July 23, 2006
Jays can't bridge gapLilly leaves with lead but bullpen throw it away
By MIKE RUTSEY -- Toronto Sun
Wasn't that just like old times, the good old days.
With a boisterous, sellout crowd of 50,014, the Yankees in town and the game a tight, tense affair, it was reminiscent of the Blue Jays' glory days of the late 1980s and early '90s.
In those times there wasn't much worry about bridging the gap between starter and closer. It was starter, Dwayne Ward, Tom Henke, game over.
The Jays' problem this season has been bridging the gap between their starter and set-up guy Justin Speier.
Yesterday it fell apart for the Jays in the seventh. Starter Ted Lilly needed 108 pitches to finish six innings and the seventh saw manager John Gibbons employ three relievers and before they could nail down the third out, a 4-3 lead had turned into a 5-4 deficit -- one the Jays couldn't overcome.
The main culprit of the inning was lefty Scott Downs, who came on after Brandon League had one out and one on. Downs, though, allowed two singles -- the second by pinch hitter Jason Giambi that tied it 4-4 -- and an intentional walk to load the bases.
That brought on Speier who struck out Miguel Cairo and then on a 3-2 pitch with the crowd on its feet and screaming, he walked Derek Jeter to bring in New York's go-ahead run.
Speier limited the damage by striking out Alex Rodriguez to end the inning but the Jays, who rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to take a 4-2 lead after the fifth, were blanked the rest of the way.
"I hate to see it decided on a balk and a walk," manager John Gibbons mused.
The balk he referred to occurred in the sixth when with two out and runners on the corners, Derek Jeter broke to second with Ted Lilly called for a balk on his throw to first. That allowed Johnny Damon, breaking on the double steal, to score to narrow the Jays' lead to 4-3.
"I think it was a borderline balk. I've done it a few times this year," Lilly said of his move to first. "I think it's close but I haven't been called on it, but I was tonight.
"I was waiting for Derek to take off and he did and I threw over and the home plate umpire (Dale Scott) said I made too much of move towards home plate. Obviously I don't like it."
There wasn't much to like about the mid-inning relief in the seventh either as lately it has become the team's weak link.
The Jays hope that newcomer Jeremy Accardo can fill that six-inning, seventh-inning gap.
"He'll fit in nicely. We got him for a reason," Gibbons said. "He can be a big part of this. But Spy (Speier) almost worked out of that baby (the seventh)."
The Jays hold a 2-1 lead in the series with the finale set for this afternoon. They came close to making it three in a row but good old Yankee know how and tough luck turned things the other way.
"It could have been a big game, we all know that," said Eric Hinske, who hit a solo shot in the fourth.
Hinske came close to tying it in the eighth when he pulled a 99 m.p.h. Kyle Fransworth heater about 20 feet foul into the third deck.
"Obviously I was looking fastball," Hinske said. "I was just trying to get the head on the ball. I guess I cheated a little too much."
B At the plate: The Jays counted 11 hits including a solo homer by Eric Hinske in the fourth but on the day were just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
C On the mound: Starter Ted Lilly gets a B-plus as he limited the Yankees to three runs and four hits over six innings. Scott Downs faced three batters in the seventh, allowing two hits.