TORONTO – The series opener between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles was a pitcher’s duel for the first five innings.
It turned into a power game after that and Toronto’s boppers were up to the task.
Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera belted three-run homers as the Blue Jays dumped the Orioles 9-3 on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre. Encarnacion got things started in the sixth inning, Lawrie would later give the Jays the lead and Cabrera added some insurance as Toronto improved to 11-9 on the season.
“Home runs come in handy,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “Home runs do win. We had the three big ones.”
Nelson Cruz hit a three-run shot for Baltimore (9-10) in the top half of the sixth inning before Encarnacion ended his 25-game home run drought to pull Toronto even.
Lawrie, from Langley, B.C., cracked the tie in the eighth inning with a blast off Evan Meek (0-1) to help make a winner of reliever Steve Delabar (2-0). Cabrera, who has hit safely in 19 of 20 games this season, went deep off Josh Stinson later in the frame.
Juan Francisco and Josh Thole chipped in with two hits apiece for the Blue Jays, who outhit the Orioles 9-8.
Toronto starter R.A. Dickey and Baltimore’s Miguel Gonzalez were both in form early on. Dickey was the first to hiccup in the sixth inning after Baltimore got a rally started by taking advantage of some sloppy defence.
Steve Lombardozzi hit a flare to shallow left field that dropped in between Cabrera and Jose Reyes. Both Blue Jays seemed to think the other had a read on the ball but neither did.
Lombardozzi reached second on the play and Nick Markakis followed with a walk. Cruz then stepped into a 1-1 fastball for his fourth homer of the season.
Dickey recorded the next two outs but then loaded the bases by walking Steve Clevenger, hitting Delmon Young with a pitch and walking Ryan Flaherty. A Jonathan Schoop strikeout kept the damage to just three runs.
A Baltimore error helped the Blue Jays’ rally in the bottom half.
Cabrera reached when Lombardozzi flubbed a grounder and Jose Bautista singled to set the stage for Encarnacion, who launched a blast into the first row of standing-room only seats above the first deck in centre field.
“He’s a home run hitter,” Gibbons said. “To get that first one, I’m sure he’s breathing a little bit easier.”
It was the fourth-longest home run drought of Encarnacion’s career.
Gonzalez, who struck out a season-high seven batters, lasted 5 2/3 innings as Baltimore fell to 5-6 on the road this season.
“With Encarnacion you can’t double up, you’ve got to keep the ball down and make better pitches,” Gonzalez said.
The Baltimore starter allowed four hits and two earned runs while walking a pair.
“Miguel was very close there,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “If we do a couple of things differently he probably pitches six or seven innings. He had good stuff obviously. He gave us a good chance to win. I can’t fault his effort.”
Dickey struggled again when he came back out for the seventh inning but got a big assist from the Toronto bullpen. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Neil Wagner came on in relief and got Cruz to ground out.
Southpaw Brett Cecil relieved Wagner and walked Chris Davis to load the bases. Cecil got cleanup hitter Adam Jones to wave at three straight pitches before striking out Clevenger to snuff the threat.
“That’s the ballgame right there,” Gibbons said. “But our bullpen is good. We’ve had a couple hiccups in the past week but our bullpen is as good as anybody’s.”
Delabar came on for the eighth inning and put a runner on with a one-out walk. Jonathan Diaz and Reyes then combined for a nice 4-6-3 double play to retire the side.
Notes: Dickey, who tied a season high with six strikeouts, was pulled after facing two batters in the seventh inning. He allowed six hits, three earned runs and three walks. It was his second quality start of the season. … The crowd let out a cheer when the halftime score of the Toronto Raptors’ NBA playoff game was shown on the big screen. The Raptors led Brooklyn 45-39 after two quarters and went on to beat the Nets 100-95. … Cabrera has five homers on the season, one more than Lawrie. … Announced attendance was 14,866 and the game took two hours 54 minutes to play. … Dustin McGowan (1-1) is scheduled to start the second game of the three-game series on Wednesday. The Orioles will counter with fellow right-hander Chris Tillman (1-0). … The Blue Jays will close out the homestand with a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox. … It was the fifth game of a seven-game road trip for the Orioles, who were coming off a four-game series split in Boston. … Bautista has reached base safely in all 20 games this season. It’s the team’s longest season-opening streak of its kind since Vernon Wells reached base safely in 29 straight games to open the 2006 campaign. … Cecil has yet to allow an earned run this season. He has 15 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings.