Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joyous Jo-Jo achieves memorable Memorial Day win

In a battle to defeat an embarrassing impression on Major League Baseball history, Toronto’s Jo- Jo Reyes was able to avoid a dishonorable distinction by earning a victory yesterday.

“This night belongs to Jo-Jo," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of his starting pitcher’s effort in Toronto’s 11-1 win over Cleveland yesterday (according to an Associated Press article). "Just an outstanding game on his part."

At approximately 7:07 (ET), Reyes delivered ball one to Cleveland’s Michael Brantley in pursuit of his first victory since June 13, 2008. Yesterday, not only did he win, Reyes was able to fill his victory vacancy with a complete-game gem.

"It was just an awesome game," a smiling Reyes said regarding his performance (according to the AP article). "I guess this was the way to do it if I had to choose."

The 2004, 2nd-round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves scattered eight hits through 121 pitches in avoiding ignominy with a memorable Memorial Day win at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Reyes’ victory was long overdue to say the least. The 26-year-old entered yesterday’s game having been winless in his previous 28 starts. The streak had put Reyes in a three-way tie for the longest string of starts without a win in MLB history - Oakland’s Matt Keough (1978-1979) and Boston’s Cliff Curtis (1910-1911).

So while the lefthanded hurler will still very likely never live down his name’s link as the answer to a bar trivia question, Reyes can breathe a big sigh of relief.

Thousands of Blue Jays fans and Reyes’ Blue Jays teammates could say the same.

With all eyes upon were upon him, the crowd of nearly 13,000 chanted “Jo-Jo, Jo-Jo” as Reyes struck out Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan to end the game.

“Even before the game a few fans were chanting ‘We believe’ and it was awesome to have that support,” Reyes said (as stated in a Toronto Sun story).

"The whole pitching staff is happy for him," teammate and staff ace Ricky Romero said (in the AP article). "I was one of the first guys [to reach the mound]. He was kind of serious when I first went out there. I was like 'Hey man, you can smile now, it's over.' I gave him a big hug."

While a miserable streak of 28 consecutive starts without a victory undoubtedly requires some poor performances, a great deal of bad luck is also necessary.

Reyes’ record in those 28 starts was 0-13 with a 6.59 ERA - extremely poor numbers where MLB standards are concerned. To Reyes’ credit, however, Major League managers saw enough flashes of talent in the southpaw to merit him starting mound honors despite the lack of results.

Some recent examples of games where Reyes displayed his pitching prowess came May 3 in Tampa Bay and May 23 versus Houston.

Against the Rays, Reyes allowed four hits and one earned run, leaving the game after the sixth inning with the Jays up 2-1. Toronto took that lead into the ninth before a two-run homer by B.J. Upton off Jon Rauch spoiled Reyes’ efforts as Tampa walked-off with the 3-2 victory.

The Houston game was worse. Reyes was brilliant against the Astros, allowing five hits (all singles) and no runs in seven scoreless innings. Toronto had a 2-0 lead entering the eighth before Hunter Pence shattered Reyes’ shutout effort with a two-run double, which was followed up with three more runs in the ninth to seal a 5-2 Astros win.

Thankfully, for Reyes, his team gave him plenty of run support in the win yesterday.

As superstitious as many baseball players are, it’s curious to wonder whether or not in Reyes’ future starts he will request wearing the specialized hats MLB players sported in yesterday’s Memorial Day action? Or perhaps the fifth-year pitcher will choose to pretend the United States holiday occurs everyday he takes the mound from this day forward?

Maybe it’s best for Reyes to simply continue pitching the way he has and hope for better luck to come in terms of wins. After all, despite the dismal 0-13 record and mid-6.00 ERA in his winless stretch, his performance yesterday puts him at 1-4 for the season with a respectable 4.15 ERA.

Now that he’s shaken his loss-stricken stigma, perhaps the win will propel Reyes to several more victories as his 2011 season rolls on.