12:53 AM Eastern

Is that too strong a word?  Embarrassment?  Horror Show?  Shark Sandwich?  Any one of those terms could very aptly describe the 9th inning in this evening’s game, in which the Blue Jays handed the Rays a win while barely even making them swing the bat.

Before I get into how horribly this game was mishandled, I want to point out the one shining, amazing positive that came out of it – something that will get awfully short shrift in the wake of what followed.  Brian Tallet was fantastic tonight.  Absolutely incredible was he, in holding the Rays  to just four hits while shutting them out over 5 2/3 innings.  It looked uneasy early – Tallet was on a pitch count of 85 and had thrown 41 through the first two frames.  But he righted the ship and did an amazing job.  So good even he himself likely had to be surprised.

Hopefully it serves as a lesson to all those who were lamenting the choice of Tallet to start, figuring the Jays were waving the white flag before the game.  He left in the 6th with a 5-0 lead.

I’ll grant you, I still think it would have been cooler to see Kyle Drabek come up from New Hampshire for a one-off major-league debut, a notion forwarded yesterday by Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun.  At the very least, if they had done that they wouldn’t be in their current conundrum of having to figure out what to do now – Tallet certainly threw well enough to warrant another start, but the Jays had planned on activating Jesse Litsch from the 60-day disabled list to make the start the next time that spot in the rotation comes around, next Tuesday at Tampa Bay.  Will Litsch still get the call then?  I don’t know.

OK, now onto the crappy stuff.

Whether he felt that he had been squeezed by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez or not, for Kevin Gregg to issue five (5) (that’s not a typo, he actually walked five guys) walks in the top of the ninth inning is inexcusable.  At some point, you have to realize what you’re not getting from the home plate umpire and adjust.  Gregg struck out lead-off man B.J. Upton, then walked Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, then struck out Carlos Pena (more on that later).  So with two out, he had run the gauntlet and the Jays were still up 5-3, despite the fact that the tying runs were on base.  Gregg then walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases, and walked pinch-hitter John Jaso to force in the run that made it 5-4.

At that point, a pitcher started to warm up in the bullpen (more on that later, too).  Sean Rodriguez was next, and he doubled into the right-centre gap to clear the bases.  Vernon Wells cut the ball off long before it got to the wall, but the ball kicked off the end of his glove, likely allowing the third run to score (catcher running, but with two out maybe he scores anyway – I doubt it, though).  Gregg then issued one more walk before being removed from the game, after which point he was ejected by Hernandez.

My favourite thing about baseball, by the way, is that a player can be ejected from a game in which he’s no longer eligible to participate.

Anyway, Gregg was awful tonight, and there’s no way to put a happy face on it.  Cito Gaston made some mistakes with his bullpen use, but Cito didn’t walk five guys in the ninth inning.  This one is on Gregg, and the question is – should he still be the closer?

The easy answer is no – over his last 10 innings of work, he has allowed 11 runs on 14 hits, walking 13 and striking out 11.  That’s an astonishing 9.90 ERA and 2.70 WHIP.  However….in his three outings prior to tonight’s uglitude, he had thrown three innings without allowing a run, and had allowed only four baserunners.

Also, tonight was Gregg’s fourth appearance in the last five days.

So should the rug be yanked from underneath him?  Maybe not.  He definitely won’t pitch tomorrow night in the series finale, and Cito said he likely would get Friday night off too, in the opener against the Yankees.  But he’s still second in the league in saves and even with tonight, he’s only blown three.

Still, for me, he doesn’t have the right to the ball in the ninth.  Nobody on this team does.  There is no “capital C” Closer on this team, and there doesn’t have to be.  Any of Gregg, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and even Shawn Camp is capable of getting the job done.  And if you don’t have a Closer, then you don’t run into the issue of “he’s the closer, he either gets the save or blows it, no help from the bullpen”.

Tonight, while Gregg was indeed at fault – I don’t know if I have mentioned that he walked five guys – he could have gotten some help from his manager.  Cito managed himself into a corner before that 9th inning, and there was no need for it.

