TORONTO – Thirty home runs and 100 RBIs are two of the key plateaus a player must reach to be legitimately considered among the game’s best sluggers.
Jose Bautista hit the first number with two more blasts in an 8-2 clubbing of the dreadful Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night, but he found far more meaning in moving five RBIs closer to attaining the second.
“That’s one of the things I set out to do at some point in my career, I’ve always wanted to reach that plateau,” said Bautista, who has 75 RBIs to go with his major-league leading 30 homers.
“Obviously the elite players are the ones that are able to drive runs in and help the team win. That would be a pretty amazing number if I could reach it.”
Home run No. 29 for Bautista was a three-run blast in the first to open the scoring and No. 30 was a two-run shot in the eighth to cap the scoring as the Blue Jays (52-49) beat the Orioles (31-69) for the 11th straight time this season.
He homered for the third straight game on a night where it was a lot more of the same for his team against baseball’s worst club before a crowd of 16,862.
Ricky Romero allowed two runs over 7 2-3 strong innings. Vernon Wells put the game out of reach with a two-run double in the fourth and Yunel Escobar added three hits, two runs and a stunning bit of pizzazz with a defensive gem destined to be a highlight reel staple.
“It should be the play of the week,” said manager Cito Gaston. “If not, I’d like to see the play of the week.”
The shortstop, criticized in Atlanta for his flashy play, ranged far to his left to scoop up Jake Fox’s grounder in the fifth inning and, with his momentum carrying him away from the base, spun his glove behind his back and tossed the ball to Aaron Hill at second for a force out. Base-runner Felix Pie could only shake his head while Escobar broke into a wide grin, clapping his hands with glee.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with the ball, it was just my reaction to flip it behind my back,” Escobar said through interpreter Nick Leyva, the team’s bench coach, adding he never practises flips like that.
“I don’t recommend we practise it, either,” he said with a laugh.
Romero (8-7) had little trouble with the Orioles, who touched him for a pair of runs in the eighth on Nick Markakis’s RBI double and Luke Scott’s sacrifice fly to make it a 6-2 game. Miguel Tejada scored on the play but Bautista gunned down Scott at third base for his AL-high ninth assist. Confused by how many outs there were in the inning, a few Blue Jays ran off the field thinking the inning was over before realizing only two were down.
“I knew there was two outs but then I saw everyone running in so I was like, I might as well come in, too,” said Bautista.
Bautista restored the six-run gap in the bottom of the eighth, when he smashed his 30th homer of the season with Fred Lewis aboard to make it 8-2. His drive in the first came off Kevin Millwood (2-10). Bautista is now 7-for-12 with three homers and eight RBIs in his career against the right-hander.
Lyle Overbay made it 4-0 in the third with a bases-loaded walk while Wells’ double in the fourth made it 6-0.
The win for Romero was just the second in his last six outings and both have been against the Orioles. But it was his third consecutive solid start after back-to-back rough outings before the all-star break.
“The consistency of strikes and the consistency of pitching down in the zone (is better),” said Romero. “It just makes everything so much better.”
The 11 straight victories over Baltimore is the now second-longest Toronto streak against a single opponent, two short of the club record 13 posted against the Orioles (1999-2000) and the Indians (1991-92).
Notes:The Blue Jays recalled Brad Mills from triple-A Las Vegas after the game to start Wednesday’s series finale with Baltimore, with INF Mike McCoy optioned. An extra starter was needed because of Sunday’s doubleheader in Detroit. The start will be a one-off, with the pitcher returned to Vegas to make way for OF Travis Snider afterwards…. Snider is likely to join the team for the weekend series with Cleveland and his return means manager Cito Gaston will have some lineup juggling to do. Snider, Fred Lewis, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will also share time. “It’s not going to be easy,” said Gaston. “I talked about this before the season and it hasn’t happened that much, to try and get guys a day off a week, it gets tough to do sometimes. We might be leaning more toward that way, rotate the guys out there.” … Gaston doesn’t think his players are sweating the looming trade deadline too much. “I guess there might be but I think guys who think they might be traded, the only thing they fear is that they have to move their families, get themselves to another city,” he said. “I think a lot of them learn to love this city and hate to leave it.”