TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have used power, speed and pitching on a recent surge that has put them in first place in the American League East.
Their 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday showed just how well that combination can work.
Edwin Encarnacion provided the power with his 14th homer of the season, Jose Reyes provided the speed by equalling a career best for a game with three stolen bases and left-hander J.A. Happ provided the pitching with seven runless innings.
Put it all together, and you get a team that’s on a season-best six-game winning streak and has won 16 of its past 21 games.
“I don’t know if you ever see it coming,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “What it really comes down to is we’re just playing good baseball. The starting pitching has been really good, our offence has been alive, the bullpen has been solid.”
The Blue Jays (29-22) swept the three-game series with the Athletics (30-20) who lead the AL West despite losing their past four games.
“Our three pitchers and their three pitchers were very good,” Gibbons said. “And in those tight ball games, some clutch hitting and some great base running made the difference in most of those games. So ride it, ride it.”
It was Toronto’s second straight sweep after taking three games from the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Happ (4-1) allowed four hits and three walks while striking out seven in his longest outing of the season.
“He’s filling up the strike zone,” Gibbons said. “He’s really doing a nice job of using his fastball on both sides of the plate. He’s locked in right now. (Catcher Erik) Kratz has done a great job with him.”
Dustin McGowan replaced Happ in the eighth and allowed Josh Donaldson’s 11th homer of the season. Casey Janssen pitched the ninth inning to earn his seventh save in as many attempts this season.
“Definitely wanted to pitch off the fastball today and Kratz did a great job behind the plate,” Happ said. “We were on the same page and tried to use that.
“First and foremost it was about me throwing the ball where I’m supposed to throw it, and then pitching off the fastball and using everything. I thought today we did a good job establishing the fastball.”
A’s left-hander Drew Pomeranz (4-2) allowed five hits, four walks and two runs in four-plus innings.
“I think I maybe tried to locate a little too much instead of going right at guys and ended up walking too many people and being in bad counts a lot,” Pomeranz said. “I wasn’t attacking guys like I should have.”
The Blue Jays did not have a hit until Encarnacion homered to left on a 2-2 fastball with one out in the fourth. It was the 14th of the year and the 12th of the month, tying him with Jose Bautista for the team record for homers in May. The run also snapped a string of 18 consecutive runless innings for Pomeranz.
Toronto went on to load the bases in the inning on singles by Brett Lawrie and Dioner Navarro and a walk by Steve Tolleson, but Kratz grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Blue Jays loaded the bases in the fifth on a single to centre by Kevin Pillar, an infield hit by Reyes and a walk to Melky Cabrera. Bautista singled off right-hander Jim Johnson to score one run, but Reyes was thrown out at home by left-fielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Encarnacion’s pop to centre field dropped in but Bautista was forced at second on centre-fielder Craig Gentry’s throw to Johnson covering second base. Gibbons immediately challenged but the review upheld the call. Unconvinced, Gibbons argued and was ejected for the first time this season.
“I was looking up at that (score) board and it looked pretty obvious to me,” Gibbons said. “Their video probably isn’t as big as that board maybe. I guess it’s a good system but it’s not a perfect system. That was big right there. We were sitting pretty good with a chance to blow the game open if he’s safe. The out call changes the whole complexion … I thought they got it wrong out there.”
Bautista’s sacrifice fly against right-hander Luke Gregerson in the seventh gave Toronto a 3-0 lead, scoring Reyes who opened the inning with a single and stole second and third. The three steals in a game equalled a career best for Reyes who has done it eight times. The previous time was Sept. 25, 2008, against the Chicago Cubs when he was with the New York Mets.
“He can really generate his own runs when he gets in scoring position,” Gibbons said. “Jose is feeling good right now. … He’s exciting, that’s one of the reasons they brought him over here.”
The Athletics completed a nine-game trip at 5-4 starting with five wins against the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays.
“You go through these periods,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “You’ve just got to fight your way through it.
“You’re not always going to score seven, eight runs a game and right now we’re going through a drought.”
NOTES: The last time the Blue Jays were alone in first place later than May 24 was July 6, 2000. …Right-hander R.A. Dickey lowered his earned-run average to 3.95 with his 8 1/3-inning outing in Saturday’s win to drop his ERA below 4.00 for the first time in his Blue Jays career. … The Blue Jays open a three-game series at Rogers Centre against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday with right-hander Drew Hutchison (3-3, 3.45 ERA) facing Ottawa left-hander Erik Bedard (2-2. 2.63 ERA). …Attendance was 45,277, the fourth sellout of the season.