TORONTO — Mark Buehrle is putting his faith in the fielding of his Toronto Blue Jays teammates and it’s paying off.
“I need defence behind me,” Buehrle said. “It’s a key. I don’t strike out many guys so the ball is put in play.”
The results showed again for the Blue Jays’ soft-throwing left-hander who became the first 10-game winner in the major leagues on Sunday in Toronto’s 4-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
By working quickly and efficiently, Buehrle pitched eight strong innings and was supported by home runs from Dioner Navarro and Edwin Encarnacion as well as some solid defence. The game was played in a brisk two hours 14 minutes.
“It’s not luck,” Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista said. “He’s pitching great, throwing strikes, keeping people off balance and allowing us a chance to play defence behind him. It’s no surprise that every time he pitches there are plenty of good defensive plays made. He keeps everybody engaged in the game because he works quick. It’s been awesome to play behind him this year.”
Buehrle (10-1) held the Royals to six hits and one walk while striking out three to win his sixth straight decision.
“I don’t know if it’s one of those things where working fast keeps them on their toes and ready to field stuff,” Buehrle said. “I don’t if that is the key to it. Again I just try to get the ball and throw it and I know the guys like to play behind you when it’s a quick game. I need those guys all over the place when I’m pitching.”
Toronto manager John Gibbons thought it was one of Buehrle’s best performances this season.
“Today (Buehrle) was as good as he has been all year,” said Gibbons. “He has really been great, seems like every time I come in here you have to describe it the same way. That’s what he does, he keeps you off balance and hits both sides of the plate. He’s a pitcher. … He topped off a nice home stand for us.”
Left-hander Aaron Loup took over in the ninth from Buehrle after Encarnacion’s two-run homer in the eighth had extended the lead to four runs.
The Blue Jays (34-24) took the final two games of the four-game series to gain a split with the Royals (26-30) and finish their home stand at 8-2.
Toronto has won 21 of their past 28 games to take over first place in the American League East.
“(Buehrle) was dynamite,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s traditionally tough on us but he’s 10-1 now, he’s tough on everybody. He’s a master at what he does. He commands the baseball so well, changes speeds off everything he has. He has the ability to read the hitter’s reaction to the pitch before to know what he’s going to throw next. If the hitter is gearing up, he backs off, if the hitter is backing off, he gears up.
“He just pitched a phenomenal game. He’s just really, really good at keeping you off balance.”
Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2-5) allowed eight hits and two runs in seven innings to go 10 starts without a win after winning his first two starts of the season. Guthrie allowed two walks and had five strikeouts before he was replaced by right-hander Aaron Crow in the eighth.
Navarro hit his third homer of the season with one out in the second to open the scoring.
The Blue Jays scored again in the fourth. Juan Francisco led off with a double on a liner that Kansas City right-fielder Norichika Aoki misplayed into a double. Francisco moved to third on a single by Brett Lawrie. He scored when Anthony Gose forced Lawrie at second on a grounder to shortstop.
A key defensive play came in the sixth after a slight lapse. Eric Hosmer led off a bloop to centre that turned into a double when the Blue Jays left second uncovered. But shortstop Jose Reyes cut down Hosmer at third after fielding Billy Butler’s grounder and Buehrle finished the inning unscathed.
“In a two-run game, that’s big,” Gibbons said. “That’s what good shortstops do, he knew he had no play at first base. … I’ve seen it, too, through my career that the third baseman doesn’t always get there, so (third baseman) Francisco was heads up to get there himself.”
Encarnacion, who hit 16 homers in May to lead the majors, doubled the Blue Jays’ lead with his 19th homer of the season in the eighth against Crow. It also scored Adam Lind who had singled with one out.
Things are also going Buehrle’s way. In the sixth inning Lorenzo Cain’s popup to first dropped in fair territory when Encarnacion lost the ball but it rolled foul. Cain then struck out.
“He called me off and then said a cuss word in Spanish which was one of the few Spanish words I know,” Buehrle said. “I’ve got a horseshoe stuck up my rear end pretty far right now so I’m not complaining.”