The Toronto Blue Jays can take a lot from their season-opening series with Minnesota, even though they were denied a sweep Sunday as the Twins hung on for a 4-3 victory.
The Jays showed they have a nice mix of power and speed in addition to a never-say-die approach under new manager John Farrell. After opening the 2011 campaign with a pair of comfortable victories, Toronto loaded the bases in the ninth inning Sunday before reliever Joe Nathan got Adam Lind to ground out to end it.
Still, Farrell was impressed with his team’s performance against a tough opponent.
“We played a very good series, the effort was outstanding all the way to the final pitch,” Farrell said.
Denard Span’s solo homer in the ninth off Jays reliever Jon Rauch proved to be the winning run. It made a winner of Twins starter Nick Blackburn (1-0) while Brett Cecil (0-1) was tagged with the loss.
Cecil, who was unable to hit his desired velocity at the end of spring training, said he was content with his stuff until Minnesota (1-2) struck for a pair in the fifth inning.
“The ball just creeped up a little bit, my stuff got flat,” he said. “That’s basically it.”
Toronto (2-1) opened the series Friday night with a 13-3 rout in front of a sellout crowd before downing Minnesota 6-1 on Saturday. There was some rare electricity at the normally staid ballpark, with 35,505 fans taking in the finale.
“We had a lot of fun in here this weekend,” Farrell said. “And I think the way we went about our business and the way we went about our work, we gave ourselves multiple opportunities and we just came up short here in the ninth.”
Blackburn went five-plus innings, allowing six hits and striking out a pair. Nathan, the Twins’ fourth reliever of the game, gave up a single run on a Yunel Escobar sacrifice fly before recording his first save. Nathan missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2010.
“I was just concentrating on each pitch and making each pitch as quality as I can,” he said. “And not giving in to these guys because obviously when you give in to them they’re going to end this game pretty quick.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said there were several interesting moments.
“It looked like we should have scored like seven or eight runs but we failed on a few opportunities,” he said. “They failed on a few opportunities to get some runners home too. Some missed opportunities, whether it was good pitching or just bad at-bats, I don’t know. An exciting win.
“Exciting to have Nathan back out there and make my heart skip a beat again. It’s nice to have him back.”
Toronto had also threatened in the seventh with runners at second and third with one out. Reliever Matt Capps got Juan Rivera to hit a comebacker for the second out before Jose Bautista lined out to centre field. The Jays slugger — who led the majors with 54 homers last year — hit a solo shot an inning earlier for his second home run of the season.
Cecil, who led the Jays with 15 wins in 2010, started off strong by striking out the side in the first inning. He gave up a solo homer in the third when Danny Valencia sent a 2-1 pitch over the left-field wall.
Toronto pulled even in the fourth on an unearned run. Lind opened the frame with a single and was pushed to second on an Aaron Hill grounder. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a high hopper over the mound that second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka threw wildly to first, allowing Lind to score.
Minnesota rebounded in the fifth when Cecil gave up a single, walk and bunt single to load the bases with nobody out. Matt Tolbert’s single to left scored Jason Kubel from third base. Valencia then tested Travis Snider’s arm but the young outfielder fired a no-bounce laser to catcher J.P. Arencibia for the out.
Nishioka added an RBI single before Cecil got Delmon Young and Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., to fly out to end the threat. Morneau had a single in the eighth inning for his first hit in 10 at-bats.
Cecil, who threw 44 of his 75 pitches for strikes, gave up six hits, three earned runs and struck out three. He was impressed with his teammates’ drive late in the game.
“You’re not going to see this team ever give up from a pitching standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, from an offensive standpoint,” he said. “You’re not going to see that all season. I guarantee it. This is a helluva team.”
Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Marc Rzepczynski, Shawn Camp and Rauch all saw action in relief. Minnesota outhit Toronto 10-8 and both teams had two errors. The game was played in two hours 58 minutes.