I’ll grant you that the plan, with a 5-2 lead through six, was to have Frasor pitch the 7th,  Downs the 8th and Gregg the 9th, and Frasor didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.  Frasor allowed three hits out of five batters, and Camp had to come in and get him.

This is where it goes off the rails, though.  Yes, Camp and Downs had both pitched last night, but Camp had only needed 11 pitches to get two outs and Downs had needed seven to get one.  Prior to that, Camp had thrown one inning (10 pitches) on Friday night and Downs hadn’t pitched at all in the weekend series against Baltimore.

Tonight, Camp came in to get Frasor out of the 7th and got the first two outs of the 8th.  He threw six pitches.  With the ninth-place hitter, Reid Brignac, coming up, Cito came out to get Camp and bring in Downs, who needed all of five pitches to strike Brignac out.  With Frasor and Casey Janssen already having been used, that left Gregg, Rommie Lewis and David Purcey in the bullpen.

Arguably the two relievers who have performed the best on the team so far this season, Camp and Downs, were used to get a total of four outs on 11 pitches, and for no reason.   Where is the argument that Camp had to leave after six pitches with two out, nobody on and the ninth hitter coming up?  It must be that the left-handed hitting Brignac kills righties, and he has done well against them so far this season, at .303/.355/.444 coming into the game.  But there were two out and nobody on and the on-deck guy, B.J. Upton is a righty.  And since when has Gaston steered Camp clear of left-handed hitters?  Almost 40% of the hitters Camp has faced this season have hit left-handed- including the guy Camp faced, and got to ground out weakly to second, right before he got yanked.

If you leave Camp in to face Brignac, then you still have Downs in case Gregg gets in trouble – and given the fact that you’re asking Gregg to work for the fourth time in five days, against the top of the Rays’ line-up, after having thrown 19 pitches the night before, you should anticipate that he might have a hard time.

It’s one thing to have confidence in your closer, it’s another thing to know when the odds are less in your favour than they usually are and to be prepared for it.  Cito wasn’t.  The reason Gregg was left to twist in the wind, why no one got up in the bullpen until the fourth run had been walked in, was because the only options out there were Rommie Lewis and David Purcey.  I can’t blame Cito for sticking with a struggling Gregg given that.  I can most certainly blame Cito for the fact that those were his only options left, though.

That was a terrible piece of managing, as was T-Bay manager Joe Maddon moving his DH into the field in the 6th inning and forcing his pitcher into the batting order.  Especially given the fact that he had a short bench with Jason Bartlett on the shelf, I can’t fathom why Maddon would have done that.  It turned out not to matter, though, as he sent his last pinch-hitter out when the pitcher’s spot came up with the bases loaded and two out in the 9th, and Jaso picked up an RBI walk.

Maddon was watching from the clubhouse, because he had been tossed a couple of batters earlier after Carlos Pena struck out while he was trying to call time.  Gregg had started his motion when Pena raised his right arm and waved it at Angel Hernandez, and without waiting for the umpire to actually call time, Pena took one hand off his bat and took a step back.

By the time Pena realized that time-out hadn’t been granted, the pitch was on its way and though he scrambled to get set and try to foul it off, there was nothing he could do.  He flipped, as you’d expect, and got ejected, and Maddon did the same thing.  Maddon then went down the third-base line to let crew chief Joe West have it, since it was West’s crew that had laid down the law in an early-season Red Sox series, refusing to grant David Ortiz time-out, among others.  West then let the Sox and Yankees have it in the media for their constant stalling, time-outs and general slow play.

Personally?  I loved it.  The whole pitcher-looks-in-too-long-so-batter-calls-time followed by batter-waits-too-long-to-get-into-the-box-so-pitcher-steps-off-the-rubber dance just kills me.  The game is slowed to a crawl, it sucks.  Just get in the damn batters’ box and stay in there until you strike out or you have to run to first.  The fact that hitters don’t even wait for time to be granted before going into their routines should be punished, and good on Angel Hernandez for doing the right thing.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time for The JaysTalk tonight – but honestly, how many different ways can a caller ask whether Kevin Gregg should still be the closer?  Actually, I’m surprised nobody called to say that tonight’s loss was the end of the Jays’ run this season.  That’s something I definitely expected to hear.  Here it is, for your listening pleasure:

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So the series finale pits Shaun Marcum against David Price.  It’s a tremendous pitching match-up, and by game time Marcum may very well have been named the A.L. Pitcher of the Month for May (5-0, 1.85, 1.051 WHIP).  Each of the five May wins came following a Blue Jays’ loss, and he’ll have to turn the trick again in order for the Jays to win a series they should be looking to sweep.

