Jays roll on 'Vernon Wells Night' in Texas
Slugger's two home runs give him three in first two games
ARLINGTON -- Vernon Wells smiled and joked in his typical self-deprecating way, shrugging off the pair of home runs that he launched into the Texas night on Wednesday. The Blue Jays' center fielder has been known to downplay his own success, and this was no exception.
"I don't think I'm going to keep this pace up, but I'll try," Wells said with a grin.
Wells was right. His two blasts helped power the Blue Jays to a 7-4 victory over the Rangers, giving him three home runs through the first two games of the season for Toronto. That is not the type of pace any slugger could maintain over the course of baseball's 162-game season, but it could perhaps be a sign that Wells is returning to form.
The Blue Jays' first victory of 2010 included a solid outing from left-handed starter Brian Tallet and a bit of redemption for closer Jason Frasor, who blew a save opportunity in Monday's season-opening loss to Texas. It was Wells' feat -- homering in consecutive games for the first time since August 2008 -- that stood out in the end, though.
Not that you would know it from talking to Wells.
For those who have paid attention over the years, Wells' nonchalant attitude during his hot spells has always been part of his style. The same goes for the times when the veteran has slipped into prolonged slumps, which was the unfortunate theme throughout his 2009 campaign. It's an attitude that has been the source of criticism at times.
Wells simply tries to keep things on an even keel.
"It's the same thing that frustrates people about me not getting upset when I struggle," Wells said. "They don't seem to pay attention when I do well and I'm the same person. It's me. It's always been me. I try to be the same person -- good or bad."
Right now, Wells has looked very good.
Following a disappointing '09 season, during which Wells posted some of the worst offensive numbers of his career and later revealed he was fighting a left wrist issue throughout the year, the center fielder received the chance to begin anew back home. Wells grew up in Arlington and has had his family in the seats at Rangers Ballpark for this week's games.
Wells launched a two-run homer in his first at-bat of the season during Monday's 5-4 loss to the Rangers. On Tuesday's off-day, Wells and his wife, Charlene, drove out to Quinlan, Texas, to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of two homes for single mothers of underprivileged children -- the first major project of Wells' Perfect 10 charitable foundation.
On Wednesday, Wells sent a pitch from Rangers reliever Dustin Nippert deep into the left-field stands for a two-run blast that put the Blue Jays ahead, 5-3. Then in the ninth inning, Wells pulled an offering from lefty Darren Oliver to left field again -- this time belting a solo shot to give Toronto a 7-4 advantage. As he rounded the bases, Wells' father, Vernon Wells Jr., could be seen smiling.
"He did a lot of cussing at the TV last year," Wells said. "He gets a lot more upset than I do when I struggle. It's good. I'm glad he has a smile on his face right now."
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston did the same after the game.
"I guess you can call it 'Vernon Wells Night,'" Gaston said.
Tallet earned the win for the Blue Jays (1-1) after allowing four runs -- two earned -- on four hits over 6 2/3 innings, finishing with six strikeouts and three walks. In the fourth inning, Tallet allowed back-to-back solo homers to Rangers sluggers Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz that pulled the game into a 3-3 tie, but the lefty recovered and set down 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced.
Tallet played a big role in Toronto's win, but even he was quick to praise Wells' performance against the Rangers (1-1). The multihomer outburst marked Wells' first multihomer game since Sept. 28, 2008, and the 19th of his career. Wells, who will earn $21 million this year, has also homered in consecutive games for the first time since going yard in three straight from Aug. 23-26, 2008.
"It's tremendous," Tallet said. "We need to lean on him. He's our big pay guy. He's been hurt the last couple years, and hopefully he's healthy this year and can continue his hot streak and let the rest of the guys catch up with him.
Toronto's offense chased Texas starter Rich Harden from the game after just 3 2/3 innings, taking advantage of the right-hander's wildness. Harden struck out eight, but he issued five of the Rangers' 10 walks in the game and yielded a solo homer to Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the third. Harden also issued consecutive bases-loaded walks to Travis Snider and Jose Bautista in the fourth.
Wells' second home run provided a three-run cushion that provided Frasor with some margin for error in the ninth inning. In his first appearance since allowing two ninth-inning runs on Monday, Frasor surrendered a leadoff double to Chris Davis. From there, Frasor collected a pair of strikeouts and induced a groundout to seal the win for Toronto.
"I might be able to sleep tonight," Frasor said. "It never feels good to blow the game. It was just nice to get back out there as soon as possible and not only win the game, but it was kind of a little confidence boost for me."
A slight adjustment with Wells' swing -- hitting coach Dwayne Murphy began working with him at the end of Spring Training on a small tweak with his hands to generate more power -- has the Blue Jays confident that the center fielder is on the right track again. Gaston was quick to note the small sample size, though, reminding everyone that, "it's only two days."
As he is prone to do, Wells said the same.
"The great thing is there's only 160 more left," he said with a smile.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.