Toronto facing the Tampa Bay Rays doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The Jays haven’t won a series at the Trop since Methuselah was a lad, and the Jays just don’t match up well against a team that pitches well and excels in the fundamentals. Joe Maddon is a key reason for their success: the Rays have averaged 92 wins per season since ’08, his second season, when it all came together for them. Mercifully, like the Jays, the Rays are also an offensive ‘jugger-not’: the Jays might have a chance. I expect a low-scoring series.
Neither Hellickson nor Buehrle are sharp in the early going, which makes me skeptical of the Jays’ chances for a win. The Jays’ glaring weaknesses in the early going—pitching, defense, hitting, base running—beg for the Rays to take advantage. Both teams have been major disappointments so far, but the Rays have already played 18 on the road. Nauseatingly, the Jays have dug their hole at The Rog.
The two teams traded hits and walks in the first couple of innings, but in the bottom of the 3rd a drive with two runners on base by ex-Jay Kelly Johnson seemed to hit something suspended from the roof. The umpires reviewed the play—ground rules would determine the type of hit—and ruled it in play: KJ singled to the wall in CF. It scored one run and, after a swinging bunt by Ryan Roberts, the bases were loaded with none out. Evan Longoria hit a grand slam. Three batters later, Luke Scott hit a two-run homer. Now 7-0 Rays, is this game out of reach? Mark Buehrle has given up 11 home runs this season, 8 in his last 3 starts.
It’s bewildering to hear the commentators mention that the Blue Jays ‘just can’t get the big hit’ this season, suggesting that things would be different if they could. Perhaps things would be somewhat different, and I don’t disagree with them. It’s like saying that the problem with the Titanic was it’s inability to take the big hit.
The blindingly obvious fact is that the Jays haven’t done anything well in 2013. When the pitching is good, it’s betrayed by shoddy defense. When they hit well, the base running is terrible. When they defend well, the bats are AWOL. Then there are those games when nothing goes well: the blowouts, and there have been too many of those already. In the inning Colby Rasmus hit a 2-run HR to CF and Melky drove in Kawasaki to make it 7-3.
Interestingly, both Buehrle and Hellickson remain in the game despite their struggles. Maddon’s decision doesn’t surprise me much; Gibbons’ decision does. Buehrle is an experienced pro: I like this move.
Buehrle has improved since the rough inning, throwing strikes and inducing ground balls. Hellickson continued to struggle, driving up his pitch count, until he was replaced by Jake McGee. McGee gave up a 2-run HR to pinch hitter Mark DeRosa to make the score 7-5 Rays. DeRosa is 4 for his last 6, with 2 homers and 2 doubles. it should be noted that John Gibbons’ decision to pinch hit DeRosa for Kawasaki, who had been on base twice, was exceptional. The most excited player on the bench? Munenori Kawasaki.
The seventh inning started well for the Jays, as both Bautista and Encarnacion singled. A very sharply hit one hopper to 2B Ryan Roberts has turned into an out at the plate, as Bautista gambled that Roberts would throw to 1B. It was a very poor decision by Bautista. Unfortunately it was a rally killer.
The Jays mounted another challenge in the 8th inning against Joel Peralta and, subsequently, closer Fernando Rodney. A ground ball that would have been a sure DP was booted by ex-Jay Yunel Escobar (his second miscue of the inning), bringing Bautista to the plate with the bases loaded. Bautista hit a rocket to RF for a sac fly to make the score 7-6 Rays, with 2 out. Edwin Encarnacion grounded out to Longoria to end the inning.
A semi-eventful (base runners, no runs) bottom of the eighth has led to an unexpected ninth inning: trailing by one run, the Jays face the difficult task of rallying against Rodney. A walk by Lind turned into Bonifacio on third. Izturis grounded out to Loney and a drawn-in infield before JP Arencibia homered to left with two out, making the score 8-7 Jays. Casey Janssen is on for the bottom of the inning.
A 3-up-3-down ninth gave Casey Janssen the sweetest of his 8 saves. This is only the fourth time ever that the Jays have come back from a deficit of 7 or more. Interestingly, it’s the second time against the Rays. What a great follow up to their blowout win over Seattle.
Low-scoring series? Ha! The 15 runs scored in game 1 were right around what I expected both teams to score in the whole series.