Trend of homers propelling Blue Jays continues against Mariners

Kendrys Morales hit a two-run shot in the fourth and then with the game tied at two, Ezequiel Carrera launched his fifth home run of the year that would prove to be the difference.

SEATTLE – To live and die by the home run is the Toronto Blue Jays’ way, one that’s been very successful over the past couple of years despite the relentless hand-wringing over the need for offensive diversity.

Look, small ball only works for teams built to play that way, and in the absence of the necessary roster pieces, keep swinging away boys, do your thing.

The difficulty for the Blue Jays is enduring the inevitable lulls that come when balls don’t fly over the fence often enough and there isn’t enough supplementary production, as has been the case over the past week-and-a-half. Under such circumstances, it’s on the pitching staff to make the most of whatever support they get, the way Marcus Stroman did in Saturday night’s 4-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

There was minimal margin for the right-hander, who surrendered scratch-and-claw runs in the second and, more frustratingly, in the seventh when Jarrod Dyson singled, stole second, took third as Russell Martin’s throw skipped into the outfield and scored when Kevin Pillar couldn’t pick up the ball cleanly to tie the game 2-2.

But to start the eighth, Ezequiel Carrera electrified a Safeco Field gathering of 45,480 at least half-filled by Blue Jays fans by delivering a go-ahead solo shot to right field off Tony Zych to reclaim the lead. After Joe Smith worked out of a jam in the bottom half – helped by a spectacular diving stab from Josh Donaldson on a Nelson Cruz grounder that kept the tying run from scoring – Justin Smoak crushed his 18th of the season leading off the ninth for a two-run edge.

Manager John Gibbons says “We love home runs,” for good reason.

“I knew I was leading off so my goal was just to get on base. I got a good pitch to hit. I wasn’t trying to hit it out. It just went out,” Carrera, one of the few Blue Jays equipped to play a speed game, said through interpreter Jose Peley.

“It gives me confidence that I can do different stuff on the field like bunting, stealing a base. But on the other side, it’s nice to hit some balls out. I know it’s not going to happen very often for me but it gives me confidence and I know the guys like that.”

In combination with a two-run rocket from Kendrys Morales that left at 112.6 mph and travelled 439 feet in the fourth inning, the Blue Jays once again scored solely through the long ball. Consider that in the nine games since they battered the Cincinnati Reds for 28 runs during a three-game sweep, the Blue Jays have scored 29 runs, 21 of them coming via 16 homers.

That’s 72.4 per cent of their offence, well above their season split of 56 per cent (149 of 266 runs on homers) and in four of those games it’s been homer or bust. Over the same recent span, they’ve managed just seven doubles, which helps explain the excessive imbalance in production of late.

That will normalize.

“Home runs are guaranteed runs, that’s one thing you know,” said Gibbons. “But it’s tough to sustain that, we’ve got to start scoring runs in other ways, too.”

One important element that gets lost in the all-or-nothing nature of the Blue Jays offence is the stress the home run threat places on opposing pitchers, even when they don’t manage to go deep.

The Blue Jays couldn’t do very much with Mariners starter Ariel Miranda, managing only two hits in 6.1 innings off him, one of them Morales’ mighty wallop to left field. “I was trying to put the ball in play hard. He gave me a cookie, threw the ball a little bit high, a fastball, and I took advantage of it,” Morales said through Peley.

But the Blue Jays also worked Miranda for five walks, the lefty smart enough to pitch them very, very carefully. They’ve consistently chewed up the opposing starters in recent games, but have lacked either the home run, or other key hit to break a game open.

“I think it puts a lot of fear into the other team,” said Morales. “And it gives your team confidence because you know when you’re not doing so great some of your teammates can pick you up.”

Stroman did that until the decisive blows got launched, carving up the Mariners over his seven innings of work. He allowed only the two runs, one earned, on six hits and a walk with six strikeouts, in command throughout thanks to a sinker that was biting. He threw 41 of them out of a total of 95 pitches, giving the Blue Jays faithful raiding Safeco plenty to cheer about.

“It feels similar to playoffs,” he said of the atmosphere. “It’s weird having a road game that’s essentially a home game for us. You see all royal blue throughout the crowd, it’s fun. From the second I went out there to the bullpen everyone was chanting my name and I felt like I was at home at the Rogers Centre. Unbelievable fan support we have throughout Canada and it’s awesome to get out here to the West Coast and see some of our fans out here.”

Stroman is now 7-2 on the season, giving the Blue Jays a chance to finish their six-game road trip even with a win Sunday.

“It’s early June, but it’s a game I think we needed after the tough one (Friday) night,” said Gibbons. “We’re trying to climb back to .500 and he stepped up again. He was really, really good.”

With runs scarce, it was exactly what the Blue Jays needed to make three big swings stand up.


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