Blue Jays 7 Rangers 2
TORONTO — Pitching in September is a difficult thing and the baseball season’s long grind caught up to Ricky Romero somewhat last September, when a mostly strong rookie campaign fizzled at the finish.
In seven starts that month, he went 2-3 with an unsightly earned-run average of 5.44, and very rarely did he look as sharp as he did for most of 2009.
This time around, the 25-year-old left-hander believes he’s better prepared to finish with a flourish, and it showed with a dominant performance in Monday’s 7-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.
Romero (12-8) allowed just one run over seven innings, and was in complete control against the struggling American League West leaders, even in the rare moments when things might have got out of hand.
“Last September, at times I was so upset with walks and all that stuff and right now I don’t think I’m letting that affect me,” said Romero. “If I walk a guy, I’m kind of, ’Get a groundball here and get out of the inning.’
“That was an example of today, when I walked two guys (in the third inning) and got (Nelson) Cruz to ground into that double play. The confidence is way up there, knowing that I’m going to grind out seven, eight innings whenever I can.”
There wasn’t much grinding for him in this one, as the Blue Jays (71-66) pummelled Tommy Hunter (12-3) and the Rangers (75-62), who suffered a fourth straight loss, and eighth in 11 outings.
Vernon Wells homered in consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 2-3, Aaron Hill, a game-time decision after tweaking his right knee Sunday, also went deep in back-to-back contests, while Yunel Escobar returned to the lineup with his fourth of the season.
Wells clubbed a three-run shot in the third to make it a 4-0 game and essentially send things into cruise control before a crowd of 17,559, before Hill added a two-run blast later in the inning to make it 6-0. Escobar, in his first action since Aug. 28 due to a sore back, added a solo homer in the seventh.
“I told (manager Cito Gaston), ’I don’t have everything today, but I’m good enough,”’ said Hill. “He wanted to take me out and I asked if I could stay in and he let me stay in. It worked out great.”
Not everything worked out great at the Rogers Centre as in the bottom of the seventh a Jose Bautista foul ball knocked loose the letter ’B’ from the Jackie Robinson nameplate on the stadium facade behind home plate. It dropped about 10 metres from the 400 level facing to the 200 level, where a fan who identified himself only as Ian was struck in the right shoulder.
He suffered a scrape and was treated by paramedics.
“I was very surprised because I didn’t expect a ’B’ to fall on me,” he said.
The white letter, made of metal and about a metre in length, then bounced to the front row where fan Bruno Derose caught it and held it up for the whole stadium to see. It was eventually taken back by venue staff, to loud boos from the crowd in the area.
“They should have at least given me a couple of tickets or a ball,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it happened. It was a hell of a catch.”
The rest of the game was much less eventful with Romero cutting through a Rangers lineup missing AL batting leader and MVP candidate Josh Hamilton. He allowed seven hits and two walks in lowering his ERA to 3.51 this season, taking over the team lead in that category among the starters.
His 12 wins also match Brett Cecil for the staff high.
“It’s more of a competition to see who’s going to have our ERA the lowest, which is a better competition, I think,” said Romero. “I think we’re more worried about the team winning then us winning.”
Romero could still make up to five more starts this season, so there’s plenty of time for that to play out. But either way, he feels better physically ready to finish things out in a better fashion than he did last year.
“I don’t know if I’m stronger, because I was never really tired last year, I think it’s more mature and knowing what to do with my body as far as working out, throwing, and cutting back on throwing,” he said. “I’ve been pretty good maintaining my body and working out, that’s the biggest thing.”
Notes: The Blue Jays selected the contract of right-hander Shawn Hill of Georgetown, Ont., after the game and recalled RHP Robert Ray. Hill will start Thursday with Ray headed to the bullpen.