Encarnacion ignites Blue Jays’ long-awaited offensive breakout

Edwin Encarnacion drove in six runs, including a three-run homer, to help the Blue Jays destroy the Rangers 12-2

TORONTO – On April 16, after a 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox extended what eventually turned into a prolonged offensive dry spell, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons uttered a refrain that became all too familiar.

“We’re due to break out,” he said early that evening at Fenway Park. “I keep saying that over and over but it’s going to happen, and I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of it.”

Nearly three weeks later, deliverance at long last came. And boy did they ever lay the smackdown on Derek Holland – the Texas Rangers left-hander who you may recall ill-advisedly mimicked wiping himself with a Blue Jays rally towel during last year’s playoffs.

Led by Edwin Encarnacion’s three hits and six RBIs, a lineup that put up six double-digit totals through its first 30 games last year finally broke through this season, pinning 11 runs on Holland in just 2.2 innings, romping to a 12-2 win to take three of four from the Rangers.

The Blue Jays are back to .500 at 15-15 ahead of a three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers that starts Friday.

“We’ve been waiting on that outburst,” said Gibbons. “We really did what we do best tonight.”

Many of Holland’s pitches in this one resembled what he pretended to be wiping away last fall, which once again meant some good hitting for the Blue Jays, who pounded him for six runs over two innings in Game 4 of the American League Division Series between the clubs.

Like happened so often last year, they pounced immediately, as Kevin Pillar and Josh Donaldson singled to open the first, Jose Bautista walked and Encarnacion doubled them all home for a 3-1 lead. RBI singles by the suddenly surging Russell Martin and Darwin Barney pushed the advantage to 5-1 before the inning was over.

That would have been plenty for J.A. Happ, who allowed only one run on six hits and a walk in another seven innings of strong work, but the Blue Jays proceeded to really break things open with a six-run third that bordered on cruel.

“The offence came through in a huge way,” said Happ.

Pillar’s two-run double made it 7-1, Bautista followed a Donaldson walk with a run-scoring fielder’s choice and then Encarnacion pounded a first-pitch sinker over the wall in left-centre to mercifully end Holland’s night.

“Everyone in the starting lineup contributed, everyone was able to get on base, drive in a run, do something to help and it’s been a long time coming,” said Pillar. “We’ve faced a lot of tough lefties in here, and that’s been our M.O. the last couple of years, we don’t let lefties get out of here unscathed. To be able to put up crooked numbers in two innings is good for this team.”

Holland was plenty more than scathed.

The gruesome pitching line went like this: 2.2 innings, 11 hits, 11 earned runs, three walks, no strikeouts. And in becoming the first big-leaguer to allow 11 earned runs in an outing since Colorado’s Chris Rusin against the Mets last Aug. 22, Holland’s ERA jumped from 2.48 to 5.40. Ouch.

“Missed spots, missed locations, all in all just a terrible performance by myself,” said Holland.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays will keep looking for signs that their offensive woes to this point are being left behind.

Since breaking an 0-for-20 rut with a single on Tuesday, Encarnacion has five hits, including two homers, and may be back in one of his patented May hot streaks. He can carry a team on his own during those stretches.

Encarnacion’s homer Thursday gave him 202 with the Blue Jays, tying him with George Bell for fifth in franchise history.

“I’m really happy to tie George Bell,” Encarnacion said through interpreter Josue Peley. “When I have games like today, I know my confidence gets up and I know my game is going to step up.”

Martin added two more hits and just missed a homer on a fly out to centre that probably leaves in the summer. Barney and Carrera added two hits apiece at the bottom of the lineup, setting the stage for the big boys. On the flip side, Troy Tulowitzki is still looking to ignite, adding a single in four trips to the plate.

“Especially from an individual standpoint some of the guys that statistically are struggling, the signs of them turning things around are very close,” said Pillar. “The hard contact is there, their pitch recognition, you can just tell from the way some of these guys are taking pitches that they’re seeing the ball well, and it’s only a matter of time. Baseball cards don’t lie, we have superstars on this team, we have really good players and they have a track record. We don’t know when it’s going to come but signs are pointing to very soon.”

After a pair of walk-off wins, Thursday’s beatdown suggests the worst of the drought may be over.

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