Monday, August 9, 2010

Arencibia, Morrow, and Bautista grab National Headlines this Weekend

The Toronto Blue Jays captured the top spot on sports updates throughout North America several times this weekend, as the Jays swept past the Tampa Bay Rays in a three game series. In a self-proclaimed rebuilding season, where very little is expected of them, capturing the attention of baseball fans across the continent is no small feat. With a win/loss record that now stands at 59-52, the Jays can already call this season a success; the breakout performances by several players this weekend is icing on the cake.

Blue Jays fans that listen to the radio broadcasts of Toronto's games on the Fan 590 are familiar with Jerry Howarth's call when the Jays get on the board, proclaiming that the Jays are in flight. On Saturday, fans in the stands, listening on the radio, or watching on Sportsnet saw the entire team take flight, as the Blue Jays scored 17 runs on 20 hits, both season highs; hitting eight home runs was the second most in one game in the franchise's history. Another aspect of the game that caught every baseball fan’s attention, was witnessing the career of J.P. Arencibia begin its flight; what heights it reaches is anyone's guess.

Selected by the Jays in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft, Arencibia made his MLB debut on Saturday behind the plate at the Rogers Centre. While great things are expected of the Jays’ top catching prospect, no one predicted his 4 for 5 performance; accomplished with Jose Bautista’s bat in his hand. A home run on the first pitch he faced at the MLB level, along with a single, double and another home run (Arencibia is projected to hit 104 home runs if he continued this pace for a full season). He also scored three runs and drove in three RBI’s in his debut. Two other Jays hit home runs in their first at-bat - Alvis Woods hit one on April 7, 1977 and Junior Felix did the same on May 4, 1989. The Elias Sports Bureau reported after the game that Arencibia is the first player since 1900 to have four hits and two home runs in his MLB debut.

Blue Jay fans clamoured for Arencibia to make an unscheduled start on Sunday after his strong showing on Saturday, and Cito Gaston was the target of criticism for leaving him on the bench in favour of veteran catcher Jose Molina. One of the worst mistakes a manager can make in baseball is reactionary coaching; it is a 162-game schedule and while fans often see the season as a game-to-game process, managers must look at the overall picture. Gaston made the right decision starting Molina. It is difficult to make the jump from Triple-A to the Majors; not only is the talent better, there is more media responsibilities as well.

Gaston’s decision to let Arencibia sit on Sunday and take it all in will better serve the young man in the end. His first game was one to remember, let him get acquainted with life in the majors. Had he played and gone hitless on Sunday, everyone would be blaming Gaston for not giving him the day off... There is no doubt Arencibia is talented - just do not expect this kind of performance every day. The plate appearances he accumulates from now until the end of the season will better prepare him for his new life as the everyday catcher next season.

...And - the decision by Gaston to keep Brandon Morrow with his favourite catcher (Molina) on Sunday, proved to be a wise choice on several fronts. I am sure that at this point, everyone is aware of Morrow’s 17 strikeout, one hitter against the Rays in the first complete game shutout of his career. A base hit with two outs in the ninth inning by Evan Longoria spoiled the no-hitter, but Morrow’s 17 K’s was second-best in the history of the franchise; one behind Roger Clemens’ record of 18 (August 25, 1998). With his 137-pitch effort on Sunday, Morrow pitched the 19th one-hitter in Jays’ history - Dave Stieb remains the only Blue Jay to pitch a no-hitter.

For those that wondered if Longoria’s hit off the glove of Aaron Hill should have been scored an error, the answer is no... Hill made a valiant effort to get anywhere near the ball in an attempt to preserve the no-hit bid, which gave fans hope the play might be called an error. As heartbreaking as it was, there is no doubt Longoria had a hit. Regardless, it was a tremendous effort by Morrow that had fans on the edge of their seats all afternoon.

One other Blue Jays’ record was reached on the weekend as well - Jose Bautista has hit a home run in 10 consecutive series, reaching a mark set by Carlos Delgado in 2001. Bautista can set the new franchise mark with a home run against the Boston Red Sox...