Rivera flub leads to Jays' fall

Phillies batter Ryan Howard hits a two-RBI single in front of Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia in...

Phillies batter Ryan Howard hits a two-RBI single in front of Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia in Toronto, Ont., July 1, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:04 PM ET

TORONTO - Catching a routine fly shouldn't be a problem, not at the major-league level.

But with the current crop of Blue Jays outfielders, any fly ball has turned into an adventure.

Such was the case Friday afternoon as the dreams of a victory over the Phillies before a Canada Day crowd of 45,512 went down the drain in the top of the ninth inning thanks to Juan Rivera╣s botched attempt in left.

With Frank Francisco called on to close out a 6-5 lead, Placido Polanco started the Phillies rally with a walk.

Disaster quickly followed.

Chase Utley lifted a high fly to left, one with a bit of a tail. It was a routine fly all the way, what should have been an easy first out.

Instead, Rivera broke the wrong way, had to twist around and in doing so failed to catch up to the ball and had it clank off his glove on the warning track, leaving runners at second and third.

Ryan Howard quickly made Rivera and the Jays pay as he followed with a two-strike jam shot to centre that scored both runners in a game the Phillies would win 7-6.

Rivera is not a good option in left but in Thursday's loss to the Pirates, Corey Patterson was the culprit in left on a ball that dropped in after he and Jose Bautista collided on a pop up back of third.

Rivera, who has little range, earlier made a poor throw to the plate in the seventh as his heave was off the mark and behind a sliding Shane Victorino.

With Bautista switched from right to third base, the collective outfield defence is now in shambles as all four candidates -- Rajai Davis and Eric Thames being the others -- are all average-to-below-average fielders.

To be fair, Rivera wasn't the lone Jay to mess up defensively.

Aaron Hill booted a potential double-play grounder in the third that led to an unearned run while John McDonald had a sharply hit grounder from Howard go through him -- it was charitably scored a hit -- to set up the Phillies' two-run seventh.

It made for a disheartening loss on what should have been a day of celebration as the Jays received a two-run homer from rookie Thames in the fifth and a go-ahead two-run bomb from Bautista in the seventh.

In the end, they couldn't overcome the bad defence.

"We all have an expectation on what plays should be made but once they're occurring you can't take them back," manager John Farrell said.

"The ball off Utley's bat obviously turned Juan around and in the end the ball goes off his glove for a double. Any time you give up those type of plays and give an extra out or what we would consider a makeable play turn into an extra at-bat, add an additional runner, those are hard to overcome and today was an example of that." The part that really hurts is that Friday was the Jays' best chance in the series. Now they get Roy Halladay followed by Cliff Lee. Good luck.

Ricky Romero, who received a no-decision Friday, had some words for Saturday's fans.

"He (Halladay) was the face of this franchise for such a long time and he deserved a standing ovation (when he presented the lineup card at home plate) but as of tomorrow I think he's our enemy and I hope we don't see a standing ovation from our fans," Romero said. "It's time to get it on once we step between those lines." Other than a victory, the only thing missing Friday was an appearance by Mayor Rob Ford, who apparently snubbed the event.

Too bad. The way the Jays are playing, he could be a candidate for the outfield.

On a mission

It's 83 games into the season and second baseman Hill is still searching for that spark.

Hill was originally scheduled to get Friday off but was pressed into duty when shortstop Yunel Escobar got plunked on the wrist in the first inning and was taken from the game.

It's been a season of frustration for Hill for the most part. In 66 games, he is hitting just .243 (62-for-255) but the real concern is a total drop off in power. To date, Hill has just 17 extra-base hits, 13 doubles, one triple and three home runs.

When asked to assess his season, Farrell thought long and hard before replying.

"Interrupted early on," he finally came out with. "A little bit of a search as far as finding the power stroke.

"I know if you were to ask Aaron, he's certainly not pleased with where he's at today." The lack of power -- 36 home runs in 2009, 26 last season -- is the most shocking aspect.

"I see a guy at times trying to hit the ball out of the ball park. That can lead to some tension," Farrell said. "When he's been in a little bit more confident state of mind, he's been more free up there and you see better bat speed, you see the ability to create a little bit more power when he's not trying (to swing for the fences) as opposed to when he is trying."

mike.rutsey@sunmedia.ca


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