TORONTO – It gets tougher for the Toronto Blue Jays now.
They took care of the woeful Baltimore Orioles on Sunday with a 6-1 victory that completed a three-game sweep, leaving them 6-0 for the season against the doormats of the American League East.
Ricky Romero (5-2) pitched his second complete game of the season and there was the usual barrage of home runs, this time from Jose Bautista, Alex Gonzalez and Lyle Overbay before a crowd of 15,878.
Now it is time to face the elite of the division, the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees for the next nine games.
“These nine games we have coming up are very important,” said Bautista, who hit his 16th homer of the season in the eighth.
The first-place Rays visit the Rogers Centre for a three-game series starting Monday. After a day off Thursday, the New York Yankees visit for a three-game series and then the Blue Jays play at Tampa Bay for three games June 8-10.
“We’ve got probably two of the best teams in baseball in the next nine games,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “And we have to show up and play ball.”
Added catcher John Buck: “We obviously know how important they are, Tampa Bay being in first place. But if they’re first or last or whatever, we know going into it, if we play our game the way we’re capable of playing, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win and that’s kind of how we’ve got to approach these series.”
The Blue Jays (30-22) are going into the games in good shape, having gone 18-10 in May so far. It is the quickest the Blue Jays have reached 30 victories since 1993 when they also did it after 52 games.
The Blue Jays are making their mark in other ways. They have hit 53 homers in May, the most in a month in the majors since the Atlanta Braves hit 55 in May of 2003. The record for homers in a month is 58, shared by the 1987 Orioles and the ’99 Seattle Mariners.
The Blue Jays also lead the majors with 88 homers.
“There’s not one guy in the lineup that cannot leave the ballpark,” Gaston said.
Bautista has hit 12 home runs in May to tie Jose Cruz Jr. and Carlos Delgado for the club record by a player for one month.
Overbay, who had a run-scoring single in the three-run first hit his seventh homer of the season and third in two days when he led off the sixth against Jeremy Guthrie (3-5), who allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings.
Gonzalez followed Bautista’s homer in the eighth against Will Ohman with his 11th homer of the season.
Romero had only two fly outs against 17 ground ball outs and seven strikeouts. It followed a disappointing homecoming start against the Los Angeles Angels on May 25 in which he was charged with seven earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.
“I think I was a little too excited last start,” Romero said. “Being at home was a little overwhelming, and after I kind of sat down and kind of looked back at it, it was out of character a little bit.”
A combination of pitching like Romero has provided and the early-season home-run binge has put the Blue Jays in a position not many expected this far into the season.
Buck said the players always have believed that they could do well.
“I think we’ve felt that way from Day 1,” he said. “You can ask everybody on this team. We believed coming out of spring training. Nothing has really changed for us. Obviously getting more wins and you’re seeing it on paper now helps everybody. But I think we’ve had confidence all along.”
Buck says he is not trying to put too much emphasis on the upcoming series while acknowledging their importance.
“Obviously we want to win the series,” he said. “Every game we win moves us up on Tampa. But it’s a marathon. These three games as important as they are, all they are is three games.”
The Orioles scored their first-inning run on Corey Patterson’s leadoff single, Julio Lugo’s sacrifice and Nick Markakis’s single but Romero responded by getting a double play grounder from Ty Wigginton.
He was rewarded with three runs in the bottom of the first after Fred Lewis led off with a double and scored on Vernon Wells’ two-out double. Bautista then walked before Gonzalez and Overbay followed with run-scoring singles.
The three homers came later and gave Romero breathing room he hardly needed.
Notes:The Blue Jays start Brandon Morrow (3-4, 6.66 earned-run average) against Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza (5-3, 2.97 ERA) on Monday. Brian Tallet (1-1, 6.11 ERA) will be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday to start against the Rays’ Jeff Niemann (5-0, 2.37 ERA) Toronto starts Shaun Marcum (5-1, 2.59 ERA) on Wednesday against David Price (7-2, 2.57 ERA) … The teams wore white hats Sunday commemorating the U.S. Memorial Day. The have Monday off so the teams wore them Sunday … The first-inning double by Wells was his 18th of the season. He entered Sunday tied for first in doubles in the American League with Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria and leading in extra-base hits with 31.