his day was done he’d throw out a runner at home, hit a pair of home runs – the first the 200th of his career, the second a decisive two-run shot in the eighth – and deliver the type of game leaders play to help the Toronto Blue Jays prevail 6-2 in a battle of attrition with the Boston Red Sox.
“That’s who he is,” praised manager John Gibbons. “He’s been cold the last few weeks, he’s gotten some big hits along the way, some big home runs, but that’s a good sign today, maybe that will get him going consistently and all that’s going to do is make us better.”
The star right-fielder was not alone Saturday afternoon, Esmil Rogers pitching his tail off for six shutout innings, Colby Rasmus making a game-changing catch in the fifth, J.P. Arencibia withstanding a wicked shot from Shane Victorino on Bautista’s throw to the plate for a pivotal out in the sixth, Darren Oliver throwing out Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a squeeze play in the seventh, and Steve Delabar with a shutdown eighth.
After dropping the first two contests of a four-gamer with the AL East leading Red Sox and four of five on their road trip, this was precisely the type of response the Blue Jays needed.
That Bautista led the way is important, too, as he's had his struggles in June, coming in batting just 18-for-99, or .182. Still, he'd managed to pick his spots with several key hits, and now with 20 RBIs, it's been his most productive month of the season on that front.
"I feel like I could have been doing a lot more lately and today was a good day," Bautista said. "I'll take it for what it is, it's one day, come back tomorrow, keep working hard, and keep trying to find that consistency I've been missing this year."
Having fought through issues expanding his zone and subsequently with his timing at the plate, Bautista certainly looked like he had the problems resolved Saturday.
"I had a good day in the cage and good BP, I felt like I had a little more rhythm than days past," he said. "I was able to lay off some tough pitches and get the ones over the plate and when I swung I didn't miss them. It was a good day."
All in the high socks then?
"Yeah," he said with a grin. "And in the R.A. Dickey pants, and going back to the two-tone bat. There's a lot of people suggesting stuff like that. We'll see."
Either way, in lifting his socks and pants, he also lifted the Blue Jays.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (40-40) ended a two-game losing skid and improved to 2-4 on their seven-game road trip, while ending a four-game win streak for the Red Sox (49-34).
A sell-out crowd of 37,437 had a strong injection of boisterous Blue Jays fans, who competed against the locals in "Let's go Blue Jays/Red Sox" chants. Mark Buehrle (4-5, 4.73) faces Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.15) on Sunday in the series finale.
GOLD GLOVE-LIKE: Unlike Friday, when the Blue Jays failed to make a handful of pivotal defensive plays, they were totally crisp in this one.
Or as Esmil Rogers described them: "Unbelievable plays."
Colby Rasmus got the parade of gems started in the fifth when he ran in on Jonathan Diaz's liner to centre and, fully extended, snared a ball that otherwise would have rolled to the wall. The out would have plated Jarrod Saltalamacchia and perhaps led to more trouble.
Same goes in the sixth, when Shane Victorino tried to score on Dustin Pedroia's single, but from fairly deep in right field Jose Bautista fired a laser right to J.P. Arencibia, who absorbed a wallop from Victorino and held on to the ball for a pivotal out.
"I knew it was going to be close, you're following the ball from right field, so I was blocking the plate, caught it, I turned to see where he was at and as soon as I turned he was on me. That's part of my job," Arencibia said. "It was a perfect throw. I didn't have to do much but block the plate."
In the seventh, Red Sox manager John Farrell turned to his old standby, the safety squeeze, with Diaz at the plate but Darren Oliver pounced on it, threw home and easily got Saltalamacchia.
"You've got to know who you're working with," Arencibia said. "That situation, man on third, Diaz up there, it jumps out at you, not just Farrell, anybody. You have to respect it and we did."
ROGERS SHOVING: Frustrated with himself for not being aggressive enough in his last outing, Esmil Rogers came out firing against the Red Sox and his six shutout innings against such a potent lineup made for perhaps his most impressive outing thus far.
The right-hander - essentially the return for Red Sox manager John Farrell - allowed just six hits and a walk while striking out six, the final two his most noteworthy.
In trouble with two on and one out in the sixth, he struck out both Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava to maintain a 2-0 Blue Jays lead the bullpen would eventually give up.
"That was the best inning, when I got Napoli and Nava," Rogers said of the sixth. "The other inning was when Dustin Pedroia got the leadoff double (in the fourth), I had to fight everybody, at most with David Ortiz, he was swinging at 3-0 and hit a groundball to third. I just thought I had to fight."
More importantly, against the pitch-sucking Red Sox, he also had to consistently work ahead in the count and he did.
"The last time I got 1-0 every time, I don't want to look at that," he said. "I want to go 0-1, you have an opportunity to throw any pitch where you want to get people out. Today was a great opportunity to do that because I had command of all my pitches and I could go 0-1 and do something different."
Since joining the rotation on May 29, Rogers has been a revelation, allowing only eight earned runs on 28 hits and nine walks with 24 strikeouts in 33 innings over six starts. The Blue Jays are 5-1 in those games.
"It's huge what he's done for us, filling in the rotation," Jose Bautista said. "What he's doing really should be highlighted because he's been tremendous to come out and give us as many chances to win ballgames as he's done."
MILESTONE MAN: Returning to the dugout after his solo shot in the sixth sailed over the monster in left and out of Fenway Park, Jose Bautista made sure to savour the achievement.
"I knew I was one away, so when I was in the dugout, I did enjoy it," he said.
A park employee retrieved the ball and gave it to Bautista.