ATLANTA – As three days of uncharacteristic and relentless sloppiness that have undone a significant chunk of the good the Toronto Blue Jays accomplished last week mounted, their frustrations bubbled over. Kevin Pillar glared and muttered, Jose Bautista stared and flipped, twice the dugouts emptied and Thursday’s series finale with the Atlanta Braves picked up an entirely different dynamic.
An 8-4 loss Wednesday night that was a third straight setback after a five-game win streak wasn’t the only thing for the men in the middle of maelstrom to feel some contrition about.
“It was immature, it was stupid, it was uncalled for,” Pillar said of his exchange with reliever Jason Motte after he waved over a quick pitch for strike three to end the seventh inning. “(Quick pitches) are part of the game, it’s just, I’m a competitive guy and heat of the moment.
“Obviously I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do to reach out and apologize and let him know he didn’t do anything wrong, it was all me,” Pillar added. “Obviously something to learn from, something to move on from. Don’t let it define me, but really I think it was just frustration from coming off a really good homestand and really just not even being in any of these ball games, just coming out flat and not being able to build on what we were able to build (versus) Seattle. That just all came out in that moment.”
Bautista, whose glare at Eric O’Flaherty and subsequent bat flip after an eighth-inning home run angered several Braves players and led to exchanges at first base with Jace Peterson and an attempt to explain things at home with Kurt Suzuki, added: “I understand why they would be upset in that situation and I just told them how I felt.
"Basically just let them know that I wasn’t trying to show up anybody and hopefully it’s in the past.”
Thursday’s finale of a two-and-two interleague set featuring Marcus Stroman versus Julio Teheran will be the arbiter of that, and certainly the Blue Jays will be seeking to leave their sloppy ways behind, as well.
Over the past three days they’ve allowed 10 first-inning runs and 27 in total, made five costly errors, thrown to the wrong base from the outfield twice, hit seven batters, failed to lay down a pivotal sacrifice bunt and committed runner’s interference to negate a likely hit that would have extended a rally.
And that’s without factoring in some substandard pitching into that lengthy roll call of misery, as well as word that Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson will need a few more days than expected before returning from the disabled list.
“We made some mistakes that cost us – if you’re not scoring a ton of runs that’s really magnified,” said manager John Gibbons. “Not real good baseball. I’ve seen those things before but when it all happens at once, a few times in a game, it usually bites you. It’s supposed to bite you.”
Bit them it did as Joe Biagini’s throwing error on a potential double-play ball led to a decisive six-run first that included a bases-loaded walk and a drive down the left-field line off Ezequiel Carrera’s glove that went for a two-run single. In the fifth, Carrera ran into Peterson at third base to keep him from trying to field Justin Smoak’s weak grounder, ending a rally.
Two other errors set the stage for two more Braves runs in the bottom of the sixth and things spilled over from there.
In the seventh, Motte rose up as he came set and immediately threw a pitch to Pillar, which he waved at to end the inning. He muttered something at the mound causing Motte to stop and begin walking to the plate, Suzuki turned to face Pillar as well, and home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora wisely and alertly intervened, separating the sides to quickly calm things down.
“It’s not something that I didn’t know he had, but when it happens it’s frustrating and it is part of the game, we have guys that do it over here,” Pillar said of the quick pitch. “More than anything it’s just a little frustration of how the series has been going and it came out in one play. It’s not a good look for me, it’s not a good look for our team, and it’s something that happens when you’re competitive.”
The next inning, down 8-3, Bautista crushed his sixth of the season off O’Flaherty, leading to another mild dustup as a crowd of 28,293 at SunTrust Park rained down boos.
As he rounded first, Peterson had some words, Bautista paused for a second then kept going, and when he got to home plate, he paused, said something to Suzuki and patted his chest as if to take responsibility.
O’Nora jumped in thinking another confrontation was about to erupt but then calmed down when he realized the tone of the conversation. But that didn’t stop both dugouts from clearing, with Peterson jawing at Bautista again in the middle of the pile.
“I think the benches cleared more out of the lack of understanding at what Kurt and I were talking about,” said Bautista. “It has nothing to do with (frustration) but it was definitely not something that was fitting for the moment. …
“Sometimes our competitive juices come out in the wrong moment.”
O’Flaherty told media in the Braves clubhouse that he didn’t see Bautista glare and flip his bat on the field, but saw it on video later and wasn’t impressed.
“That’s something that’s been making the game tough to watch lately. It’s just turned into 'look at me' stuff, it’s not even about winning anymore,” he said. “Guy wants to hit a home run in a five-run game, pimp it, throw the bat around. It’s frustrating as a pitcher. … He looked at me, tried to make eye contact. It's just tired. We’ve seen it from him enough.”
Later, O’Flaherty added: “I’m surprised he’s ready to fight again after last year. But he just was throwing looks around, so, it’s what it is.”
Things calmed from that point forward, but with seven Braves batters struck before Devon Travis took one off the knee leading off the sixth, there will be no shortage of ill will going both ways in Thursday’s series finale.
“Guys are frustrated,” said Gibbons. “These guys have been taking it to us the last three days. That's all part of it. That's what happens when guys are great competitors. That happens. It's no big deal.”
Perhaps, but the mounting losses are a big deal.
Biagini had a Jekyll-and-Hyde outing, failing to retire any of the first six batters in a 36-pitch first before settling down to set down 12 in a row in his four innings of work.
While a fat 95 m.p.h. middle-middle fastball that Suzuki blasted into left field for a three-run shot that made it 6-0 was a big blow, it was Biagini’s error on a Brandon Phillips comebacker to the mound that started trouble.
The right-hander, making his third career start, threw high to second, pulling Travis off the bag and preventing a potential double-play. He then lost the zone in consecutive walks to Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp before Nick Markakis poked a high fastball down the left field line that just eluded Carrera.
The only pitch left in a terrible spot was the fastball to Suzuki, otherwise the Braves largely did a nice job of going the other way with pitches and capitalizing on the Blue Jays’ miscues.
“If we turn a double-play there, we’re sitting pretty good,” said Gibbons. “What I liked about what he did, he gave us three scoreless after that. He could have folded, he could have really gone sour. We actually made a game of it, we pulled close, but couldn't do anything else.”
A Smoak two-run homer in the fourth cut the early deficit to 6-2 and Luke Maile scored on a wild pitch in the fifth to make it three-run game. But the Blue Jays only found more frustration.
“We were playing really good baseball,” said Pillar. “We swept that series (versus Seattle), we were six out of nine, we were climbing close to .500. We got Aaron Sanchez back, which was a huge boost for us, and we know some other guys are right around the corner. When you get down early in a game and they put a lot of runs across, I don't know, maybe lack of focus, maybe trying to do too much. Trying to hit the six-run home run when all we need to do is score a couple runs and get ourselves right back in the game. We’ll be better. We need to be better.”