TORONTO - The goal of the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans is to mount a challenge to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the two teams who annually sit atop their division.
But before they take on the behemoths of the American League East they have to figure out a way to get by the Tampa Bay Rays.
For the second game in a row, the Jays couldn’t get it done against the Rays as they dropped Saturday’s matinee at the Rogers Centre 6-5 to run their record against Tampa Bay this season to 4-9.
A three-run home run by B.J. Upton in the seventh inning broke it open for the pesky Rays. The Jays tried to mount a late-inning comeback, fueled by solo shots from Eric Thames and Edwin Encarnacion in the eighth, but to no avail.
Upton no doubt thought his homer was a just reward from the baseball gods as the umpires ruled his blast down the left field line the previous inning a foul ball. The blast came off Jesse Litsch, who registered his first spotty performance since being bumped into the Jays bullpen.
“I think the bullpen is a little taxed,” interim Jays manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Jesse has worked three of the past four days.
“We liked the matchup (vs. Upton) with Jesse out there. I think he was 4-for-20 off him. You look at his stuff today and I think it’s a little bit of the usage, being used three out of four days. He struck out (Ben) Zobrist the pitch before (Upton’s homer) so we felt pretty good that we were going to get out of it.”
Litsch wouldn’t go as far as blaming fatigue for the three-run homer that he set up with back-to-back walks.
“It’s something you’re getting used to, three out of four days is something different,” he said. “But I was just down in the zone. With fatigue you’re usually up in the zone. I left just the one ball up that Upton hit. It cut back over the middle of the plate. It was a heater and I pulled it.”
The high point of the game came in the highly entertaining top of the sixth which had the Jays missing a triple play by a whisker.
It started with Upton, who led off the inning.
On a 1-1 pitch, Upton KO’d a pitch from reliever Shawn Camp and drilled it high and far as it bounced of the facing of the fourth deck, just missing the foul pole. Upton, though, thought it was a home run and after Rays manager Joe Maddon came out to argue on Upton’s behalf, the umpire crew decided to take a look at it on the replay monitor.
So off they went. Two minutes later, they ruled foul ball. In the interim, Camp never bothered to toss a warmup pitch.
Perhaps he should have as he hit Upton in the lower leg with his next pitch, putting the speedy runner on first.
Sean Rodriguez followed with a single to put runners at first and second and Camp in a jam.
That’s when things got really interesting.
Kelly Shoppach squared to bunt and dropped one down. It wasn’t a good bunt, however, as it went right back to Camp, who threw to Brett Lawrie at third base to force Upton. Lawrie, who seems to have a clear view of the big picture, then hopped off the bag and fired across the diamond to first to nail Shoppach for the second out.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, showed good baseball smarts by not stopping at second and headed for third. He just beat a tag by Lawrie after a throw from first baseman Adam Lind, escaping a triple play.
It was a heads-up play by Lawrie all the way.
“It was one of those situations where it’s going to be bang-bang and you have to think next play right away,” Lawrie said. “You catch the ball and you have to jump off the bag and try to get the next one (out) and sure enough after that one he came (Rodriguez to third) and it was bang-bang at third and he got in there, close enough.”
Close, but as is so often the case when the Jays play the Rays, there is no cigar.
For the second consecutive game Jays manager John Farrell was a no-show as he was home resting and recuperating from a bout of pneumonia that first flared up and was diagnosed Thursday night. Bench coach Don Wakamatsu took Farrell's place at the helm once again.
“He (Farrell) came in this morning and got checked out and he’s doing better but we want to be safe with it right now and just let him catch up on some rest and get better,” Wakamatsu said.
Toronto's Jose Bautista doubled home a run in the first inning with a drive to the gap in left-centre. But poor base running by Bautista kept the Jays to one run in the inning. Lind followed Bautista and hit a rope to right that carried over the head of outfielder Sam Fuld and clanged of the fence about a foot from being a two-run home run. Bautista, though, did not go halfway between second and third on the liner and instead was barely beyond the dirt at second. As a result, Bautista only advanced to third instead of scoring ... The Jays pulled off an unorthodox 9-5 out for the final out of the seventh when Toronto right-hander Casey Janssen threw wide of first and up the line on a pickoff attempt of Rodriguez. Bautista raced in to retrieve the ball in right and then threw a strike to Lawrie at third to catch Rodriguez for the out.