CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Reds didn’t do much damage Sunday against Toronto pitcher Carlos Villanueva but it was enough to accomplish what 84 opponents in a row had failed to do.
They put an L in the boxscore next to Villanueva’s name.
In his last 84 appearances on the mound, most of them as a reliever but also five as a starter, stretching back 22 months, Villanueva had not been tagged with a loss.
That all ended when the Reds pinned a 2-1 defeat on him on the strength of 37-year-old Miguel Cairo’s two-run home run, depriving the Blue Jays of a sweep in this three-game interleague series.
During the 84 games since he last lost a game, pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers in Pittsburgh on Aug. 17, 2009, Villanueva was 8-0 with a 3.77 ERA and a .222 opponents’ batting average against him.
“I didn’t really even know that until you guys started talking about it,” said Villanueva. “That year (2009) I lost, like, 10 games, so I was used to losing. As a reliever, wins and losses are more luck, especially wins. Losses, you sometimes earn those.”
It can be argued that this may have been one of Villanueva’s best starts since joining the Toronto rotation but Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo did him one better, allowing just five hits over eight innings.
“It happens,” said Villanueva with a shrug. “You don’t get that many low scoring games in this ballpark, but (Arroyo) outpitched me and he got the win.”
The one mistake that cost Villanueva and, ultimately, the Blue Jays was a first-pitch fastball to Cairo with two outs in the sixth inning and Joey Votto standing at first base after a single. Villanueva was trying to throw it over the outside corner but it got too much of the plate. Cairo swatted it 365 feet into the left field seats, just inside the foul pole.
“It was a mistake to a veteran hitter and he took advantage of it,” Villanueva said. “It’s disappointing but I had to keep battling because it was still a very close game.”
The home run snapped a 16-inning scoreless streak that Toronto pitching spun against the Reds, dating back to the seventh inning of Friday’s 3-2 Toronto win.
It was a particularly taxing day on the mound because Villanueva didn’t feel comfortable with one of his primary weapons, his changeup.
“Today, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t have my changeup,” he said. “I has never failed me. I threw two of them and both were warning track fly balls, so I shut that down.”
Still, it was the kind of performance that Villanueva would have settled for on most days.
“If I keep throwing like this, I’m sure I’ll get a lot more wins this way,” he said.
Villanueva left for a pinch-hitter after seven innings, allowing seven hits and both runs.
With both starters hitting their spots most of the day, the game was decided by the long ball with help from a botched squeeze attempt.
Hill broke a scoreless tie when he led off the fifth with his third home run of the season. In that same inning the Jays squandered an opportunity for a big inning as they put runners at first and third with nobody out.
John McDonald’s attempted squeeze was popped to Votto at first base, who wheeled and fired to third to get Juan Rivera as he tried to scramble back.
“You can look back at the safety squeeze and the pop-up that ended up being a double play and you go from first and third, nobody out to, all of a sudden, a quick zero,” Farrell said. “It seemed to switch the momentum at that point. I don’t know if Rivera thought there wasn’t going to be a throw or not but when the ball was caught, his break back to the bag was delayed enough that he gets doubled off.”
That missed opportunity set the stage for Cairo’s heroics and Villanueva’s defiance of the odds was finally over.
The Jays now move on to Atlanta for the second leg of this four-city, 10-game trip that also stops in St. Louis and ends with a makeup of a rained-out game in Detroit. Toronto is now 3-3 in interleague play this season.