Trio of rookies leads Jays past Angels
Ruiz, Snider pace the offense, while Romero gets 11th win
TORONTO -- They are three very different rookies -- Ricky Romero, Travis Snider and Randy Ruiz -- and they are trying to help lead the Blue Jays to a memorable finish in what has undeniably been an otherwise forgettable season for the ballclub.
Romero is a legitimate candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Snider is the babyfaced slugger who has a future in the heart of Toronto's order. Ruiz is a career Minor Leaguer finally being given a chance to audition for a regular role on baseball's biggest stage.
On Sunday afternoon, all three played an integral part in leading the Blue Jays to an 8-3 victory over the Angels, sealing a series win in the three-game set against the AL West leaders. Romero fashioned six respectable innings, Snider showed off his power with an opposite-field homer and Ruiz delivered the game's decisive blow.
Snider and Ruiz helped lead an offensive attack that provided a seven-run cushion for Romero after only three innings. The left-hander did not need much of an assist, though. Romero bounced back from his shortest outing of the season by limiting Los Angeles to two runs during his time on the hill, improving his record to 11-5 in his inaugural tour with the Jays.
"Much like some of the other guys we've seen here," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "he's got a good arm and comes right after you. We've been swinging the bats pretty well, and he shut us down pretty good."
Scioscia's comments echoed that of the many managers who have watched their lineup struggle against Romero, who has posted an 8-2 record dating back to June 21. There have been a handful of rough performances -- Romero has posted a 10.50 ERA against the Red Sox, for example -- but the lefty's overall showing has created some buzz around the league.
The 24-year-old Romero -- Toronto's No. 2 arm behind ace Roy Halladay -- is widely considered a leading contender for the league's Rookie of the Year Award. No Blue Jays pitcher has claimed the accolade and only twice in the franchise's history (Alfredo Griffin, 1979; Eric Hinske, 2002) has a Toronto player earned the honor.
Romero is trying not to get caught up in the hype.
"A lot of the guys, they jokingly say, 'Rookie of the Year. Rookie of the Year,'" Romero said with a smile. "I try not to look at it like that. If I win it, it's going to be an unbelievable accomplishment for me, personally, but I've just got to take it start by start."
Romero, who was selected sixth overall in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, was the first pitcher taken in the first round that year. Being such a high pick comes with lofty expectations, and Romero had a bumpy run through the Minor Leagues before earning a job with the Jays (57-65) this past spring.
The 21-year-old Snider -- Toronto's top choice (14th overall) in the '06 Draft -- has enjoyed watching Romero's progress this season.
"He had so much pressure on him in the Minor Leagues," said Snider, who finished 3-for-3 with a walk on Sunday. "When you see him go out there and do his thing and be the guy he is, the guy we know he can be, it's good."
Snider is familiar with that pressure, considering his struggles early in the season with the Jays led to a three-month stay with Triple-A Las Vegas. Since returning on Aug. 16, the left-handed-hitting Snider has slugged two home runs -- the second being a solo shot off Angels reliever Rafael Rodriguez in the third inning on Sunday.
That blast put the Angels (74-48) behind, 7-0, but it was a swing one inning earlier that proved to be the difference in the end. With the bases loaded and two outs, Ruiz -- a 31-year-old rookie who has bounced around the farm systems of multiple organizations over the past 11 years -- sent a pitch from Angels righty Trevor Bell into right field for a three-run double.
"He's done OK since he's been here," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, who has indicated that Ruiz is auditioning for a role with Toronto in 2010. "The kid has been trying to break through to the big leagues for a long time. Hopefully he's going to get a chance to play up here for a while."
Ruiz's bases-clearing double chased Bell (1-1) from the contest, giving Toronto a six-run advantage after collecting three runs off the right-hander in the first inning. The Jays tacked on one more run in the fifth, creating more than enough breathing room to withstand the three runs surrendered by Romero and reliever Josh Roenicke over the next two frames.
"Our guys swung the bat well and fortunately put [Romero] in a position to get a well-deserved win," Snider said.
It was hardly the prettiest performance of the season for Romero, but it was sufficient. To Gaston, the rookie showed that he was able to overcome some command problems in order to turn in an effective outing.
That is what a Rookie of the Year candidate should be able to do.
"It tells me that he's growing," Gaston said. "Once he learns the hitters a little better, he's going to be able to pitch better."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.