A team generally loses its first game after returning from a long road trip, and I’ll wager the likelihood goes up if there’s no off-day after the travel. That doesn’t make the series-opening loss to the Rays any easier to swallow, though.
Brandon Morrow didn’t seem himself through the first four innings, but he hadn’t allowed a hit, had struck out seven, and had retired 12 of 13 after starting off the game with back-to-back walks. Something wasn’t right, though, as his fastball was hanging out around 88-90, only occasionally hitting 93 and 94. Still, he was certainly getting the job done before Will Rhymes led off the 5th with a double into the left-field corner. An out later, Elliot Johnson scored Rhymes with a single, but he was eliminated on a Ben Zobrist grounder. Morrow followed that with a four-pitch walk to B.J. Upton, then got Matt Joyce to hit a hard ground ball to first. Adam Lind couldn’t corral it, and the ball deflected off his glove to Kelly Johnson, who threw to first – Morrow covered as Joyce dove headfirst for the bag.
Joyce was called safe, and as Morrow stood and argued with first base umpire Bill Miller, Zobrist scored all the way from second. Now, had Morrow come up throwing to the plate as soon as he caught Johnson’s throw, Zobrist might still have been safe anyway, but it sure would have been nice to have seen it.
The floodgates were open, but it’s tough to say that either the error or the disputed call at first rattled Morrow, because he got back on the mound and struck out the next hitter, Carlos Pena. Problem was, strike three bounced up to the plate, and despite good blocking form from the catcher, the ball squirted through J.P. Arencibia towards the Blue Jays’ dugout, allowing Pena to reach to load the bases and continue the inning for Luke Scott, who singled hard to left to score a pair, and Sean Rodriguez, who doubled to right-centre to cash another two.
That was more than enough for the Rays, as the Blue Jays went hitless between Eric Thames’ infield single with two out in the 3rd and Brett Lawrie’s line single to right with none out in the bottom of the 9th. The Blue Jays’ suddenly punchless offense, which has scored in only two of the last 21 innings, and has plated only five runs in the past three games, managed all of four singles on a night in which the starting pitcher was knocked out in the first inning.
Lind, who was back in the clean-up spot partly because of his 13-for-28 career mark against Rays’ starter Jeff Niemann and partly because of Niemann’s splits that had lefties hitting almost 300 points of OPS higher than righties, knocked Niemann out of the game by breaking his leg with a line drive in the first inning. It wasn’t grisly or anything – Niemann picked up the ball, threw Lind out at first and was able to pitch to and retire Edwin Encarnacion to end the inning – but he couldn’t answer the bell for the second and x-rays later revealed the break. He’ll miss most of the rest of the season. Five Rays relievers combined to shut the Blue Jays down on three hits the rest of the way.
At least the Blue Jays’ bullpen pitched well, right? Morrow left after that six-run fifth (though only one run was earned), and Luis Perez, Evan Crawford (called up in the afternoon as Joel Carreno was sent down to AA to get back to starting), Francisco Cordero and Carlos Villanueva combined to throw four innings of three-hitter, striking out seven while only allowing one run – a Zobrist homer off Los Del V leading off the ninth.
Here’s tonight’s edition of The BlueJaysTalk, for your listening pleasure:
The series wraps up Tuesday night with Henderson Alvarez getting the call against Blue Jays-killer David Price. The Rays’ lefty is 10-2 lifetime against the Jays, with a 2.13 ERA and 1.049 WHIP. Earlier this season he struggled against them, but allowed just two runs despite giving up eight hits and walking two in 5 2/3 innings. Jeff Mathis took him deep in a 12-2 Rays win. We’ll be on the air at 7:00PM Eastern as the Blue Jays try to shake themselves out of the doldrums that have seen them lose six of their last nine games – join us, won’t you?
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