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:
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: