JP Arencibia's Late-Game Heroics Get Blue Jays Back Into Win Column

By Thom Tsang

Just a day after having their 6-game win streak snapped by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays started a brand new one today with a win over the very same AL East leaders, as they worked a hard-earned series split with a 3-2 win. The Jays got it done on both sides of the field today, as they worked off of  ace starter Ricky Romero, and some timely hitting from JP Arencibia.

Let’s start with Romero, because it was his performance that really set up the opportunity for the Jays backs to take one from the Rays. Picking up right where he left off when he last took the mound, Romero continued his strong run, spinning a 7-inning, 3-hit gem where he was only really in trouble once. Romero did allow a home run to BJ Upton in the 5th inning, and had to work out of a jam in the 6th with two baserunners on; the rest of the time, he was pretty much unhittable.

Mostly utilizing his 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, Romero frustrated the Rays at just about every turn, inducing 9 total ground ball outs, with most of them coming in the opening innings. Ricky was about to mix up his speeds on the occasional pitch, and got the Rays hitters off-balance enough for 6 total strikeouts – including 2 on Evan Longoria, their best hitter. Romero now has a 3.10 ERA/1.14 WHIP split going in the 2011 season with a K-rate of just under 9.00 – I’ll take that against pretty much anyone else in the AL East right now.

As good as Romero was, he was actually out-pitched for most of the game by the Rays’ Wade Davis, who put on a clinic in pitching efficiency for 6 innings, needing just 57 pitches to get into the 7th – so, as you can probably imagine, there were a whole boatload of first-pitch outs recorded by the Jays bats tonight. Davis made but one mistake – a pitch to Juan Rivera, of all players – that was hit into the Rogers Centre seats in the 2nd inning to give the Jays the early lead.

The pitcher’s duel went all the way to the 7th when JP Arencibia, with just one swing of his bat, turned the momentum of the game to the Jays side with a bomb to centre field with Rivera on base. Considering how closely played the game was, the 2-run lead basically felt like 5 runs for the Blue Jays. Wade Davis nearly imploded after that, allowing another two walks before working himself out of trouble while escaping further damage. Davis needed 30+ pitches to get through that inning, over half of what he’d thrown just to get to the 7th.

The home run was JP Arencibia’s 7th – he’s now on pace for 26 on the season, a number that could be 30+ if he receives consistent at-bats while he’s being rested from the trials of catching. The average is a little lower than I’d like, sure, but when you can have that kind of power production at the catcher position, I think the team can afford a little dip in the BA. JPA is just starting to learn big-league pitching, and he’s already shown little hesitation to turn on his power stroke every now and then when he sees one. It’s gonna be fun to watch how this guy develops.

In any case, the Blue Jays turned out to need every bit of that 2-run lead, as Marc Rzepczynski promptly allowed his first home run of the season, a solo shot to Kelly Shoppach that gave the Rays some life. Rzep recovered nicely though, and handed things off to Frank Francisco, who closed things off with a clean inning. Okay, so the final out to BJ Upton looked like a home run off the bat, but we’ll give Franky the benefit of the doubt on that one.

With the series split, the Blue Jays are just 2-and-a-half games back of the Rays for tops in the AL East. They’ll look to extend their latest winning streak tomorrow, when they kick off a weekend interleague series against the Astros.

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