Blue Jays blank Reds

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2003

CINCINNATI - Maybe Kelvim Escobar has found his niche.

Shuttled from bullpen to rotation and back again, the right-hander has never been consistent enough to stay in one place long enough to call it a role.

The best game of his career might change things.

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Escobar pitched a five-hitter for his third career shutout Sunday, beating the Cincinnati Reds 5-0 in front of a drenched crowd and hits king Pete Rose, who left long before it ended.

Essentially, it was over after Escobar (3-3) drove in a run in the second with a single for his first career hit. None of the Reds came close to scoring - only two runners reached second.

''I don't know what to say,'' Escobar said. ''I just threw the best game of my life.''

The Blue Jays needed it. A day after they blew a three-run lead in the ninth and lost 9-8, Toronto didn't need its shaky bullpen. Escobar started to fade in the ninth, when he gave up a double and his only walk with none out.

Sean Casey, who had the game-winning hit on Saturday night, popped out, and Ken Griffey Jr. grounded into a double play to finish Escobar's first complete game since a 9-0 victory over Baltimore on Aug. 25, 2001.

''That dude was awesome,'' said outfielder Adam Dunn, who was 0-for-3 with the ninth-inning walk. ''Honestly, I had never heard of him until I found out he was pitching a couple of days ago.''

Escobar saved 14 games for Toronto in 1997, but was primarily a starter in 1999 and 2000. He was a setup man for Billy Koch in 2001, and saved 38 games last season.

When he struggled badly as the closer in April, manager Carlos Tosca put him back in the rotation. He has made five starts and given indications that he is finally getting himself together.

''I knew he was getting closer to that type of performance the last couple of times,'' Tosca said. ''He came through big when we were really thin down there (in the bullpen).''

Instead of trying to throw even harder when he got into trouble, he relaxed and let his 98 mph fastball do its work. The Reds couldn't touch it.

''I just stayed with the way I pitched the whole game,'' Escobar said. ''They didn't adjust, so I didn't have to make any adjustments.''

It was a disappointing outcome to what could have been a memorable day for the Reds, who started their homestand by taking two from the Yankees in front of capacity crowds.

Rain delayed the start of Sunday's game by 3 hours and 5 minutes. Rose, in town for a fund-raiser that benefits Bengals Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz's foundation, got a $225 ticket and watched from behind the plate until the third inning.

He wasn't shown on the videoboard and the Reds didn't publicize his appearance, so most fans were unaware he was in the ballpark. Escobar had an RBI single off Jimmy Haynes (0-5) during a four-run second, and Rose left an inning later.

The Blue Jays took two-of-three in their first regular-season series against the Reds, a frequent opponent during spring training in Florida. As a result, the Reds finished their homestand 3-3.

''It's not acceptable, but you take the positives out of it,'' Dunn said. ''We played two of the best teams in baseball, and we were in every game. That's a plus.''

Notes: The Reds were shut out for the first time this season. … OF Jose Guillen is loosing patience with his role as a backup. He threw three bats against a clubhouse wall when he found out before Sunday's game that he wasn't in the lineup. ''I was not happy. I had three bats in my hand, so I just threw them,'' he said. The bats made two holes and an indentation in the wall. The Reds said Guillen will pay for the repairs, but won't be fined. ''I talked to him quite a bit,'' manager Bob Boone said. ''He wants to play. That's all I can say.'' Guillen is hitting .338 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs in 48 games, including 28 starts.