The live blog had its biggest audience ever tonight, and by plenty!  Late in the game, I couldn’t keep up.  Here’s the transcript from tonight’s “Miked Up LIVE!”  See you there again tomorrow night:

26 Responses to “Debacle”
  1. 1.

    Hey Mike

    The MLB does need to make an attempt to speed up the pace of the game. Why not put in a rule that forces hitters to stay in the batters box provided there are no runners on base?

    - rick
  2. 2.

    My high school baseball coach had a rule that stated if a pitcher walked three batters in an inning he was coming out of the game regardless of the situation. I’m not going to waste my time assailing Kevin Gregg as I think all the words that could be used to describe that meltdown have been used. I’ll say this much, Brian Tallet deserved a hell of a lot better for that effort.

    - Jim
  3. 3.

    as i said tell me again the jays dont need a closer and that the bullpen by committee is ok. gregg almost lost us one game two nights ago by giving up a triple and walk in the bottom of the ninth and now last night but hey according to you they are not in desperate need of one. i guess i am wrong because i think they do.

    - john mageau
  4. 4.

    I predict, that if Cito does not do better, there will be a fan revolt, and management may need to remove him. THis was our game to win, And despite a lot of stupidity, we almost did. One run out.
    I don’t think people are going to tolerate this sort of mistake .If Gregg did not have it, I don’t care who is your bull pen, he has to leave.

    - Barb
  5. 5.

    cito, cito, cito?? tsk tsk tsk. i guess all i can ask is why the rays were acting so jubilant in the dugout? its not like they were hitting the ball all over the park! and i think even you, mr.wilner, must admit that the strike zone in the last two nights has been more than slightly skewed. i seen a lot of batters give some looks at the umps.

    - kevin
  6. 6.

    How tough is that to take! Sorry, I realize Gregg is the guy who is out there and blowing it big time. However, it still comes right back to to the guy handling the team and in game situations. Gregg struggled but Gaston blew it!

    It is so frustrating to watch Cito and his so called loyalty bs. Your hardly being loyal when you leave a guy hanging like he did. What is he trying to prove when he has a nice comfortable lead and out he goes to make pitching changes before the 9th? That he is the guy in charge or what – making changes for the sake of making changes is idiotic?

    I am still too ticked off to even try and understand any of it! I now count 6 games on the season that Gaston has made very poor choices and moreso has shown he is unprepared. All that adds up to not giving his team the best chance to win and in each one of those 6 that I count, the Jays have lost!

    Thanks Mike, at least your still the bright spot on a very dull evening of baseball with telling it like it is. Keep on doing what you do best!

    - Bob (Burlington)
  7. 7.

    Mike,
    Definitely one of your more insightful posts. Great points about the bullpen. I think it’s hard for anyone to argue with that logic.
    Does Cito read your blog? I think he needs to follow your advice a little more often. You always say that the manager’s job is simply to put his players in a position which gives them and the team the best chance of success. (I know that’s not exactly you what you say, but you get the point) Cito clearly didn’t do that last night.

    - Steve
  8. 8.

    How does run support work?Can you give an example using both the home and vistor teams?

    - Angelo
  9. 9.

    As usual, Mike, I agree with your assessments of Cito and the team.
    To me, this is a “see what we’ve got for the future” year, and so, while frustrating at times, they just have to see who is capable of doing the jobs so they know what to look for off-season (or before). A closer will definitely be on that list before they can contend. I won’t give Gregg that much grief — if you look at pre-season expectations for him, he’s way ahead of them. One thing I can’t understand is fan attendance. This is a very exciting team right now, and with a future rotation of Marcum, Romero, Cecil, Drabek, and (fill in the blank), this team will be a contender for years to come. They need the fan support!

    - Jeff Phillips
  10. 10.

