Ninth-inning Blue Jays Rally Falls Short as Tampa Bay Rays Hand Toronto Second Straight Road Loss
ST. PETERSBURG – Even on his very best days, Marco Estrada walks a fine line between success and failure.
He works with a repertoire of pitches that would seem to have no place in a major-league rotation, yet his ability to fool hitters with an 88-mph fastball, a cutter at 85, a curveball and a changeup of mystical quality puts him in an elite class of pitchers.
On Saturday, he tripped over that fine line and got eaten alive by the Tampa Bay Rays.
For five innings, Estrada looked as good as he ever has, confusing the Rays with a variety of pitches, thrown in difficult places to hit.
In the sixth inning, however, it all came undone for the funky righthander. The Rays sent 10 men to the plate, scoring five runs, and although they didn’t exactly rip the cover off the ball, they found enough holes and made enough solid contact to send the Blue Jays to their second loss in a row, a 7-5 decision.
“I have no clue,” said Estrada when asked what changed for him in the sixth. “It was the best I’ve felt. I was locating pretty well, all of my pitches and then that last inning just, I don’t know, a little bloop hit here and I couldn’t make the play on a bunt. Next thing you know, it’s 5-1. I’m not really sure what happened it just kind of got out of hand. I guess I didn’t locate as well as I did earlier and I got hit around a little bit.”
The loudest blow of the inning was a three-run double off the bat of Matt Duffy, one of five hits the Rays managed against Estrada in the inning.
The Rays added two more runs in the seventh on a Kevin Kiermaier two-run home run that bounced off the foul pole in right. It was the first home run allowed this year by Biagini after 56 2/3 innings.
The Jays trailed 7-1 going into the ninth and rallied for four runs, but could not fight all the way back. Manager John Gibbons was asked if the late rally might carry over to Sunday.
“We’ll see,” he said, without conviction. “I’m not sure baseball works that way. But (reliever Enny Romero) was wild. Let us back into the game and we made a run at it. But you know we’ve been cold these last two days with the bats. That’s no secret. Shoot, Marco was great, he was rolling right along and then bam, little hit to start that and then they piled on right there. But the key is we’ve got to swing the bats.”
Regardless of how much damage the Rays did against Estrada, it probably didn’t make a lot of difference because the Blue Jays bats were deathly silent. All they could manage through the first eight innings were three singles. Encarnacion drove in the club’s first run with one of those singles. Devon Travis and Kevin Pillar had the others. When they did start to rally, the hill was too tall to climb.
Rookie lefty Blake Snell used a lot of ammunition early to keep the game close, but settled down to retire the final 10 men he faced over his six innings of work to earn the win
Even when the Blue Jays are not belting the ball all over the yard and, often, out of the yard, they are putting together professional at-bats that can still be productive even when they are making outs. That was what they did to Snell in the early innings.
Even though the Jays only had one run on two singles and four baserunners in total through the first four innings, their patience at the plate had forced Snell to average about 20 pitches per inning.
Toronto scored its first run in the third inning, combining Travis’s one-out single with a two-out walk by Jose Bautista and then an RBI single by Encarnacion.
By the time the fifth inning was in the books, Snell had already passed the 90-pitch mark but had settled in for the long haul, retiring the last 10 batters he faced.
Meanwhile, Estrada was about as economical as could be imagined. After four innings, Estrada had used just 48 pitches and was making his 1-0 lead look insurmountable. That illusion would soon be shattered.
The Rays didn’t get their first hit off Estrada until Logan Forsythe led off the fourth inning with a single. They got their second hit with two outs in the fifth, but Estrada again left him at first base.
In the sixth, though, it all came apart on Estrada. Catcher Bobby Wilson popped a single just beyond the reach of Encarnacion behind first base. Forsythe followed with a ground single between short and third. Kiermaier’s attempt at a sacrifice turned out to be a perfect bunt that Estrada fielded but his throw pulled Travis off the bag at first base, loading the bases.
Longoria then singled in the tying run before Estrada walked Brad Miller to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Duffy then hammered a bases-clearing double off the wall in left to make it 5-1, still with nobody out.
That was the end for Estrada, giving way to lefty Brett Cecil.
He yielded a broken-bat single to Logan Morrison, then struck out Nick Franklin and Corey Dickerson in succession. With two outs and runners at first and third, Gibbons went to Biagini, who got Wilson to ground out to end the inning and keep it a four-run game.
In the seventh, Biagini gave up a single to Forsythe then served up the homer to Kiermaier on a full count pitch.
Lefty call-up Matt Dermody got his major-league debut, with mixed reviews. He gave up two hits in his two-thirds of an inning of work, with one strikeout.
“Yeah, he went out there and did okay,” said Gibbons. “That first one can always be kind of rough. You never know what’s going through a guy’s head. It’s good we kept them scoreless that inning. But yeah, I guarantee he had some jitters, you’re supposed to, but he survived it. Hopefully, he builds on that.”