Arencibia homers twice in historic debut
Rookie goes 4-for-5 in fairy tale start in Blue Jays uniform
TORONTO -- Blue Jays rookie J.P. Arencibia sat at the podium and struggled to keep his emotions in check. With his mom watching from the back of the interview room, the young catcher tried to comprehend everything that just took place.
"I could never have imagined this," Arencibia said. "I could never have imagined this -- ever."
Saturday afternoon was the stuff of fairy tales for Arencibia.
During his first taste of the Majors, Arencibia was a catalyst within a 17-11 win over the Rays. He belted two home runs -- the first coming on the first big league pitch of his career -- in a four-hit performance that served as one of the greatest debuts for a hitter in Major League history.
Arencibia became the first player since 1900 to have a pair of home runs and a quartet of hits in his big league debut. He is only the fifth player in baseball history to launch two home runs in his first Major League game and the 107th player to homer in his first career at-bat in the bigs.
"J.P. had a heck of a day today," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "One that he can go back and tell his grandkids about. I don't know if anyone would believe it, though, unless they really saw it."
Before the end of the game, Arencibia's name was one of the top 10 worldwide trending topics on the social-networking site Twitter. In the Blue Jays' team shop, his No. 9 jersey was already selling, too.
"Seriously? Wow," Arencibia said. "That's unbelievable. That's crazy. I really still think you're playing with me."
Promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas on Thursday, Arencibia's magical afternoon began when he settled into the batter's box in the second inning. Not wanting to put too much pressure on the highly-touted catching prospect, Gaston put him in the ninth spot of the lineup for his first game in the bigs.
With a runner on second base and no outs, Rays right-hander James Shields decided to bust Arencibia inside with a 93-mph fastball. Anticipating that approach, the right-handed-hitting catcher kept his swing tight, sending the offering towering over the left-field wall and into the Blue Jays' bullpen.
Rogers Centre erupted, Arencibia sprinted around the bases and the rest of the Blue Jays were in disbelief.
"You only dream about that," Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay said. "It's really not that easy. That's what I was thinking. Apparently, it is. I guess I've got it all wrong."
With that blast, Arencibia became the first Blue Jays player to belt a home run in his first career at-bat since Junior Felix accomplished the feat on May 4, 1989, against the Angels. The last Toronto player to have a homer as his first hit was Ryan Roberts, who did so on Aug. 3, 2006, against the Yankees.
Hitting home runs is something Arencibia -- the 21st overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- has done all season long.
In 95 games for Las Vegas, all the 24-year-old Arencibia did this year was hit .303 with 31 home runs, 32 doubles, 71 runs scored and 79 RBIs. He was expected to be promoted to Toronto come September, but the Jays summoned Arencibia from the Minors when catcher John Buck (right thumb) landed on the disabled list.
"The guy can swing the bat a little bit," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I read what he had done in Triple-A and you think, 'OK, it's Vegas.' So there is always the Vegas factor where the ball travels in the thin air. I've been there, I understand that, but this guy is legit. He has a legit swing."
In his second Major League at-bat, Arencibia sliced a pitch from Shields into right field for a double. He then singled to left field off of Rays reliever Dale Thayer during a five-run outburst in the fifth. An inning later, Arencibia moved to the plate again, needing a triple to complete a cycle.
Using a bat belonging to Jose Bautista, who leads the Major Leagues with 34 home runs this season, Arencibia took things to another level.
Thayer watched Arencibia send the first pitch he received to deep right field, where it carried over the wall for the catcher's second home run -- one of eight blasts by Toronto in the win. After reaching the dugout, the crowd chanted Arencibia's name and he headed back on the field to wave to the fans.
"I've seen it done before," Arencibia said of the curtain call. "The crowd kept on cheering and I went out there and I couldn't tell you how it felt. Especially every time I came up to hit, the ovation that I got."
Arencibia had his teammates in awe.
"It was amazing," Bautista said. "For him to come out there and show that it didn't faze him to be making his debut and have a day like that, it was unbelievable."
When Arencibia stood in for his fifth at-bat, the stadium rocked with chants of, "J-P! J-P!" The catcher popped up into foul territory in that seventh-inning plate appearance, ending his day with a 4-for-5 showing. Arencibia scored and drove in three runs and collected 11 total bases.
He did so with his mom, Irene, and a small group of close family friends in attendance.
Asked if he was going to tell Arencibia that hitting in the big leagues was not as easy as the catcher made it seem, Gaston smiled.
"No, no," Gaston said. "Don't wake him up."
For Arencibia, that is what Saturday afternoon felt like, too -- a dream.
"I couldn't have written it up any better or dreamed of it any better," Arencibia said. "It's just been a really special day."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.