On a day that two Toronto Blue Jays narrowly missed some historic individual accomplishments, the team played a strong all-around game to one-hit the Boston Red Sox and win 8-0. In doing so, the Blue Jays put together a three-game winning streak for the first time since early June.
Marcus Stroman flirted with history, holding the Red Sox hitless through six dominant innings before Shane Victorino hit a bloop single to lead off the seventh. Juan Francisco finished the game a double shy of the cycle with an emphatic offensive performance that included his 15th home run of the season.
For a while it looked as though Gibbons would be faced with a tough call: allow Stroman to throw well over 100 pitches in pursuit of a no-hitter or remove him in front of the sellout crowd of 46,683. Victorino’s blooper made it an easy call.
“You’ve got a young kid. You’re trying to win a division. Do you keep throwing him out there over and over? I don’t know if ‘relieved’ is the word, but it didn’t hurt,” Gibbons said. “Sorry Stro.”
Would he have let the 23-year-old stay in the game? “You’ll never know,” Gibbons said. But Stroman has a guess. "I think they would have let me go," he said, acknowledging that it would have been a tough call.
Stroman relied heavily on his sinker after finding a new grip he likes, and the pitch nearly allowed him to throw a no-hitter for the first time since he was a 12-year-old playing in a tournament in Cincinnati. It wasn't until late in the game that he seriously considered the possibility of making history.
“I honestly didn’t think about it until I sat down after the sixth. I sat down and saw zeroes and was like ‘wow that’s pretty crazy,’” Stroman said. “It was definitely a fun game and definitely a big win for our ballclub.”
Catcher Dioner Navarro describes Stroman as a fearless pitcher who welcomes contact from opposing hitters. “It makes my job a lot easier, that’s for sure,” Navarro said, adding that Stroman didn't shake him off all afternoon.
“This guy’s really special. He’s young," Navarro said. "He’s in the process of learning. He works hard every day. He wants to get better, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Less than one full day after his close friend Aaron Sanchez opened eyes with a dominant two-inning relief appearance, Stroman held the Red Sox to just one hit in seven innings. Stroman says he has surpassed his own expectations at the big league level after striking out seven, walking two and lowering his ERA to 3.21 in one of his best outings as a big-league starter.
“The big thing about him is he’s a great competitor, and they’re all not like that,” Gibbons said. “I think that’s really what he’s got going for him along with a lot of talent, so that’s going to take him a long way.”
All things considered, it was an impressive 24 hours for Stroman and Sanchez, who entered the season as Toronto's top two prospects and now have lockers beside one another at Rogers Centre.
“They’re both young. They’re both classy guys that are good for the organization. Guys you can look up to that are very respectable,” Gibbons said. “Where their futures end up, who knows, but you’ve got to be excited about them.”
But more importantly, the Blue Jays (54-49) have won five of seven since the all-star break, including three of four against the Boston Red Sox (47-55). After finishing the second half of the season with a dismal few weeks, improved play was a must for the Blue Jays, who now head out on a three-city road trip that will take them through the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Francisco also had one of his best games as a Blue Jay. He had been slumping badly of late with a .186 batting average and .635 OPS since the beginning of June, but his home run, triple and single reminded the Blue Jays what he’s capable of when he connects. Considering that infielders Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion could be returning from the disabled list before long, the big day couldn’t come at a better time for the 27-year-old.
“He’s dangerous," Gibbons said. "He’ll strike fear into you from the other side. He has potential for a strikeout, but if a mistake’s made he hits a lot of home runs. Hopefully he’s heating up at the right time now.”
Melky Cabrera continued his offensive tear with three doubles and a walk. The performance raises his season batting line to an impressive .309/.358/.470, and was one of Toronto’s five multi-hit performances. Jose Reyes, Ryan Goins and Navarro also had two-hit games for the Blue Jays, who scored in each of the first three innings.
While it’s too early to read much into the standings, Toronto’s win technically ties them with the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card position in the American League. It also means the Blue Jays are five games above .500 for the first time since July 5. That’s progress for a team that went just 11-23 leading up to the all-star break.
“It was a good homestand,” Gibbons said. “We’ve been getting good, solid pitching, we’re scoring a bunch of runs and we brought (Sanchez, Ryan Goins and Esmil Rogers) in the other day. I don’t know if it energized us, but it’s got a different feel.”
With consecutive series wins, the Blue Jays have started the second half of the season just the way they needed to. Now it’s a matter of keeping up the pace on an extended road trip that starts in Yankee Stadium on Friday -- a place they’ve lost the last 16 games they’ve played. It’s not going to be easy for the Blue Jays, but at least they’ve re-asserted themselves as contender in the American League.