Blastin' Bautista helps Cecil drop Yanks
Pair of homers backs stellar start by Blue Jays southpaw
TORONTO -- Brett Cecil stood in front of his locker, shaking his head and smiling as a few teammates laughed on their way out of the Blue Jays' clubhouse. Slung over the pitcher's right shoulder was a large black and gold wrestling belt.
It was the real thing, too. A WWE title belt signed by wrestling superstar John Cena. Hoisting the elaborate prize up for an entire question and answer session with reporters was Cecil's well-earned reward for overpowering the Yankees in a 6-1 win on Friday night at Rogers Centre.
"I just walked in here and was told I had to put it on my shoulder," Cecil said with a grin.
Cecil had been shouldering much of the load all evening. For eight innings, the left-hander carved his way through the Yankees' lineup with apparent ease. Cecil was especially effective with his changeup and he wore out the infield turf with a long line of groundouts to complement the five strikeouts he collected.
"Even if you know what the guy has, if he executes his pitches, it's execution over selection," Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "When you start throwing pitches that look like they're in the zone and they go out of the zone, you get a lot of chasing. It's very hard to go ahead and be disciplined enough to lay off that."
Two home runs from Jose Bautista -- one of baseball's early surprises this season -- proved more than ample in defeating New York's A.J. Burnett and supporting Cecil's cause. The lefty's effort helped Toronto avoid having the two ugly losses to the Rays earlier this week lead to a longer slide, improving the Blue Jays' record to 32-24 in the process.
"This means a lot to this team," Cecil said. "To come out and get an opening win against a team like the Yankees, the defending champions, it just shows us and shows people that just because we lose two tough games we're not going to not come out and not be aggressive."
The past two defeats for the Blue Jays each included ninth-inning meltdowns, marking the first time since 1985 that the team dropped consecutive contests in such fashion. A third collapse in a row was avoided when reliever Jason Frasor used a five-run cushion to his advantage, shutting the door on a potential New York rally in the final frame.
The Blue Jays' ran to their five-run lead thanks largely to Bautista, who leads the Major Leagues with 18 home runs. In the second inning, Bautista sent a 3-2 offering from Burnett bouncing off the facing of the third deck above left field for a solo shot. A near-identical blast in the fourth inning -- this of the two-run variety -- gave the Jays a 3-0 lead.
"These are uncharted waters for me," said Bautista, whose previous career best was 16 home runs in 2006 with the Pirates. "It feels good."
Edwin Encarnacion added a solo blast off Burnett (6-3) in the fifth inning and the Yankees right-hander relinquished two more runs in the sixth. A wild pitch allowed Bautista to sprint home from third base for the first run of the inning and Jays catcher John Buck followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to center field to put New York down, 6-1.
The Yankees (34-21) scored their lone run against Cecil (6-2) in the sixth inning, when catcher Chad Moeller doubled and later crossed the plate on a double-play groundout off the bat of Nick Swisher. Beyond that, Cecil found a way to minimize the damage, scattering five hits, walking one and creating 12 outs via grounders.
"Oh, man. What a game he pitched," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "That was just what we needed."
New York had its chances, though.
One prime scoring opportunity presented itself for the Yankees in the fourth inning, when Cecil issued a leadoff walk to Swisher before allowing a base hit to Mark Teixeira. Cecil then induced a grounder from Alex Rodriguez, who sent the pitch skipping sharply up the middle and to the left of shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Gonzalez gloved the baseball with a slick, sliding grab and quickly flipped it from his knees to Aaron Hill. The second baseman snared the ball out of the air with his bare hand and fired it to first base to complete a crucial double play. Cecil then struck out Robinson Cano to end the inning.
"These guys are unbelievable," Cecil said. "You've got two of the best middle infielders, if not the best in the whole Major Leagues. These guys have bailed me out a lot. I appreciate that. I can't say enough about the whole defense all around."
Gaston had a different take on things.
"You can't say enough about Cecil," he said.
Over his past four starts, all Cecil has done is post a 4-0 record to go along with a crisp 1.52 ERA. It has been a strong stretch that has Cecil showing he finally believes he belongs in the big leagues.
Last year as a rookie, Cecil admits he might have been faced with some nerves in a start against the Yankees -- the team he grew up rooting for during his childhood. Things are much different now.
"This year I'm not intimidated by anybody," Cecil said.
That is probably one reason Cecil's teammates felt he deserved to wear a title belt.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.