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Jays break out the bats in opening win

Jays break out the bats in opener

ARLINGTON -- It may not be on par with trekking across the Sahara or summiting Mount Everest, but just winning a game at Rangers Ballpark felt like a momentous achievement to the Blue Jays.

"It's rare," center fielder Vernon Wells agreed after the Jays' 8-5 victory in Friday's opener of a three-game series. "But it's obviously something we're going to have to start doing if we want to make some noise in this league."

The Jays had lost 16 of their previous 19 games in Arlington, despite facing Rangers teams that have finished no higher than third place in their division since 1999.

Toronto overcame an early one-run deficit and surged ahead, 4-1, after Lyle Overbay lashed a three-run double in the fourth inning. But even after expanding their lead to 8-2 in the seventh, the Jays weren't comfortable inside the Texan house of horrors.

"It wasn't easy," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They've always got strong, left-handed power bats here and can strike awful quick. So you never really feel safe."

The Rangers' big lefty bat this season belongs to Josh Hamilton, the enormously talented but oft-troubled former No. 1 overall Draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hamilton proved Gibbons' fears correct by driving in three late runs. He smacked a two-run homer in the seventh off Brian Wolfe and added an RBI single in the ninth against Jason Frasor as part of his career-best, four-RBI night. The Rangers had the potential tying run on deck when left-hander Scott Downs came on to earn his first save with two ground-ball outs.

The outcome of a Jays-Rangers game here might have been more familiar had the home side not shot itself in its collective feet with numerous instances of sloppy play. The Rangers were charged with three errors, and that total seemed generous. They also allowed four stolen bases, including a bold double steal with two outs in the sixth that saw Jays catcher Gregg Zaun steal home for the first time in his career.

"We've always said, if something is there, we'll take it," Gibbons said.

"We just didn't play very good behind Vinny," Rangers manager Ron Washington said, referring to starting pitcher Vicente Padilla.

Padilla (1-1) gave up five runs (four earned) in six innings in a night that clearly would have been worse had he not wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth without allowing a score.

But he was clearly outpitched Friday by Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Litsch, who was facing the Rangers for the first time in his career. Litsch (2-0) allowed only two runs in 5 2/3 innings, one coming on Hank Blalock's solo home run in the second and the other on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly by Hamilton.

"The kid's a pitcher," Gibbons said. "He wasn't particularly sharp again tonight, but he knows how to execute when he needs to. The kid's a winner."

After Blalock's homer put the Rangers ahead early, the Jays went to work in the fourth toward ending their three-game losing streak.

Former Toronto outfielder Frank Catalanotto had a deep drive from Wells glance off his glove for what was ruled an RBI double to left, scoring David Eckstein to tie the game at 1. A walk to Matt Stairs loaded the bases for Overbay, who cleared them by yanking a three-run double into the right-field corner.

"That's something we've been lacking the last three or four days -- getting that big hit," Wells said. "But Lyle came through for us there."

The Jays had a chance to blow the game open in the fifth, loading the bases again with one out. But Padilla escaped by inducing a force-play grounder from Wells and an inning-ending fly by from designated hitter Stairs. Stairs started in place of Frank Thomas, who has had trouble against Padilla in the form of a .190 career batting average (4-for-21).

After Hamilton's sacrifice fly brought the Rangers within 4-2 in the fifth, the Jays scored creatively in the sixth. With runners at first and third with two outs, Buck Coats and Zaun executed a double steal, with Coats beating catcher Gerald Laird's throw to second as Zaun slid home. It was the second successful steal of home in the Majors this season. Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton had the other last Tuesday against Seattle.

The Jays added three runs in the seventh against Japanese rookie reliever Kazuo Fukumori. A throwing error by catcher Laird and Fukumori not covering first base helped the Jays score a sloppy run on a Wells infield hit. Singles by Zaun and Marco Scutaro scored two more runs to chase Fukumori with the Jays up 8-2.

After the game, the Jays optioned Coats back to Triple-A Syracuse and recalled third baseman Joe Inglett. Inglett was batting .385 for the Chiefs (10-for-26) and will give the Jays a left-handed-hitting option at third base, where Scutaro has been filling in for the injured Scott Rolen.

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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