Romero, Jays triumph in duel with A's
Rookie throws seven shutout innings; Overbay drives in run
TORONTO -- There were questions at the beginning of the season about the Blue Jays' starting pitching, because of injuries and departures. There was also a question about closer B.J. Ryan after he struggled in Spring Training.
Sunday was one of those games in which both questions were answered. In a 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics before a Rogers Centre crowd of 22,164, unheralded rookie left-hander Ricky Romero pitched seven strong innings, and Ryan picked up his second save and looked sharp doing it.
And for the second consecutive game -- on a day when his bobblehead figure was given out to fans -- Lyle Overbay had the winning hit.
On Saturday, Overbay hit a 12th-inning, two-out, two-run homer to end a 4-2 victory over the Athletics.
It wasn't quite so dramatic Sunday. When Overbay singled home Kevin Millar in the second inning, no one thought it would be the decisive hit. Millar opened the inning with a walk and took second on a wild pitch.
But it turned out to be the winning hit in a pitchers' duel between Romero (2-0) and another left-hander Dallas Braden (1-2) who allowed five hits and three walks and struck out four in 7 1/3 innings.
The Blue Jays take a 10-4 record into their off-day on Monday, and have won all four of the series they have played this season. It is the first time in franchise history that Toronto has won its first four series of three games or more to begin a season.
"It may be a surprise to you all," Ryan said, "but just like our pitching staff, you get a bunch of guys believing in the same thing and going out there and playing good, sound baseball. We're catching it good, and Scoots [Marco Scutaro] has been dynamite at the top of the order and playing shortstop.
"It's great to have [Aaron] Hill back [from last year's season-ending concussion], you've got Alex [Rios] and Vernon [Wells] right there, and [Scott] Rolen is swinging the bat, and we've brought in some guys who can take on those tough lefties for us. Bringing Millar in was a great move. He's kind of a wild, funny guy, he keeps it loose, he's great for our clubhouse and for our team. We're bringing it every day, we're here to play."
Typical of Romero's outing was the seventh inning. On his 100th pitch of the game, a curveball, he induced a groundout to second from Eric Chavez for the first out. He walked Kurt Suzuki, but ended the inning on Mark Ellis' double-play grounder.
Romero finished his seven innings allowing four hits and three walks, fanning six. Of the 106 pitches Romero threw, 67 were for strikes. In three starts, his ERA is 1.71.
"He goes out there, and so far he handles himself like a veteran," manager Cito Gaston said. "Everybody waits for, 'Well, what's going to happen when he has a bad time out?' and, well, I guess that's when we're going to see, but I think he'll bounce back."
Romero, a first-round pick and the sixth overall in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, came to Spring Training as kind of a forgotten prospect behind pitchers such as Brett Cecil and Brad Mills. But with some alterations to his delivery that stopped him from throwing across his body and helped his command, he earned his way into the Major League starting rotation with a strong late Spring Training.
Early in Spring Training, Romero was a little too anxious at the start of his outings. But that seems to be behind him.
"I think I've matured a lot from the first two outings in Spring Training," Romero said. "I'm slowing the whole game down. That's the key, slowing the whole game down pitch-by-pitch."
Romero's strength Sunday was the command of his fastball, and he constantly worked ahead in the count.
"My slider and curveball were a little bit off today," he said, "but when I needed them with two strikes, I got some pretty good swings out of them. Our defense was unbelievable again. And you've got to give credit to our bullpen."
Romero's perhaps-unexpected rise is symbolic for the Blue Jays early in the season.
"It's big for us," Overbay said of Toronto's fast start, "just because [in other years,] we've struggled in April and early, and we've kind of put ourselves in a hole.
"And we end up trying to get out of that, instead of being able to compete. Hopefully, we can continue. It's still early, and we still have to continue to do those things, and I think we can."
"I'm always a positive person, anything's possible," Gaston said. "Hey, you know, if you're going to come out here and play, you might as well win. I don't think anything but win, so I'm not surprised at all. These guys are Major League players in that room. They can play with anybody. We've done things right, we've caught some breaks here and there. Surprised? No, I'm not. Happy? Very."
Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.