Henderson Alvarez has had a lot of luck in his short career as a big-leaguer.
Most of it lousy. Not that he’s complaining.
“I just try to pitch well for the club. If we score runs, that’s a plus,” said Toronto’s 22-year-old rookie starter Sunday.
Reality is, there haven’t been a lot of plusses.
When he strolled to the mound at the Rogers Centre on Sunday against the Seattle Mariners, his teammates had scored all of 11 runs in his four starts.
“Pitchers have a good understanding there are only so many things they can control. You’d like to see them get fruit for the work they put in, (but) it’s not going to change his approach,” said manager John Farrell. “Sometimes that’s just baseball.”
And, sometimes baseball can be cruel. Alvarez got his first major league win last August and he’s been trying to put a crooked number in that win column ever since. He was winless in four starts this season despite twice handing over a lead to the bullpen, and it looked equally bleak when the Mariners’ Chone Figgins opened Sunday’s game with a leadoff homer.
But, so it stayed through five innings of a pitching duel with Jason Vargas, who with fewer than two runs in 12 of his past 21 starts, could claim an equal lack of support.
But, not to fear. Two pitches — one that Edwin Encarnacion hit, and a second that hit him — would prove to be the turning point.
Encarnacion’s third homer in three games gave Toronto the 2-1 lead. Getting hit by a pitch in the eighth would then ignite a five-run explosion, packaging the 7-2 Toronto win.
For Alvarez, who went six-plus innings, scattering six hits, it is his first win at home.
It wasn’t always pretty but Seattle was hitless in 11 chances with runners in scoring position. And, after producing only 11 runs for Alvarez in his previous four starts, this was unforseen bounty that survived an ending not without some tumult.
THE BIG BANG
Kelly Johnson’s two-out single in the fifth had tied the game when the Mariners decided to pitch to Encarnacion after having walked him the previous two trips to the plate.
Big mistake. The ball was last seen diving under the seats in left field for his club-leading seventh homer. Jays up 2-1.
Then it got nasty when reliever Steve Delabar plunked Encarnacion with a 95-m.p.h. fastball.
“It got him in the meaty part of the arm, not in the elbow or the shoulder,” said Farrell . “He’s fine. He’s been on a good run here and a couple of times in at-bats they tried to pitch in on him. I can’t say whether that pitch got away from him intentionally or what. But we answered the right way.”
The answer included Brett Lawrie’s double.
“It did,” said Lawrie, when it is suggested Encarnacion being hit ignited the offence and the passions of the players, not to mention many in the crowd who hurled insults at Delabar as he left the field.
“The way (Encarnacion) has been going and then for a guy to miss like that at 95 towards his head. It raises a bit of red flag … we’ve got our teammate’s back.”
Rajai Davis danced off third base prompting a throwing error from catcher Miguel Olivo. Davis scored. Jeff Mathis capped it with a two-run homer.
Alvarez did not go dancing into the showers. But if he had, it would have been difficult to blame him.
WEIRD & WONDERFUL
The unexpected seems to follow Alvarez when he takes the mound.
Like in the fourth, the Mariners had to get Bautista out twice. A foul pop-up fell between Vargas, Olivo and third baseman Kyle Seager. Given a second chance, he popped out to shortstop. It’s been that kind of year for the Toronto slugger, mired below .200. A year ago, that second chance is a souvenir sitting on some kid’s bedroom shelf in Mississauga.
Toronto got its first hit when Figgins misjudged a fly to left, raced back to the track, only to realize Eric Thames’ blooper was actually falling in closer to shortstop. Thames got a double. Figgins gets to stand in the corner with the class dunce cap.
Like in the eighth with reliever Casey Janssen trying to protect a 2-1 lead, Seager sent what seemed a routine grounder to first. Instead, it skewed high off the bag, Adam Lind had to turn himself inside out and backwards, chased the ball down behind the bag and got the toss to Janssen for the out.
“Lindy’s play on the deflection off the bag when we’re still in a one-run game,” Farrell said. “To come out of the inning still up one …”
He never did really finish the thought. But, hey, Alvarez was pitching, so a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong didn’t. Justice prevails. Even in baseball. And the 20,320 in attendance said: Amen!