TORONTO — The spirit-crushing nine-game losing streak started against Tim Wakefield a week and a half ago, and on Friday night the Toronto Blue Jays smacked the knuckleballer around to finally put it to an end.
Exorcising the lingering demons from the worst road trip in team history, Scott Rolen and Rod Barajas each drove in a pair of runs, while Casey Janssen threw seven solid innings in a 6-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
To say they needed this one would be an epic understatement.
“It is a relief to finally get it,” said Janssen, “and against Boston, it’s a big win for us.”
The Blue Jays (28-23) left town May 18 riding a four-game winning streak and holding a 3 1-2 game lead atop the American League East, intent on heading to Fenway Park to show their hot start was no fluke.
Instead, they fell into a hole and didn’t hit bottom until Wednesday, when they blew leads of 8-3 and 10-8 in a nauseating 12-10, 11-inning loss at Baltimore that capped the club’s first ever 0-9 road trip.
Now that’s a hard landing.
On the bright side, no one buried them in the AL East during the lengthy slide and Friday’s win to open a nine-game homestand before a crowd of 32,026 pulled the Blue Jays to within a game of the Red Sox (28-21) in the standings.
Toronto is now 2-5 against Boston and the Yankees this season.
“You go through a period like that and you think, ’Oh goodness, we just lost six games in the standings,”’ said Vernon Wells, who scored twice and stole a base. “We lost a few, yeah, but no one really ran away with anything, so it’s encouraging, but we obviously have to play better baseball.”
Thursday’s off-day helped clear their minds — “I think we probably could have used two, huh?” manager Cito Gaston quipped before the game — although things didn’t begin well against Boston and didn’t start looking up for the Blue Jays until their five-run fifth.
Down 2-1 and looking as puzzled by Wakefield’s knuckler as they were in the 2-1 loss to him May 19, Rolen knotted things up with his second RBI double of the game. After a Kevin Millar walk, Lyle Overbay ripped an RBI double for Toronto’s first lead and Barajas’ two-run single extended the margin.
Marco Scutaro then cracked another RBI double to make it 6-2 and send Wakefield (6-3) to the showers.
“I had no chance my first two at-bats,” said Barajas, who had struck out twice before the single. “That ball was starting at my chest and it was ending up at my feet.
“In that fifth inning, he left some up.”
Janssen (1-1) — making his second start of the season after shoulder surgery last year and earning his first win since May 24, 2007 — along with relievers Brandon League and Scott Downs, handling the ninth for his sixth save, kept the Red Sox in check from there.
It was a rough beginning for Janssen, who was taken to the base of the wall in centre by David Ortiz in the first, with his deep fly falling into Vernon Wells’ glove to leave the bases loaded. That was a game-changer.
“I got in there just enough to make him miss it,” said Janssen.
Added the struggling Ortiz: “All I can do is laugh, I ain’t going to cry. ... I hit it to the deepest part of the place. That’s too bad. I’ve got to be smarter than that.”