Five-run fifth helps Blue Jays snap skid
Rolen, Barajas each knock in two; Janssen goes seven
TORONTO -- The slide is over. Blue Jays right fielder Alex Rios jogged in a few steps and settled under an arcing fly ball off the bat of Boston's Dustin Pedroia in the ninth inning on Friday night, squeezing his glove shut after the baseball struck the leather.
With that final out, players burst from Toronto's dugout, spilling onto the field at Rogers Centre to celebrate a 6-3 victory over Boston. This wasn't just any win, though. This one brought a merciful conclusion to an ugly nine-game losing streak, a skid that sent the Blue Jays reeling out of first place in the American League East.
It was a fitting evening to finally find the win column again, too. The Blue Jays used a five-run outburst in the fifth inning to knock knuckleballer Tim Wakefield out of the contest for the Red Sox. It was Wakefield -- back on May 19 in Boston -- who baffled Toronto's hitters and sent the club to the first of nine consecutive losses.
"It is a relief to finally get it," said Blue Jays right-hander Casey Janssen, who could just as well have been referring to claiming his first win in the big leagues since May 2007.
In his second start of the season, after spending more than a year making his way back from surgery on his throwing shoulder, Janssen logged seven effective innings for the Blue Jays (28-23). In doing so, Janssen kept Toronto just two games behind the New York Yankees for the top spot in the AL East.
As bad as the Jays' recent slump was, their place in the standings helped the club keep from slipping into panic mode. Toronto was swept in consecutive three-game sets in Boston, Atlanta and Baltimore, but the team headed back home still within striking distance of the division lead. With 111 games left, the Jays believe there is time to make up for its recent slide.
That's a big part of why the Jays don't feel the losing streak wore the players down.
"You know what? I don't think it was really that bad," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "Obviously, guys were upset and kind of searching for answers at times, but I think everybody in here are professionals. I don't think guys got too overly excited when things were going well and I don't think we were too down on ourselves when we were going through the streak.
"You go through a period like that and you'd think, 'Goodness, we just lost six games in the standings,'" he added. "We lost a few, yeah, but nobody really ran away with anything. That's encouraging. But, at the same time, we obviously have to play a little better baseball from here on out."
Wells played an important role in ending the losing streak at nine -- tied for the fourth-longest drought in franchise history.
In the third inning, Wells pushed a pitch from Wakefield into right field for a single and then advanced to third on a base hit from Adam Lind. One batter later, Scott Rolen pulled an offering from Wakefield down the left-field line for a run-scoring double, knotting the score at 1. The Red Sox countered with a run in the fourth and, for a while, it appeared as though Boston's 2-1 advantage might hold.
Wakefield (6-3) was in fine form early on for the Sox (28-21), limiting Toronto to just the lone run through the first four innings, during which the Jays stranded seven runners and were just 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. It was reminiscent of Wakefield's last performance against the Jays, who labored offensively in the following week.
Even the Jays were feeling a sense of déjà vu.
"I'm not going to lie, kind of," Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas said. "I thought his knuckleball was better today than it was when we faced him down in Boston. I had no chance my first two at-bats. That ball was starting at about my chest and it was ending up at my feet. I thought I didn't have a chance against him tonight. But in that fifth inning, he just left some up."
Wells jump-started the rally by stealing second base with one out. A groundout by Lind allowed Wells to move to third base and another double from Rolen sent the center fielder across home plate to tie the game at 2. From there, the Jays collected three more hits -- an RBI double each from Lyle Overbay and Marco Scutaro and a two-run single from Barajas -- to grab a 6-2 lead.
The two-out, five-run outburst sent Wakefield to the showers after just 4 2/3 innings, and helped Janssen (1-1) to his first win of the season.
It wasn't an easy night for Janssen by any means, though.
"'Grind' is probably the best word," Janssen said. "Or, 'battle.' It seemed like my command wasn't great. They hit my mistakes."
Janssen loaded the bases in the first inning, and Boston slugger David Ortiz sent a pitch rocketing to the warning track in center field. Off the bat, it looked like it could have been a game-changing grand slam, but Wells made a smooth sprint to the base of the wall, where he slowed before making an inning-ending catch.
"He just missed it," Janssen said with a smile. "I thought it was staying in, but when Vernon was drifting back, I didn't know."
Overall, Janssen allowed 11 hits -- Jacoby Ellsbury had an RBI double and an RBI single off the right-hander, and J.D. Drew added a solo home run in the seventh inning -- but the starter limited the damage over his seven frames. Janssen finished with two strikeouts and one walk, inducing 10 outs via ground ball along the way.
"What can you say? He pitched a great game for us," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He kept them off-balance. Sometimes in fastball counts, he got them out with breaking balls -- sliders. He kept us in the game. We finally got some hits with guys on base off Mr. Wakefield, who's been real tough on us. That's good to see."
Wakefield or not, the Jays were just thrilled to walk away with a win again.
"It was big," Barajas said. "Any time you can end a losing streak like we had -- regardless of who you're playing -- it's real important."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.