"They have been so far this year for us," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said.
That certainly appeared to be the case on Saturday, when the Blue Jays powered their way to a 17-11 victory over the Rays behind eight home runs. It was a relentless display led by rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, and one that did well in overcoming a forgettable day for both pitching staffs.
Amidst the offensive onslaught, Arencibia became the first player since 1900 to record four hits and belt two home runs in a Major League debut. His individual showing came as part of an overwhelming attack that sent Tampa Bay to its first series loss to Toronto in nearly two years.
"It was a lot of fun," Blue Jays left fielder Travis Snider said. "The Homer Show was definitely here today."
The Blue Jays (58-52) launched at least eight home runs for only the second time in franchise history and established season highs in runs and hits (20). The only greater power show in the club's existence came on Sept. 14, 1987, when Toronto set a Major League record with 10 home runs at Exhibition Stadium against Baltimore.
Against the Rays (67-43), who last lost a series to the Jays on Sept. 5-7, 2008, Toronto saw Arencibia and Aaron Hill homer twice apiece, with additional blasts from Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Lyle Overbay. The main victim was Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields.
"To me," Bautista said, "it felt like the usual life on his fastball wasn't there."
In four innings of work, Shields (10-10) became only the eighth pitcher since 1900 to surrender six home runs in one game and is the only non-knuckleballer to do so since 1940. Arencibia -- promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas on Thursday -- sent Shields on his way to that dubious record in the second inning.
Arencibia lifted the first pitch he received over the left-field wall for a two-run homer, becoming the first Blue Jays player to clear the fence in his first Major League at-bat since Junior Felix in 1989. The 24-year-old catcher is the third player in team history to belt a homer in his first career at-bat.
Arencibia said he did not feel as nervous as he expected, adding the the first-pitch from Shields was too good to pass up.
"If I get a pitch I can hit, I'm not afraid to swing early in the count," Arencibia said. "I figured that they'd challenge me, especially with a man on second and no outs. ... I was able to get a fastball that was up a little bit and put a pretty good swing on it. It was an unbelievable feeling."
It was a special moment for Arencibia's teammates, too.
"You kind of put yourself in those shoes," Overbay said. "You only dream about that."
Toronto enjoyed its first three-homer inning of the season in the third and added another two blasts in the fourth. Arencibia later chipped in a solo homer off Rays reliever Dale Thayer in the sixth inning and Overbay launched a three-run shot off Chad Qualls in the seventh.
"To be on base and in the dugout," Snider said, "when that kind of offensive attack is being put on the other team, it's something that you feel special to be a part of. Hopefully we can continue to do that."
For Bautista, his fourth-inning blast upped his Major League-leading total to 34 and gave him at least one homer in 10 consecutive series, tying a club record set by Carlos Delgado in 2001.
"That was such a fun game to be a part of," Arencibia said. "I've been watching them throughout my season and been seeing the success that they've had. For Hilly, and Bautista, all those guys, Lyle, Lind, I mean, everyone today.
"Just to watch how those guys were driving balls out of the park, I was like a kid in a candy store."
Overall this season, the Blue Jays lead the Majors with 175 home runs, including 99 launched at Rogers Centre. Needless to say, Tampa Bay entered the current series knowing that one way to stop Toronto is to eliminate the home runs.
"We just wanted to limit the damage that they do," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Eight today, it was very difficult to say we limited anything. But, of course they can [hit home runs]. They did. Game over."
Given the struggles of the pitchers, the eight blasts proved essential.
Blue Jays left-hander Brad Mills walked away with a no-decision after being charged with five runs over four innings. Reliever Brian Tallet allowed a two-run homer to Tampa Bay's Dan Johnson in the seventh and Toronto's bullpen yielded four runs in the ninth inning to make things more interesting.
"It ended up we needed every one of those runs," Gaston said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less