TORONTO - The fans at Rogers Centre had seen this act before: Frank Francisco on the mound, a blown save sure to follow.
But for the remnants of the 41,867 who attended Sunday’s game, last year’s agony didn’t turn into this season’s joy.
Francisco, the former Toronto Blue Jays closer, who is now employed by the New York Mets, teased fans by walking Yunel Escobar to open the inning and then giving up a single to Jose Bautista.
Instead of surrendering a game-winning three-run jack, however, Francisco came back to strike out Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Eric Thames to end the game and secure the Mets' 6-5 victory.
“Those guys at the back end of the bullpen make their money for a reason,” Arencibia said. “Frankie at the end of the game punched out the side. He’s got good stuff. He’s throwing 98 down and away, it’s not easy.”
The loss by the Jays snapped a four-game win streak and prevented a three-game sweep in their first interleague series of the season.
Now, the sledding gets tougher for the Jays. The club will wing their way south to face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, a stadium where they seemingly never win, before traveling to Arlington to face the Texas Rangers.
Sunday, the Jays couldn’t overcome an indifferent start by Henderson Alvarez, who allowed three runs to open up the game and six overall in his five innings of work.
Still, it was a game where manager Jays John Farrell saw more good than bad.
“I thought today was another example of our competitiveness, our ability to reach down when needed,” Farrell said about the team's late innings rally where they scored a run in the seventh, two in the eighth and had the tying run at second with nobody out in the ninth. “We felt like we set it up in the ninth, down a run, get the first two guys on with the middle of the order where we’ve been able to do some damage of late. It was certainly not the way we envisioned turning out after the first two guys got on in the ninth.
“But I can’t say enough about our competitiveness and willingness to do what it takes to get back in a ball game.”
The Jays just couldn’t climb out of the hole that Alvarez helped dig.
“I thought in the first couple of innings (Alvarez) was so strong coming out of his bullpen he was throwing through his sink, his fastball straightened out and got up in the zone where they bunched some hits together,” Farrell said of the Mets' three-run first.
His defence didn’t bail him out either.
In the first inning, centre fielder Colby Rasmus, back in a starting role following a two-game absence, came racing in and appeared to make a diving catch for the third out. Instead, the ball, which was in his glove as he slid fully outstretched on the turf, rolled out of his mitt and it was ruled no catch, allowing the Mets to score their third run of the inning.
In the Mets' two-run fifth, second baseman Kelly Johnson also squandered two opportunities to turn double plays. His relay to first on the first play pulled Encarnacion off the bag, and then with one out, he couldn’t field a ball cleanly, leading to one out instead of two and allowing another run to score.
“We get a ground ball double play on a bouncy hot turf and we were unable to turn that,” Farrell said.
Brazilian-born Yan Gomes has quickly become a Jays fan favourite in the four games he has played at third in place of the suspended Brett Lawrie, who will return to the lineup Monday in Tampa Bay. Gomes produced an RBI single in the second inning Sunday and has collected hits in three of his four games.
What happens to him when Lawrie returns is anybody’s guess. So far, Farrell has liked what he has seen.
“I think ultimately, upon Brett’s return, we’ll have internal discussions,” Farrell said. “For a player at his stage in his career, if we can find him enough at-bats, there’s the potential with his versatility to remain in the mix. But I’m not getting ahead of myself by any means with starting tomorrow or beyond.”
If Yan sticks with the Jays when Lawrie returns he would need playing time to develop.
“It could be a detriment to him long-term, I think, if he’s once to twice a week, because of his age,” Farrell said. “This isn’t someone who’s had four straight years of 500-plus plate appearances in the minor leagues either. And while he’s earned his way to the big leagues, you have to balance and look what’s best for him and us in combination.”