    Why can’t John Buck catch the damn ball, and block the plate?
    He’s lollygaggin back there.
    The wild pitch in mid game (I can’t remember the exact situation) but he’s giving bases away to a team doesn’t NEED any help running the bases.

    mark

    - Mark Eisenman
  11. 11.

    I know that Gregg is expected to be the closer but it was painful watching Cito leave him in when he couldn’t buy a strike. After giving up two walks, i think Longoria was the second walk, which isn’t a bad thing considering his clutch abilities; Cito should have bailed him out, at that point anyone coming out of the bullpen would have a good shot at getting 2 outs with the Jays good defence.
    Let’s see if they can win the rubber match tonight.

    - Colin
  12. 12.

    I think that was one of the worst closing proformances i’ve seen in some time. The Rays have ONE HIT yet they score 4 runs. I think we will look back at the end of the season and see this loss as the beginning of the end. I think they loss tonight and loss either 2 or 3 againist the bombers. We’ll be lucky if there still above .500 at the end of June.

    - Matty
  13. 13.

    Agree with posting Mike. Wondering though if “squeezing” by ump Angel Hernandez was not partly at least as a result of the fallout of Hernandez’s decision not to grant time to TB’s Pena and the ejections that ensued.

    Regardless, closers need to own the strike zone, otherwise they are not closers are they?

    - Allan
  14. 14.

    Gregg’s numbers on the second night of back to back appearances:

    6 appearances, 5.1 IP, 7 H, 8 ER, 10 BB, 5 K, 13.50 ERA, 3.19 WHIP, 0-2, 2 SV, 3 BS

    Am I the only one who sees a trend here??? 2 for 5 in save chances and all 3 of his blown saves? The 6th appearance looks like a clean inning but it was the game he came into against Boston with the bases loaded and walked Mike Lowell. The guy clearly loses his command on the second nignt. Can’t Cito just abstain from using him on back to back nights? Either Downs, Camp or Frasor should get the shot on the second night. Is there something fundamentally wrong with letting a guy close but never on back to back situations?

    - Scott
  15. 15.

    Mike,

    I thought about the AKKountant’s performance last night and pretty much agreed with everything you said. The weakest part of Cito’s decision making I felt was to reduce the bullpen to two and let your closer who is definitely struggling (he’s had at least 1 hit in each of his 9 save opportunities) come in the game without an alternate being available. Certainly, after the 3rd walk issued, you gotta slow the game down and bring in someone else. Clearly, Gregg was frustrated with the calls but that needs to be managed by Buck, the pitching coach, and Cito. Absoultely, Gregg lost the game, but Cito just let it happen. Another terribly frustrating decision by Cito to let a game get away.

    - Tim
  16. 16.

    michael,
    mr. gregg is not perhaps or maybe better said, not “the closer” for this club but certainly deserves to be one of them. and based on performance thus far (and with proper rest no doubt) does seem to deserve to be at least 1(a) in the total equation of such.
    and i’m with you on most occasions when it comes to assessing what this mgr. does or doesn’t do day to day managing this team.
    but i think people are being a tad overzealous in their assessment of his job at hand last night.
    to me michael, sensing that this yrs. closer of choice didn’t have it as the multiple walks began to ensue & making the hard decision to yank him is proably fair fodder to dispute. the case can be made no doubt.
    but in fairness to the man, managers that do patch work after a starter goes only 5 or 6 innings & gets to his closer for the ninth (with a 2 run lead in this case) happens so often over the course of a 162 sched.
    now if he uses up the entire pen & only has starters left in the event of extra innings etc… that’s much different.
    but he still had 2 powerful (but young) lefties still available in case of a plan b situation if it arose.
    i don’t know michael. really believe it’s one of those tough ones that just happens to come up when assessing a large sample size of a manager over the course of an entire yr.
    i’m pretty sure of 1 thing. if camp or downs or fraser had blown that save last night while gregg(the apparent closer of the team) was deemed ready to go & available & just sat there watching the debacle, would have hearing about from that side just as much i’m quite sure.
    and needless to say, certainly wouldn’t have heard a peep from a single soul id the recently overworked closer gregg managed to finish it up with the save.
    i know that much.
    tough job that cito g. has it seems……………

    - darrell bishop
  17. 17.

