Jays toss it away

KEN FIDLIN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

KANSAS CITY -- Just when you think the Blue Jays can't get any worse, they find a way to explore fresh ground at the outer limits of ineptitude.

"We're in a rut," manager John Gibbons said after last night's eighth-inning collapse erased a two-run Toronto lead and sent the Jays to their fifth straight loss, an 8-4 backbreaker to the Kansas City Royals.

"We're at rock bottom right now. Nowhere to go but up."

After Scott Rolen, in his first official game as a Blue Jay, had delivered a go-ahead two-run double to give Toronto a 4-2 lead in the top of the eighth in support of A.J. Burnett's best game of the season, the Jays spit it out, allowing six runs in the bottom of the inning.

The crucial play in the Kansas City rally was a double-play ball that would have gotten the Jays out of the inning with a one-run lead. Shortstop David Eckstein dropped the ball on the feed from pitcher Scott Downs. Everyone was safe and the floodgates were open.

"I just missed it," Eckstein said. "If I could just catch the ball, we get the win."

Burnett and Royals ace Zack Greinke went toe-to-toe through four scoreless innings before Burnett yielded a run in the fifth.

Ross Gload and John Buck hit back-to-back doubles with nobody out but Burnett was able to wriggle free, leaving Buck stranded at third.

Greinke, who came into the game with a 1.24 earned run average, second in the American League, did not give up anything until, with one out in the seventh, Lyle Overbay belted a 3-1 fastball over the wall in right to tie it at 1-1.

As has happened so often lately, as soon as the Jays scored a run, they gave one back. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out, Buck hit a routine grounder to deep short. David Eckstein fielded it cleanly, but his throw to first bounced a few feet short of Overbay at first and he failed to pick it. Two singles later, the Royals had regained the lead on an unearned run.

In the top of the eighth, with Leo Nunez on in relief of Greinke, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios hit back-to-back one-out singles. When the throw from left field went to third, Rios took an extra base, putting runners at second and third. Wells then tied the game on a routine groundout to short.

That brought Rolen to the plate. In his first three at-bats, Rolen had walked, flied out to deep right and stung a ground ball to short. This time he belted it on a line into left-centre, clearing the bases to give Toronto a two-run lead with six outs to go.

True to form, though, the Jays immediately flushed the lead and the game down the toilet in what has to be their most crushing inning in a season with plenty of bad innings.

With one out in the eighth, Jose Guillen slashed a single into right, bringing right-handed hitting Mark Teahen to the plate. Instead of bringing in left-hander Scott Downs to face Teahen, Gibbons let Burnett pitch to him.

"The way I'm thinking at that point, if they get the first two guys on, then I would have had Downs face Teahen," Gibbons said, "because he would represent the winning run. But since we got the first out, I decided to let A.J. pitch to Teahen."

Sure enough, Burnett walked Teahen, then gave up an RBI single to the next man, right-handed hitter Billy Butler. At that point Toronto still had a one-run lead.

"If I let Burnett pitch to Teahen, I was definitely going to let him pitch to Butler."

Also colouring Gibbons' thinking was the fact that he didn't have B.J. Ryan available to close. In truth, all he had was Downs and Accardo to close out the game and Burnett still was throwing well.

At this point, Downs came into the game and got the double-play ball he was looking for when Gload hit a bouncer right back to the pitcher. Downs threw to second and Eckstein flat-out dropped it. Everybody was safe, the game was tied and it all went down the drain. Downs eventually faced five batters without recording an out and left with the score 8-4.

All the managerial machinations aside, if Eckstein catches the ball and makes the pivot to first, the lead would have remained.

"You hate to say it, but sometimes stuff happens," Burnett said. "Dave's a good ballplayer and a helluva gamer. You won't see something like that happen very often."


Videos

Photos