It's 7:19 in the evening and Gustavo Chacin already has launched 29 left-handed offerings plateward.
The Yankees like what they see and score four runs before Chacin finally induces a groundball out by Bernie Williams to end the top of the first inning.
Down four with five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson about to take the mound. What are the odds?
Fortunately for Toronto, this was not the Randy Johnson of old. This was just old Randy Johnson. More to the point, these are not the Blue Jays of old, either.
Within minutes, the Jays had scored three. An inning later, they scored three more. Johnson was gone after getting one out in the fourth inning, trailing 7-4.
And there at the heart of the Blue Jays rally was a young hitter named Alex Rios who has become the poster-boy for the value of patience.
Rios touched up the future Hall of Famer for an RBI double in the first inning, then launched a two-run homer in the second. Less than three weeks into the season, he has hit five out of the park and has driven in 14 runs.
A year ago at this time, Rios still hadn't hit a home run. That probably wasn't as surprising as it was frustrating because, in his first full season in the majors (2004) he hit only one. He finally hit his first homer of 2005 on May 13 and by season's end, he had hit nine more.
The constant source of frustration from fans, media and even some in the Blue Jays inner sanctum is the fact Rios is 6-foot-5, 200 pounds and has the fluid athleticism of, well, a young Bernie Williams. His lack of power through the minors and two years into his big-league career had a lot of people in the organization scratching their heads.
Throughout Rios' progress through the minor leagues, Blue Jays scouts had created their own expectations. There was a feeling that he might even be a better prospect than Vernon Wells.
All those expectations piled up somewhat unfairly on Rios' broad shoulders.
"He's doing everything we hoped he'd do," said manager John Gibbons last night. "He's showing the power now. He probably got overly criticized in the past for lack of power. It wasn't fair, him being a young kid. It takes a certain number of at-bats before you really get it going at this level."
Toronto hitting coach Mickey Brantley has worked hard with Rios the last year or so, since he took over from Mike Barnett and now recognizes that perhaps too much was expected of Rios, too soon.
"He's just a young kid learning the game," said Brantley one day this spring. "We were expecting him to hit 25-30 home runs without developing into that. Barry Bonds never had that kind of pressure at his age."
Whether or not this becomes a serious breakout season for Rios remains to be seen. What is clear already, though, is that the 25-year-old Puerto Rican no longer is a punch-and-judy singles hitter.
"He has got such tremendous leverage," Gibbons said. "He can mishit a ball and hit it a long way. It's like (Troy) Glaus. He's so big. A big guy's fly balls turn into home runs. The little guy's fly balls are outs.
"He took some heat. First year he had one home run, then he went to 10. I don't know how many he can hit but you look at the guy and his ability and you have to think that year-after-year it's gonna get better. He can do a little bit of everything."
His performance to date will no doubt give Gibbons pause as to whether to maintain the right-field platoon of Rios and Eric Hinske. This is no slight to Hinske, who has done everything the Jays have asked without complaint. He has made the switch to the outfield seamlessly and is hitting .375 in limited at-bats.
That said, as long as Rios continues to hit, hit for power and cover a lot of ground with speed and grace defensively in the outfield, it's going to be more and more difficult to sit him down.
When Toronto's 10-5 win was in the books last night, Rios was hitting a lusty .395 with a slugging percentage of .842. He has driven in a team-high 14 runs. These are man-sized numbers that indicate he may have turned the corner.
Third homer sparks Jays over Wells By MIKE RUTSEY -- Toronto Sun
Toronto Blue Jays' Alex Rios, right, is congratulated by teammate Reed Johnson after his solo home run in the first inning off Boston Red Sox starter David Wells at Fenway Park in Boston, Wednesday April 12, 2006. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) BOSTON -- It's just the second week of the season and Alex Rios is blasting balls where he has never hit them before.
Entering 2006, Rios had never hit a home run in April. But last night, in the first inning, he nailed a two-run shot off David Wells which upped his homer tally for the month to three and counting.
Rios is part of a platoon in right field, the other half being Eric Hinske. Hinske, who bats left, starts against right-handers while Rios, who bats right, faces left-handers as he did last night against Wells and the Red Sox.
Given Rios' fast start, the cry from fans and talking heads will be to make him the everyday right fielder and nail Hinske's butt to the bench. We'll see.
Rios didn't stop swinging after his home run last night. He ripped an RBI double off the centre-field wall in the second and added a sacrifice fly in the eighth for the first four-RBI game of his career in leading the Jays to an 8-4 victory. Rios would also count a single in the sixth in his 3-for-4 night to pace the 16-hit attack.
When asked if Rios would start tonight against right-hander Matt Clement, manager John Gibbons was coy.
"We'll see," he said with a smile. "When you're swinging the bat, you've got to get him in somehow.
"He's got a ton of talent. He's a five-tool guy, a superstar type player."
Since Rios was called up in May of 2004, the Jays have been looking for him to deliver on his power and potential. In 406 at-bats in his rookie season, Rios connected for just one home run. In 481 at-bats last year, he upped the total to 10.
Of his three homers this year, two have been hit off lefties and one against a right-hander. Rios, who now leads the team in home runs, has hit them in his opening 22 at- bats. And if you project that over, say, 450 at-bats, he'll have a 61-homer season.
