TORONTO – Shaun Marcum was nearly untouchable Wednesday night, and for a while the Toronto Blue Jays offence looked ready to squander yet another outstanding pitching performance.
But Marco Scutaro, only in the lineup because of injuries to shortstops David Eckstein and John McDonald a night earlier, broke through with a big RBI single that opened the scoring in the seventh and helped open the door for a break-out five-run outburst in the eighth.
The end result was a 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays that was much, much tighter than the score would suggest. While the late rally – keyed by Scott Rolen’s two-run blast – bodes well for an offence still seeking consistency, it was Marcum’s near-Herculean effort that led the Blue Jays (17-18) to their sixth victory in seven outings.
“We’re still putting some pressure on the staff,” said Rolen. “It was a little closer game than it ended up without a doubt. We got a few timely hits there in the eighth inning but Shaun was the story of this game.”
Marcum (4-2) was working on a one-hitter before surrendering three straight hits, capped by B.J. Upton’s two-run double, with two outs in the ninth. That kept him from finishing off his first career complete game, but it took none of the shine off a one-walk, nine strikeout performance.
He needed to be that sharp, too, as he and Matt Garza (1-1) traded zeroes for six innings before the Rays righty cracked.
“I was very excited,” Marcum said of the run in the seventh. “It kind of gets a little frustrating going out there in the sixth and the seventh inning and it’s still 0-0, so it’s nice to get a little breathing room.”
After Scutaro’s single, the Blue Jays seemed headed for their second 1-0 win in three days until they ended a dubious run of 20 straight games scoring five or fewer runs with the big eighth. That also allowed them to win by more than three runs for the first time since an 11-3 thumping of Baltimore on April 15.
“We needed it bad,” said Scutaro. “We’ve been kind of struggling scoring runs and you feel kind of bad sometimes for the pitchers, they do a good job and we can’t score runs for them. It was nice to see that today.”
Scott Downs got the final out to end things before a crowd of 19,276, as the Blue Jays secured their first win over the Rays (17-16) in five tries this season.
Marcum started the night with a streak of 8 1-3 hitless innings against Tampa Bay from two appearances last season, including six no-hit innings in an eventual 2-1 loss May 13. He was pulled because of his pitch count in that one, his first start after joining the rotation from the bullpen.
He picked up right where he left off Wednesday, not allowing a hit until Dioner Navarro opened the third with a grounder down the first-base line. Navarro was quickly erased when Alex Rios fielded the ball in right and threw the catcher out at second base.
Marcum then wiped out the next 13 batters – getting an outstanding over-the-shoulder grab from Vernon Wells on Akinori Iwamura’s drive to deep centre to open the seventh – before a two-out walk to B.J. Upton later in the inning. Upton quickly stole second before Marcum got Carlos Pena on a grounder to second to escape unscathed.
“(Marcum) was dominating,” said manager John Gibbons. “You know what? I can’t say it really surprises me any more. He goes out there and gives you some kind of effort every night.”
The Blue Jays were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position before finally breaking through in a sloppy seventh.
Lyle Overbay led off with a walk but was forced out at second on Aaron Hill’s poor sacrifice bunt. Back-to-back singles by Rod Barajas and Scutaro brought home Hill, but Barajas was thrown out heading for third on the play to stall the rally. Rios struck out to end it.
Rolen then tacked on some insurance in the eighth when he followed Shannon Stewart’s walk with his second homer of the season, a blast off reliever Scott Dohmann. The Blue Jays piled it on from there, getting RBI singles from Hill, Barajas and Scutaro before all was said and done.
Scutaro’s stint at shortstop may not be a very long one, as both McDonald and Eckstein aren’t hurt as badly as initially feared.
McDonald (sprained right ankle) went through a light workout before the game and he may avoid a stint on the disabled list if he continues to progress Thursday. Eckstein (right hip flexor) is day-to-day after an MRI revealed no serious damage.
The contract of infielder Jorge Velandia was purchased from triple-A Syracuse to provide backup and outfielder Adam Lind was optioned to the Chiefs. A decision on whether to make another move will come by Thursday at the latest, said GM J.P. Ricciardi.
Notes: Rios’ outfield assist was his third of the season, tying Vernon Wells for the team lead. … Velandia was batting .286 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 27 games with Syracuse. In a 14-game stint with the Rays last season, he batted .320 with two homers and 11 RBIs. … It’s Jesse Litsch (4-1, 4.32) versus Edwin Jackson (2-3, 4.98) in the series finale.