Homers help Halladay earn first win
Wells, Johnson go yard as starter outduels Rays' Kazmir
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Reed Johnson knew the ball was gone when it came off his bat. Pumping his fist in celebration, he tossed the weapon aside and began his first home run trot of the season. Hard hits always feel good, but working a decisive homer off a pitcher on his game like Scott Kazmir was on Sunday made the victory taste even sweeter.
"I was swinging through fastballs all day, just getting a piece of them," said Johnson, who struck out in the first and popped out in the third prior to succeeding against the young lefty. "For [Kazmir] to come at me with that is understandable. I was able to make an adjustment and get my rhythm and get my foot down in time."
The three-run shot came with two out in the fifth inning and Toronto trailing by one, and turned out to be just what the Jays needed to come out on top, 6-3, during a duel of two talented starters.
Toronto struggled with Kazmir early on. Vernon Wells, who homered in the first inning, and Lyle Overbay, who doubled over the wall in center in the third, were the only Jays to touch Kazmir during the first four innings. The 23-year-old collected strikeouts for each of the first eight outs of the game before Johnson popped out to first to snap the streak. He ended the day with 10 punchouts, three against Frank Thomas and two each from Royce Clayton and third baseman John McDonald.
Entering Sunday's game, Thomas had a nine-game hitting streak going against Tampa Bay, and was batting .400 (24-for-60) against Rays pitching since 2004.
"We played a good ballgame, but it wasn't easy with Kazmir," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He was walking right through us early, he was real good.
"[Roy Halladay] battled the same way. It's the kind of matchup you anticipate from those two guys. They're two of the better arms in the league."
Halladay, the Jays' 2003 Cy Young winner, was impressive for Toronto in his own right. He didn't have his best stuff, but still he limited the Rays to three runs off seven hits to record his first win since Aug. 20. He walked three, fanned seven and allowed one home run, a solo shot to left-center from center fielder Rocco Baldelli.
"I hadn't really thought about it, but it was a tough ending to the year last season," said Halladay, who went 0-2 over the final six starts he made in 2006. "It's nice to have that over with."
Halladay's seven-inning, 113-pitch run served the dual purpose of handing the bullpen a much-needed rest. He was strong early and often, fanning the side in the first and again in the fifth, but still admitted to making adjustments.
"Really, the one pitch I wanted back was the pitch to Baldelli," Halladay said. "Other than that, there were groundouts and popouts. They've got a lot better offensive team than they've had in the past. They made me work a little bit."
Regardless of his critique, Halladay moved to 1-0 on the season and 7-2 in his career at Tropicana Field with a 3.02 ERA in 13 games. He's 4-0 against the Rays since April 9, 2006, with a 2.21 ERA in five starts.
On Sunday, what mattered was rest. Setup guy Jason Frasor, who'd appeared in all four games up to this point, was able to stay seated for the entire game, as was closer B.J. Ryan, who had seen action in three contests. Instead, it was starter-turned-reliever Casey Janssen who relieved Halladay, and closed out the game by sitting the six Rays he faced down in order to earn his first professional save.
"So far, so good," said Janssen, who said he kept the game ball as a memento. "I'm still getting used to it a little bit: short stints, coming in there and fire away until they tell you to stop.
"It's been pretty good so far. Coming to the park every day and not knowing if you'll play or not is exciting."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.