Blue Jays rally past Sox for series win
Rios, Lind each contribute a pair of RBIs
TORONTO -- Through thick and thin this season, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has stuck by his hitters, refusing to shake up the lineup in response to anyone's struggles at the plate.
When the offense has clicked, Gaston has been praised for creating a comfortable environment through trust and stability. When the group has labored, the manager's method, viewed at times as showing too much faith in his hitters, has been a primary source of criticism.
For much of the past month, which included a recent nine-game losing streak, the heart of Toronto's lineup has suffered in the batter's box. Gaston kept the hitters in their spots, and the middle of the order answered in a big way on Saturday afternoon, powering the Blue Jays to a 5-3 victory over the divison-rival Red Sox at Rogers Centre.
"Looks like you've got the guys in the right spots," one reporter quipped after the win.
Gaston leaned back in his chair and laughed, recalling the daily questions he's received about possibly changing his lineup around. In Toronto's latest win over Boston, the Blue Jays' Nos. 3-5 hitters -- Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Adam Lind, respectively -- accounted for all five runs to support a solid seven-inning showing from starter Brian Tallet.
The win was the second in a row for the Jays (29-23), who were swept by the Red Sox in a three-game set in Boston May 19-21, the series that started the losing streak. During that nine-game drought, Rios, Wells and Lind combined to hit .229 with only four RBIs. On Saturday, that trio finished the day 7-for-11 with one home run, three doubles and five RBIs.
"If we're going to get to where we need to be," said Wells, "we're going to have to do it in the middle of the lineup."
The heart of the Blue Jays' order delivered early against the Red Sox (28-22).
In the first inning, after Boston plated one run in the top half of the frame, Aaron Hill singled with one out and promptly moved to second base on an error by Red Sox right fielder Rocco Baldelli. Rios stepped into the box and pulled a pitch from Boston's Brad Penny into left field for a run-scoring base hit that knotted the score at 1.
A two-run homer in the second by Baldelli handed Boston a 3-1 lead, an advantage that Toronto narrowed as the game moved along. In the third inning, Rios doubled to left field and scored on a single from Lind. In the sixth, the Jays pulled the game into a 3-3 deadlock when Lind sent a 1-1 offering from Penny over the wall in left-center field for a solo home run.
"I finally got the barrel on something," said Lind, who hit just .114 with one RBI during the nine-game skid. "I talked to all of our coaches, and it came back to timing. I think I was just getting ready too late and overswinging out of frustration. I'm trying to get back at it."
Adding to Lind's frustration was the fact that he's had chances to drive in more runs lately. Sure, Rios and Wells have each had their own struggles -- Wells hasn't homered since May 6, and Rios hasn't cleared the fence since May 17 -- but leadoff man Marco Scutaro and Hill, who hits second, have continued to get on base regularly.
"It wasn't about them," said Lind, referring to Rios and Wells. "I just had so many opportunities to help this team win."
Lind wasn't the only one who felt that way, though.
"Scoot has done his part, and Hilly has done his part," Wells said. "When you get those two guys on as much as they've been on, then it's a matter of your middle-of-the-lineup guys doing what they need to do. It's going to happen."
In the seventh inning, when the Red Sox turned to reliever Ramon Ramirez, it was Rios and Wells who came through again. Scutaro opened the inning by reaching on an infield single, and Rios later drove him in with a base hit up the middle. Wells pushed the Jays' lead to 5-3 with a double to left-center that plated Rios.
"[Wells is] a big part of our lineup there, right in the middle of it," Gaston said. "The two guys up front -- the first and second hitters -- have been getting on pretty much all year. Now, if Rios starts to get on and Wells starts to swing as we know that he can, then it's going to be a great offense for us."
The performance from the middle of Toronto's lineup helped Tallet (3-3) avoid a third consecutive hard-luck loss. The left-hander struggled with his command early on, throwing 59 pitches (29 strikes) in the first two innings. After Baldelli's homer in the second, though, Tallet recovered and allowed just one hit to the final 20 hitters he faced.
Tallet surrendered three runs and issued all four of his walks in the first two innings, and he knew all too well that, with Scott Richmond warming up in the bullpen in the second, Gaston was close to handing the ball to another pitcher. Instead, Gaston left Tallet on the mound, and the southpaw settled in over his final five innings, during which he threw 59 pitches (39 strikes).
"It was definitely a gut check," Tallet said. "It was a matter of, 'Hey, you know, if you don't figure this thing out, you're going to be out of the game in the second inning.' As a starter, that's the one thing you're not supposed to do -- come out of the game early because of a control issue.
"Fortunately, they stuck with me, and I was able to get some pitches to get out of that second inning and get out of that first inning without a lot of damage. I was able to start cruising a little bit, and that was nice."
Tallet's effort gave the heart of the order time to go to work. That was encouraging for Gaston to see.
"You need them," Gaston said. "I hope they get hot for the next three months -- that'd be great."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.