Stairs' late dinger signals Jays' win
First baseman breaks tie with two-run shot in Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays are on a roll, and while the expected heroes like Roy Halladay are performing well, it's the unexpected ones that seem to be giving the club the biggest spark.
The name on the tip of everyone's tongue after the Jays' 8-5 win over the Twins at the Metrodome on Monday night wasn't Vernon Wells or Alex Rios, who combined to drive in the first five Toronto runs, it was Matt Stairs, who put the Jays ahead for good.
After Rios led off the eighth inning with a double, his third hit of the night, Stairs belted his 12th home run of the season to right field.
"Hitting is a confidence thing, and I've kind of found my home run swing this year and things are going well," Stairs said. "It's nice to have the ballclub get a chance."
Stairs has gotten ample playing time this year because of injuries to left fielder Reed Johnson and first baseman Lyle Overbay.
"When I signed here, I expected to maybe get 200 at-bats. You hate playing due to injuries. Trust me, I'd love to see Overbay and Reed Johnson playing out there everyday," Stairs said. "But it's nice to have a veteran who's been around, and I've been in that situation for the last three years with Kansas City and guys getting injured."
Stairs is on pace to shatter his expectations; he already has 158 at-bats this year. The native of St. John, New Brunswick, attributes much of his success to the familiarity of playing at home.
"I think the biggest thing is I feel very comfortable playing in Toronto, back in my home country," Stairs said. "Everyone knows I'm a true Canadian and I take a lot of pride in that. It's just confidence."
Confidence seemed to be a large issue on the mound, as well. The win marked the fourth in a row for Halladay, who hasn't lost a game since coming off the disabled list on May 31.
"Sometimes, during the game, it's frustrating and it's tough, but those are always the more satisfying games after the fact. It's a grind, you kept yourself in it," Halladay said. "To me that's satisfying to be able to get a win with all that stuff going on. It's a good feeling. Sometimes, those tougher ones are more gratifying."
If those are the gratifying wins, then Halladay was a happy man on Monday, when he battled through seven innings and a multitude of distractions to keep the Blue Jays in the game.
Halladay had to deal with the Twins' scrappy hitters, crafty baserunners and the commotion surrounding the anticipation of Frank Thomas' 500th career home run.
But Halladay tuned it all out. His best two innings were his last, retiring the last six Twins hitters in order.
"They're a tough team to pitch against with all the running and contact guys," the righty said. "They make you work, and I felt like I was working those first five innings. It's about winning, so it's nice to come out with the win."
The win put the Jays over .500 for the first time since April 30, when they were 13-12. They reeled off nine straight losses to start the month of May, and just now have dug themselves out of that hole.
Between injuries to key pitchers and everyday starters, the Blue Jays have found a way to win eight of their last 13 series.
"I think you have to tip your hat to the team," Stairs said. "We lost nine in a row and we very easily could have rolled over and complained about all the injuries we had. Whenever you can tread water around .500 when you're not playing real well, and then you get all your big boys back and you get more comfortable, you can make a run for it."
The Thomas 500th home run watch was in full swing Monday night, but the slugger will have to wait at least one more game before he becomes the 21st member of the elite club.
Thomas led off the second inning with a fly ball to deep center field, but Gold Glove Award winner Torii Hunter was there to make the catch as he careened into the wall. Thomas finished the night 0-3 with two strikeouts.
Leslie Parker is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.