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SEA@TOR: Encarnacion drills three-run homer in fourth

TORONTO -- In a season that's been defined by injuries, Edwin Encarnacion has become the one constant on the Blue Jays' roster.

Toronto's first baseman easily has been the club's most consistent performer this year, and the numbers have become somewhat staggering over time. Once considered an afterthought, Encarnacion has firmly entrenched himself as a key component of the organization's future.

Encarnacion was back at it again on Thursday night, as he reached the 40-homer plateau for the first time in his career while the Blue Jays roughed up Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez for seven runs in an 8-3 victory over the Mariners at Rogers Centre.

"For me, it means a lot. I knew I could get 30, but not 40," Encarnacion said. "I never thought I would get to 40 home runs. But that was part of my work in the offseason. I want to continue to do the same, come back next year and try to hit 40 again.

"I've just been consistent. Being healthy, that's the No. 1 thing. I've been healthy all year long, I've just missed a couple of games.

Heading into this year, Encarnacion had shown flashes of brilliance, but never put everything together for a full season. There was the five-homer series in Minnesota at the end of 2010 season, and a strong finish to 2011, but the full body of work had been missing.

That changed this season, as Encarnacion opened the year as the club's best hitter and never showed any signs of slowing down. Encarnacion has hit at least five home runs in each month this season and has become the main threat in Toronto's lineup following the season-ending wrist injury suffered by Jose Bautista.

The 29-year-old was rewarded earlier this year with a three-year, $29 million contract extension and the overall performance hasn't ceased to amaze manager John Farrell.

"Edwin, what can you say, continues to just have a monster year offensively," Farrell said.

"To say that we came into the start of this year thinking he was going to do this would be a little bit of a stretch, so in some ways maybe a surprise, but this is a very good right-handed power hitter and he is having one heck of a year for us."

Toronto's offensive production on Thursday night couldn't have come against a more unlikely opponent. Hernandez entered the game ranked among the American League leaders in almost every major pitching category. He was second in ERA (2.67), first in shutouts (five), fourth in strikeouts (195) and first in starts with eight-plus innings and one run or less allowed (11).

The impressive numbers seemed to matter very little against the Blue Jays on this night. Toronto didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard, as Adam Lind opened the scoring in the first inning on a two-run homer. It was Lind's 10th of the season and first since Aug. 27 against the Yankees.

That was it until the fourth, when the Blue Jays broke the game wide open. Brett Lawrie got things started with a two-out, two-run single up the middle. Encarnacion followed two batters later with a three-run shot to deep left field.

That gave Encarnacion 40 on the year as he also surpassed the 100-RBI plateau for the first time in his career. Encarnacion became the eighth player in franchise history to hit 40 homers and it's the fourth time the Blue Jays have had two different players accomplish the feat in back-to-back seasons. Bautista led the Majors last season with 43 home runs.

It's an impressive feat made even more remarkable considering Encarnacion hasn't had the benefit of hitting alongside Bautista during the second half of the year.

"It's a little bit different, because it's not the same with Bautista out of the lineup," said Encarnacion, whose previous career highs were 26 homers (2008) and 76 RBIs (2007). "I don't see many pitches to hit, but I've kept being aggressive in the strike zone looking for my pitch and try to be as aggressive as I can."

Hernandez finished the fourth inning, but didn't come back out for the fifth. He was charged with a season-high seven earned runs on 10 hits while striking out four and walking one. It was the second-shortest outing of Hernandez's season and he has now allowed 12 runs over his past 8 2/3 innings.

The offensive outburst allowed right-hander Henderson Alvarez to come out on the winning end against his pitching idol. Both hurlers grew up in Venezuela, and Alvarez has attempted to mold his style on the mound to that of the former Cy Young Award winner.

Alvarez's only real difficulty came in the second when Rajai Davis misjudged a hard-hit ball to left field with two outs. Instead of making the play, the ball sailed over Davis' head as two runs came around to score.

The 22-year-old Alvarez allowed a total of three runs on five hits while striking out two over seven innings of work. It marked the first time since late July that Alvarez has gone back-to-back starts having allowed three runs or fewer in a game.

"I'm very happy knowing that I pitched against one of the greatest pitchers and we got a chance to win the game tonight," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "This is the guy that I always follow, and I'm always looking forward to seeing what he's doing so I can accomplish some of the same things that he is."

With that, the Blue Jays avoided being swept by Seattle at Rogers Centre for the first time since 2001. They also snapped a mini two-game losing streak and will now open a three-game home series against Boston on Friday night.

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