TORONTO -- The offense is plodding along and the bullpen is certainly in question but the Blue Jays are slowly starting to get key hits, key outs -- and string together some wins.
It's four in a row for the Jays after Friday's 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a three-game set in Rogers Centre. A crowd of 42,304 erupted when Kevin Pillar snapped a tie with a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.
Pillar's second home run of the season came when he golfed a 1-2 pitched from reliever Joe Blanton on a low line to left. And while it was certainly significant for the team, it was a lifetime memory for the Toronto center fielder because he grew up less than 40 miles away from Los Angeles and has spent his life as a fan of Dodger Blue.
Pillar, who was born in the West Hills District of Los Angeles, fashioned an NCAA Division II-record hitting streak of 54 games in 2010 for Cal State-Dominguez Hills.
"Against any team is special. It's extra special knowing all my friends and family were together watching at home against a team we all grew up rooting for," Pillar said. "It's somewhat surreal and I'm going to enjoy it. I'm looking forward to talking to my Dad. He's probably out celebrating right now like we just won the lottery."
The Blue Jays won the game of chance after the Dodgers opted to intentionally walk Justin Smoak following Edwin Encarnacion's one-out double. It gave the Dodgers a righty-righty matchup but also put them against Pillar, who entered Friday 10 for 22 in his last six games but was hitless in his first three at-bats.
"Guys get a little ticked off when that happens," admitted Jays manager John Gibbons.
"Naturally you try to do too much and I got caught up in that the swing before," Pillar said. "I just had to gather myself and do what I've been doing and that's just hit the ball hard. ... I'm pretty hot right now and it feels good to be able to pick up your teammates."
The Blue Jays posted walkoff wins Tuesday and Wednesday over Texas and then bludgeoned the Rangers, 12-2, in Thursday's series finale. Four straight wins is their longest run of the early season and has them back over .500 at 16-15.
"I think after that walkoff win and doing it again the second night it's a reminder to everyone in this room how good we are," Pillar said. "As long as we've got outs left on the board, we've got a chance to win."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, were left to rue their sixth bullpen loss of the season.
"I like our guys," said first-year manager Dave Roberts, the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer. "There have been some very good innings but if you look back at their outings they’re victims of one pitch, two bad pitches. But they’re big pitches. So those are things we obviously have to eliminate."
The game started as a taut pitchers' duel between Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman and Dodgers Japanese import Kenta Maeda. It was Maeda who cracked first, allowing Jose Bautista's two-run homer in the sixth to the second deck in left. Maeda has a 1.66 ERA on the season and the two runs were the first against him on the road this season.
Maeda has a windup eerily reminiscent of former Dodgers Japanese sensation Hideo Nomo as his hands are clasped and go high over his head and their is a slight hitch in the windup as the drop to deliver the ball
"He's got a good pulse. There's just no panic," said Roberts. "He's very consistent with everything. He doesn't get too high or too low and he's very athletic. He retains information. There's a lot of good and it's not even results-driven. That's the feel I get from him."
Stroman gave the lead back in the seventh on three straight two-out hits, with Chase Utley's single forging a 2-2 tie. That simply served to set the stage for Pillar.
There will another marquee pitching matchup on tap for Saturday's 1:05 matinee as Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (3-1, 1.96) goes against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (1-3, 5.73). It will be the first career start against the Blue Jays for Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner who leads the big leagues in strikeouts (54).
"It's going to be really exciting. This is a guy I grew up watching," Pillar said. "Aside from Kobe, this is the biggest thing in LA. Kershaw is must-see TV every time he goes up. I can think back 5-6-7 years ago watching this guy on TV or being at the game and wondering what it would be like to stand in the box."