    Hey Mike,

    Just wondering…would it not have been possible for Gregg to have gone to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning had he not been ejected(despite the fact that you mentioned he was not eligible to participate any more- since being yanked). Obviously it wouldn’t be the most likely move in the world to have him at the plate, but Cito’s made less likely decisions before.

    - Anthony L
  18. 18.

    Well speaking of Pena, wouldn’t Tony Pena be a good choice as the Jays next manager? You should ask him that when the Yankees come to town on Friday.

    - tomas
  19. 19.

    This team has lost a lot of games due to its bullpen. Jason Frasor has one reliable pitch (fastball). Scott Downs has one reliable pitch(cutter). Casey Janssen has no stuff. These three need to be moved and replaced through trades or prospects if the Jays are going to hope to contend this year.

    - Will, Oshawa
  20. 20.

    Hey Mike,

    This team needs a closer in the worst way. It’s been a long time since a guy like Duane Ward came through that gate and you knew the game was over. Just a thought and I was wondering what you thought of it but what about training Dustin McGowan to be the closer. It seemed to work with the Red Sox and Pabelpon. He was a guy who had arm issues and finally moved to that role because of the low strain on the arm. Could it work for the Jays as well?

    - Jeff
  21. 21.

    I think now is the time for Cito to once again swallow hard and name a new closer just as he did when Jason Fraser went belly up earlier in the year. Kevin Gregg is clearly in his own head now and struggling to find the zone consistently. I think he’s blown 3 of his last 9 save attempts. This number is unacceptable and I think 3 failed opportunities are enough for now. I do believe that he has the stuff to be an effective closer when he’s going well but during this crucial stretch of games coming up I think it might be time to hand the closer role to wither Scott Downs or Shawn Camp. I would prefer Downs here even though in the past he has said that he doesn’t have any interest in closing games.

    I think the Jays get right back on the horse tonight and start another win streak then move on to the Yankees playing confident baseball.

    - Matt Von Rohrbacher
  22. 22.

    Hey Mike,

    When are the Yankess going to take Vernon Wells contract and give us Jesus Montero ?

    Also, Jays should take a run at Alex Gordon, Chase Headly, Joey Votto or Adrian Gonzales.

    What do you think ?

    - jeff
  23. 23.

    Not that there were high hopes to begin the season, but this team isn’t going anywhere with this bullpen.

    The Rays believed they had a shot this year and went and got a quality reliever in Soriano. The Jays settled for Gregg. Pretty well sums up the mentalities of the two organizations right now.

    - Steve
  24. 24.

    I hate to say it but our bullpen has been fattening up their numbers against the weak sisters in the league. When crunch time comes against the stronger teams they are failing miserably. These guys are not the second coming of Ward and Henke, I hope as fans we realize that and accept it for what it is.This is a team that battles every game and they deserve fan support not ridicule and revolt. Some good points have been made in the article and some comments,maybe more attention does need to be paid to back to back save situations and Cito may be wise to try to save a guy just in case Gregg doesnt have the good stuff that game. All that said Cito will still have to show the same dogged confidence in these guys that he showed with certain position players when they struggled. As fans we are riding a rollercoaster but the players must look at 162 games and the bigger picture to maintain consistency and not get too high or too low. Cito is probably biting his fingernails too but he cannot afford to show any lack of confidence.

    - mickg
  25. 25.

    Mike ya got to understand. Cito is playing all the cards. It is like Little League. Everyone plays. He knows what he is doing. The process is to show the GM and President of the Jays, what are the weaknesses on the field. He’s playing the position players to let them perform. If players do not perform at the MLB level, Anthopolous must do a deal. Relax – the planet is fine.

    - Fran
  26. 26.

    Mike,

    Great piece of objective writing as usual. To think that your management team would punish you for not letting off the skipper for his poor management skills. This is a common problem in today’s corporate environment, where Rogers owns your radio station and the team that you are objectively supposed to cover on a daily basis. Whoever decided to suspend you for a weekend should be removed from their position immediately.

    - Jeremy
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