Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reyes Falters, Escobar Saves the Day

Despite all the excitement of tonight's 7-6 extra-inning, walkoff victory over the Oakland Athletics, the one nagging thought that continued to linger long after the jubilation of Yunel Escobar's decisive two-run bomb faded was: poor Jo-Jo Reyes.

In his first meaningful audition to secure a job in the Blue Jays' rotation, Reyes imploded, surrendering five runs, all of them earned, on nine hits and a walk before getting pulled with one away in the fourth.

Not exactly the kind of performance that instills faith in your manager.

Despite the sizable hole that Reyes dug, the Blue Jays' offense -- despite missing its centrepiece in Jose Bautista, who's on leave for an undisclosed personal matter -- refused to pack it in, and managed to claw their way back to tie the game in the sixth, despite trailing by as much as five at one point.

The four-run frame was sparked by centre-fielder Rajai Davis, who, facing his former team for the first time, led the inning off with a double down the left-field line. Davis, renowned for his baserunning prowess, then managed to disrupt third-basemen Kevin Kouzmanoff on the subsequent Escobar grounder in the hole, putting runners at the corners. Davis then proceeded to score, thanks to the acuity of third-base coach Brian Butterfield, on the following Adam Lind sacrifice fly in foul territory that sent Kouzmanoff sprawling to the turf.

An RBI single from Aaron Hill, another Kouzmanoff error and an RBI double from Edwin Encarnacion put Juan Rivera -- representing the tying run -- on third. A well-placed groundout from Travis Snider brought Rivera home and knotted the game at 5-5.

Both teams' bats then went dormant for the rest of regulation, and so the fans were treated to, as Mike Wilner would say, some "free baseball."

Jason Frasor came on in the top of tenth, replacing Jon Rauch who hurled a scoreless ninth. Frasor promptly surrendered a leadoff homerun to pinch-hitter Josh Willingham to give the A's the lead before ultimately striking out the side.

Davis then started the reprise comeback effort in the home half, leading off the frame with a single up the middle off Grant Balfour. Escobar then strode to the plate a walloped Balfour's first offering into the Athletics' bullpen in right field to lift the Jays to a 7-6 victory.

But while the Jays celebrate their hard-fought, dramatic victory, Reyes' employment status teeters that much more precariously than it did yesterday.

The 26-year-old is out of options -- he would have to clear waivers if designated to AAA, meaning the Jays would risk losing him -- which could spell consignment to the bullpen upon Brandon Morrow's return, but another outing like this could yield an even less favourable outcome for Reyes, especially if the bullpen's resident southpaws David Purcey and Mark Rzepczynski prove to be effective. And with a body of work that's as uninspiring as it is brief, Reyes doesn't have many references to vouch for him, either.

Another outing like tonight's might augur the fate that the prophetic Lennon and McCartney sang about: Jo-Jo might have to get back to where he once belonged.

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