Romero's focus is key to Jays' win
Lefty starter sharp in comeback victory at Texas
ARLINGTON -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston emerged from the visitors' dugout and strolled out to the mound in the seventh inning on Thursday afternoon. Ricky Romero knows that usually means it is the end of the line. The young pitcher peered down at the baseball in his left hand, preparing himself to hand it over.
Romero was not being removed from the game, though.
"He told me, 'We're going to ride you right here,'" said Romero, recalling Gaston's message after the Blue Jays claimed a 3-1 comeback victory over the Rangers. "'We just need you to focus.'"
Romero was admittedly flustered. He had just misfired with a slider, sending the errant pitch bouncing off home plate, where Blue Jays catcher Jose Molina was unable to corral the ball before David Murphy scored from third to put Toronto behind, 1-0. Following that wild pitch, Romero issued a walk to Josh Hamilton, prompting the visit from Gaston.
Romero gathered himself and struck out Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus to end the inning. When Romero headed off the hill, the lefty was in line for a hard-luck loss after trading zeroes with Texas starter C.J. Wilson for seven frames. Led by Vernon Wells, the Jays' offense staged a late ninth-inning rally to take Romero off the hook, and closer Jason Frasor picked up his second save in as many games.
Wells launched a solo home run off Rangers closer Frank Francisco to ignite the late push for Toronto, pulling the game into a 1-1 tie. The blast was the fourth in three games for Wells, who also became the first player in franchise history to open a season with at least one homer in each of the first three games. Wells had not homered in three straight games in any stretch since Aug. 23-26, 2008.
"That's a big win," Wells said. "I know it's the third game of the season, but to come here and make a comeback in the deciding game, that's a confidence builder. And the way Ricky threw the ball today, he didn't deserve to get a loss or a no-decision. He deserved to get a win. Hopefully next time we'll get him one."
With all of his pitches working, Romero picked up right where he left off last season, when he won 13 games as a rookie for the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old left-hander is starting to earn a reputation for escaping tight situations and he showed why once again against Texas. The Rangers had runners on second and third base with no outs in the second, but Romero retired the next three hitters in order.
Overall, Romero scattered five hits and finished with four strikeouts and two walks for the Jays (2-1). Using a strong changeup and an effective sinker, the southpaw created 10 outs via ground balls -- nine coming within the first five frames. When Romero was on the mound, the Rangers went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and they finished 0-for-10 in such situations overall against Toronto's pitchers.
Needless to say, Gaston was thrilled Romero did not wind up with a loss.
"Oh man. I'm very happy for him," Gaston said. "He pitched his heart out out there. I would say that both of those kids pitched great, but Ricky probably out-pitched him."
The other "kid" -- Wilson -- was making his first start since 2005 after serving strictly as a reliever in each of the past four seasons. The left-hander held the Blue Jays off the scoreboard for seven innings, compiling nine strikeouts against two walks along the way. The Rangers only turned to their bullpen after scoring on the seventh-inning wild pitch from Romero.
The Jays were shut down in order by the hard-throwing Neftali Feliz in the eighth inning, when Mike McCoy, Jose Bautista and Adam Lind each struck out. Texas (1-2) then turned to Francisco for his first save opportunity of the season. The game immediately tilted in Toronto's favor when Wells drilled a 1-1 offering into the left field seats for his solo shot.
"Wow. It was a dogfight from the get-go," Romero said. "You've got to tip your hat off to C.J. He threw a great game today. It was a good game. Vernon came through right there at the end -- he's been doing it all series."
Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay followed by lofting a pitch from Francisco bouncing off the wall in left. It ricocheted back into the outfield, providing Overbay with enough time to hustle around the bases for a triple. Edwin Encarnacion then added a run-scoring sacrifice fly and McCoy later contributed an RBI single to put the Jays ahead for good, 3-1.
They helped secure the first series win of the season for Toronto -- a great way for the club to open 2010.
"We played good baseball here," Gaston said. "I'm one to never like to look back, but you can say, 'Well you could've won three.' We won two, so we'll take two and get out of town."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.