After a week of sheer frustration, all the parts finally fell into place for Toronto on Sunday, as the Jays snapped a six-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Litsch turned out to be the stopper with a solid seven-inning start, but it was the decision by manager John Gibbons to try Rios in the leadoff spot that generated much of the post-game buzz in the Jays' clubhouse.
As if on cue, Rios forced the issue with four hits and a couple of aggressive baserunning plays that helped the Jays take a 3-2 lead to the ninth. The Jays broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth, when Rios scored all the way from first on a single to left by Scott Rolen.
Rios broke from first as Rolen delivered his hit in front of left fielder Jose Guillen. In full stride as he rounded second and headed for third, Rios got the green light from third base coach Marty Pevey and broke for the plate when Guillen elected to throw to second.
"I just kept going at full speed," Rios said. "[Pevey] is aggressive, and I like that. When he saw that I had a chance to score, he just told me to keep going."
Hustle and speed proved to be an ideal recipe for a team looking to break out of a rut.
"The way that play is made is Rios has to be scooting from the get-go," Gibbons said. "When the ball was hit, he was going all-out."
Gibbons liked what he saw from Rios at the top of the lineup so much that the manager said he would probably keep Rios in the leadoff spot, moving David Eckstein to the No. 2 slot.
The move to the leadoff spot on Sunday didn't catch Rios by surprise.
"I saw it coming at some point in the season," Rios said. "I'm not going to change my approach. Whether I'm hitting first or third, as long as I'm in the lineup, it's all good."
Rios set the tone right away with a leadoff triple off Kansas City starter Gil Meche. He proceeded to take a chance on scoring when a Meche pitch bounced away from catcher Miguel Olivo. The ball didn't go far, and Meche covered the plate as Rios was arriving, but Meche couldn't come up with Olivo's throw as Rios slid home safely.
Rios' fourth hit was a gift, as two Royals infielders had a communication problem on a popup to short center. By then, the statement had been made and Rios finished the day with three runs scored.
Rolen also had a big game, with two hits and two runs batted in, including his first Toronto homer.
The questions about whether Rolen would need time to shake off the rust following his finger injury are on hold. In his first series, Rolen went 4-for-11 with three extra-base hits and four runs batted in.
"Hopefully, we can get back on track now and have a good series in Boston," Rolen said.
Litsch could have been on course for an even better outing if he hadn't committed two errors on one play in the third. With a runner at first and one out, Litsch couldn't handle Tony Pena's bouncer back to the mound. He then compounded his problem by retrieving the ball and throwing wildly to first. The runners advanced to second and third and David DeJesus followed with a two-run single.
Litsch didn't waver thereafter, and the bullpen unit of B.J. Ryan and Jesse Carlson finished the job.
"I was going in and away, and keeping the hitters off-balance was key today," Litsch said. "It's a good feeling to win again. We're grinding and pulling through it. Hopefully, we can put a few wins together now."
After six consecutive losses, the Jays (11-15) could finally breathe a collective sigh of relief during the flight to Boston on Sunday evening.
Toronto needed a catalyst, and Rios delivered. He's now 10-for-13 lifetime against Meche.
"He had a big, big day for us," Gibbons said.
As far as the Jays were concerned, Rios' big day couldn't have come at a better time.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.