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Hill sends Blue Jays fans home happy

Hill sends Blue Jays fans home happy

TORONTO -- Aaron Hill simply did what he has been doing all season for the Blue Jays. The second baseman used his compact swing to connect hard with a pitch, sending the baseball skipping into center field for yet another base hit.

Only this time, Hill's single set off a celebration, with Rod Barajas crossing home plate and running into a mob of Toronto players after scoring the decisive run in a 5-4 victory over Baltimore in 11 innings on Saturday afternoon. The party started without Hill, who pumped his fist and shouted after touching first base to officially put the game in the books.

It was the second time in as many innings that Hill had an opportunity to play hero -- a role he had little time to fill in an injury-plagued campaign a year ago. With a solo home run to pull the game into a tie in the 10th, and his game-winning base hit an inning later, Hill has been one of the driving forces behind Toronto's offense this season.

"That's just the way this kid comes to play every day," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston marveled. "He plays hard. I like his style."

Hill's latest performance helped Toronto improve its record to 17-9, representing the club's best start through 26 games since posting the same mark in 2001. The win over the Orioles also gave the Jays four series victories in a row at home to begin the season -- the best run of that kind since Toronto claimed five straight in 1992.

Among their 17 victories, the Blue Jays have come from behind nine times already this season, and the team has pieced together four in walk-off fashion. Toronto currently resides in first place in the American League East, largely due to the high-octane offense that has masked a variety of pitching issues.

Leading the way has been Hill, who missed the final four months of last season after suffering a serious concussion. Hill has been showing the Blue Jays what they were missing with him out of the picture, entering Saturday's game with a Major League-leading 41 hits -- the most through a season's first 25 games in team history.

Hill's 2-for-6 showing against Baltimore trimmed his average to .374, but it gave him 22 RBIs and a team-high six home runs. Hill has recorded multihit games 14 times this season, reached base in 25 games and collected at least one hit in 23 contests. It's been a main reason for the Jays' rise to the top of the league's offensive ranks.

"If he continues to hit like that," Gaston said, "and we can get some help from some of the other guys, then that means we're going to have a chance to win a lot of ballgames this year."

Against Baltimore, Hill's late-inning heroics helped overcome a costly fielding gaffe. With the score locked at 3 in the 10th inning, Hill bobbled a ground ball off the bat of Nick Markakis, allowing the O's right fielder to reach base to open the frame. Markakis later scored on a fielder's-choice grounder to give Baltimore a short-lived 4-3 advantage.

That came after the Jays and Orioles traded zeros for six-plus innings, sending Toronto starter Robert Ray and Baltimore's Brad Bergesen to no-decisions. Ray, promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas on Friday, logged 5 2/3 innings in his Major League debut, limiting the Orioles to three runs on four hits.

With his parents and fiancee in the stands, Ray admitted he felt some early-inning nerves. In the first inning, Baltimore's Adam Jones welcomed the right-hander with a solo home run. The Orioles (9-15) added a pair of runs on a double from Aubrey Huff in the third. That effectively canceled out the three runs plated by the Jays an inning earlier.

Ray, who ended with two strikeouts and four walks, settled down over the remainder of his start, but he was far from satisfied.

"At first, with the blood pumping, I was probably overdoing it a little bit," Ray said. "I've got to be better than that, for sure. I'm happy that I kept us in the game and we came out on top, but I've got to be better than that."

Following Ray's exit, Toronto's bullpen kept the Orioles off the scoreboard until Hill's error paved the way for a run in the 10th.

Not long after that ill-timed miscue, Hill strolled into the batter's box in the home half of the frame with a chance to make up for the mistake. Hill did just that, belting a 1-0 pitch from closer George Sherrill deep to left for a solo homer that knotted the score, 4-4.

Even so, Hill insisted that the error wasn't on his mind.

"You can't go up to the plate thinking something like that," Hill said. "Obviously it ended up where it worked out. Everyone wants to redeem themself, so to speak, but you can't take anything that happens on the field up to the plate."

But that doesn't mean Hill wasn't smiling a little in light of the circumstances.

"Yeah, it felt good," he said with a grin.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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