The Jays would be happy with that.
For his part, Rios is not about to blow his own horn, or suggest the job in right should be his.
"I'm just trying to do my best every time I have a chance to play," he said. "If it happens, it happens. If not, it doesn't happen."
So, does he use the platoon situation as a motivator?
"It does and it doesn't," Rios replied. "There's nothing I can do about the situation."
So far, Rios has made four starts and appeared in seven games overall. In that time, he has been connecting, hitting .409 (9-for-22) with eight RBIs. Hinske, meanwhile, in five games, is hitting .200 (2-for-10) with one RBI.
"I'm seeing the ball pretty good and I'm more patient at the plate," Rios said about his good start.
The beneficiary of the offensive outburst was left-hander Gustavo Chacin, who allowed three runs on five hits over five innings to get the win and move to 2-0.
It wasn't a crisp outing by Chacin, who notched his first Fenway victory, as he battled his control all night and needed 90 pitches. But when he needed a big pitch for a big out, he made it.
Although it's early, Chacin may be emerging into a dominant position in the rotation as both his wins have come following a Toronto loss. It's called being a stopper.
With Rios, it could be something a little different.
If he keeps up the pace, he could be emerging into a star.
Rios makes presence felt despite gaffes Has earned right to play every day May 4, 2006. 06:29 AM RICHARD GRIFFIN
BOSTON—The baseball last night was as sloppy as the conditions at Fenway Park. But in the end it turned into a much-needed 7-6 win for the Jays, overcoming mental and physical mistakes to move within a half game of first-place.
Emerging AL star Alex Rios was in the middle of two apparent miscues that appeared huge at the time, but disappeared into the mists of insignificance when B.J. Ryan made a one-run lead stand up in the ninth, outpitching Sox ace Jonathan Papelbon.
An unwritten rule is that if you're going to steal third base with nobody out in an inning, you better be safe. So it was in the fifth inning it looked like Rios made a huge gaffe.
With Vernon Wells at the plate in a 3-3 tie, he took off for third and was gunned down, leaving Frank Catalanotto still at first base. But it turns out it was a planned double steal by the manager and not Rios' mistake.
"Sometimes in this game, you've got to gamble," manager John Gibbons said. "I gave him the go-ahead if he could get it."
Unfortunately, he was made to look like the culprit, when the trail runner, Catalanotto didn't pick up on the planned double larceny.
"It's my fault," third-base coach Brian Butterfield said. "I have to do a better job of letting Cat know. I apologized to him afterwards."
It's a sign of a close team that wants to win every night when you see multiple attempts to take responsibility for the same on-field mistakes.
"I didn't get a good jump," Rios admitted.
Yes, these things are going to happen over the course of 162 games, especially with young players placed in unfamiliar settings as in the 25-year-old Rios batting leadoff for just the third time in '06. He went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk and a sacrifice fly, making up for a couple of misadventures.
"Ideally, we wouldn't put him up there, but that keeps him in the top where he can get on base for those other guys," Gibbons said. "Eventually he'll be a middle-of-the-lineup guy and drive in some runs."
Rios continued his mixed success in the sixth. In an attempt to cut off a Wily Mo Pena double, Rios went into a slide trying to glove the ball cleanly and come up throwing. Instead, he came up short and kicked the ball past Vernon Wells along the track, allowing the go-ahead run to come around from first base.
"I was trying to catch the ball before it gets to the wall," Rios said. "But I just kicked it. I'm glad that we won this game."
Despite the minor travails, right field now clearly belongs to Rios. The 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter has aced Eric Hinske out of his half of the platoon. The way this Jays lineup is constructed, leadoff is in fact where he belongs.
"I'm seeing the ball better," Rios explained. "I'm recognizing pitches early enough that if I don't like them, I'm not going to swing at them."
The Puerto Rican star is hitting .323, with seven doubles, two triples, three homers and a .525 slugging percentage in 23 games batting first since 2004. Solid.
"The first at-bat of the game you're going to see a lot of fastballs," Rios said. "They're going to come right at you, because they want the first guy out."
The closest comparison of a current leadoff man with similar skills is Grady Sizemore of the Indians. Rios just wants to play every day, whether it's leading off or closer to the bottom.
And Gibbons is not yet committed to batting Rios first. When it's a left-hander, he still wants Reed Johnson leading off. Eventually, when Adams regains his stroke, he will likely return to No. 1. The fact is that Rios should hit first every day.
The Johnson and Catalanotto platoon batting second are more geared to taking advantage of runners in motion and finding the holes.
"I'm just trying to be more patient at the plate," Rios explained. "The years before, I was letting the ball go too deep."
No matter where Rios bats, it's clear he has earned the right to play every day.
I saw the same article. I agree it seems Rios has pretty much ascended to a de facto starting spot on this team. Gibbons has frequently started him against RHP's for the last week, and his production has remained high.
Things could always change if Rios hits a slump again, but until that time I think it's pretty safe to assume the Jays will try to keep his bat in the lineup most nights. He was already far better defensively than Hinske. Hinske is now relegated to being a $5 million benchwarmer, although that's really where he's deserved to be for a couple years now.
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