Escobar's slam secures Jays' sweep
Shortstop caps first series with new club with first homer of '10
BALTIMORE -- Yunel Escobar uncoiled and unleashed a violent swing, sending a fastball from Orioles starter Brian Matusz crashing into a section of empty seats well beyond the left-field wall at Camden Yards on Sunday afternoon.
It was the type of jaw-dropping blast -- a second-inning grand slam for the Blue Jays shortstop -- that made it hard to understand how Escobar could have experienced such a long power outage. He had gone 424 plate appearances across 104 games without clearing a fence.
Escobar's slam helped lead the Blue Jays to a 10-1 rout over the Orioles, putting starter Shaun Marcum in the win column in his first outing off the disabled list. It was not only the first grand slam of Escobar's career, but the shot allowed the shortstop to release an enormous sigh of relief.
Ater being acquired from the Braves in a five-player trade, Escobar was jokingly asked by a reporter on Friday when he was going to hit his first homer for his new team. The shortstop laughed and shook his head, knowing that his first-half slump for Atlanta was part of the reason he became expendable.
"I'm going to try to do it here quick so I can get it over with," Escobar replied.
Escobar's timing could not have been any better -- for himself or for Toronto.
The home run highlighted a six-run outburst in the second inning that helped the Blue Jays (47-45) seal a three-game series sweep of the Orioles. Toronto improved to 9-0 against Baltimore this season, marking the first time in franchise history that the club began a year undefeated against any opponent through the first nine meetings.
Over the course of those nine wins, the Blue Jays have outscored the Orioles 48-16. Escobar's home run also extended Toronto's streak of games with at least one home run to a season-high 11 consecutive contests. For all the Jays' home runs, though -- the team leads the Majors with 140 long balls -- Escobar's was the first grand slam.
"That was a great time for it," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "The kid's played great here. He's done everything we've asked him to do and more."
On Sunday, Escobar finished 3-for-4 and matched a career high with five RBIs -- four on the grand slam and one more via a run-scoring single in the fifth inning. In the three wins over Baltimore, Escobar played strong defense, used bunts to move runners and reach base, drew one walk, did not strike out and went 6-for-13 at the plate.
Needless to say, Escobar has made a great first impression.
"Obviously, the talent is there," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "I think he's happy to have a change of scenery and obviously through the first three games with us he's been impressive."
Marcum noted that it was tough to see shortstop Alex Gonzalez sent to the Braves as part of the deal, but the Jays' No. 1 starter has liked what he has seen from Escobar so far. Of course, when a player provides a grand slam to go along with strong defense, a starting pitcher is never going to complain.
"A lot of guys are happy to have him," Marcum said. "Obviously, people were sad to see Alex go. Alex was a great player, a great teammate and a true professional. We wish him the best of luck. But, now that we've got Yunel, it's been fun to watch him the last couple days."
Marcum (8-4), who was activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game, said he struggled with his command in the first two innings -- the result of not facing hitters for the past two weeks. In the first, the Orioles (29-62) connected for three hits, including an run-scoring single from Adam Jones to put the Jays behind, 1-0.
Over five innings of work, though, Marcum and found a way to limit the damage, scattering nine hits and only allowing one run. When it was all said and done, Baltimore had churned out 12 hits, but finished 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. That gave Toronto plenty of time to get to work.
"That was huge," said Marcum, who also fought through a blister on his right middle finger that is not considered serious. "They have some good hitters over there, quite a few, so to limit them to one run with all the guys they had on base was something that I can build on for my next start."
The Jays did not have problems in that regard.
Matsuz (3-10) was chased after allowing six runs in 1 2/3 innings and the Blue Jays followed their six-run second inning with one run in each of the next three frames. Catcher John Buck finished 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles for the Jays and Edwin Encarnacion's RBI single in the ninth inning gave Toronto a 10-1 lead.
Within all of the offensive production, though, Escobar's performance stood out.
"It's like what [Braves manager Bobby Cox] told me, he said, 'He's got great hands and a great arm.'" Gaston said, "He had not hit a home run, but he finally got a pitch out over the plate and hit a grand slam. Good timing.
"Everything I've seen I've been real pleased with."
"You guys asked about it a couple of days ago," said Escobar, referring to his home run drought. "I was hoping that I could get it out of the way as soon as I could. I feel really good."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.