NEW YORK – The Toronto Blue Jays continue to walk on the wrong side of the fine line between winning and losing, and return home from a dismal 1-6 road trip facing a daunting deficit in the standings.
Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees may have been the most painful of the bunch, wrapping up a trying four-game sweep at the hands of the depleted Bronx Bombers in which they squandered another gutsy effort by the hurting R.A. Dickey on one bad pitch late.
The knuckleballer pushed aside the spasms between his neck and right shoulder for six dominating innings and nursed a 2-1 lead into the seventh when he paid dearly for one errant two-out offering that Lyle Overbay drove some 390 feet to right-centre for a 3-2 Yankees lead.
Just like that, another bad result capped a swing through Baltimore and New York in which all seven games were decided by two runs or less, and the Blue Jays were outscored 30-23.
"I think guys at the plate feel like they've got to press a little bit, I certainly feel like I need to make big pitch after big pitch, and so when you do have some climactic innings, everything's exacerbated a little bit," Dickey said. "It's hard to play like that for a long amount of time, and it'll wear on you. So the thing that we need to understand and we're preaching to each other is you can't win eight games on one night. You've just got to win one, and then you win another one.
"Hopefully we'll get back to being present-moment-minded, and be able to turn a page."
Dickey muttered in disgust after the ball cleared the wall, and then stewed on the mound while home plate umpire Chris Conroy allowed Eduardo Nunez to receive drops in his eyes in the on-deck circle to buy time for set-up man David Robertson to warm up.
Manager John Gibbons came out to argue to no avail, and that things came to that point underlines how badly things keep going for the Blue Jays, especially after it looked like things might start falling their way.
"It was fairly obvious to everybody in our dugout that Joe (Girardi, the Yankees manager) was trying to get (Nunez) to take some extra time so he could get Robertson warmed up in the bullpen," Dickey said. "Just gamesmanship on his part, it's well within the confines of the rules, it's just the umpire needs to have a feel for the game and know what's going on."
The Blue Jays picked up some momentum in the fourth, Edwin Encarnacion's weak roller looked to be headed foul before inexplicably turning fair for a single and, after a Melky Cabrera base hit, he came around on Adam Lind's seeing-eye roller through the infield to tie the game up 1-1.
In the sixth, the Blue Jays forged ahead when Jose Bautista led off with a double, and after strikeouts by Encarnacion and Cabrera plus an intentional walk of Lind, Maicer Izturis sent a ball off the base of the wall in right field for a double to make it 2-1.
Yet with two runners aboard, Henry Blanco couldn't deliver any breathing room for Dickey when he struck out to strand runners at second and third, that caught up with them later, and the Blue Jays dropped to 3-7 in one-run games. They're also 3-4 in two-run affairs.
"We're playing close games, we're just not winning any of them," Gibbons said. "Eventually we will."
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (9-17) lost for the 10th time in 13 outings before a crowd of 36,872 at Yankee Stadium and will soon need a telescope to see the AL East leading Boston Red Sox (18-7), whom they trail by 9.5 games in the standings. Former manager John Farrell's club checks into the Rogers Centre on Tuesday for the start of a three-game series after the Blue Jays get a much-needed break Monday. The Yankees (15-9), meanwhile, won for the fifth time in six outings.
"Ooof, big-time," manager John Gibbons said when asked if the off-day comes at a good time. "Then come right back out with Boston, which is playing as good as anybody baseball right now, so it's doesn't get any easier, that's for sure. But the off-day will do as some good."
BLAME GIBBY?: Predictably, a portion of fan discontentment amid a poor opening to the season for the Blue Jays has turned John Gibbons into a lightning rod. But really, what more can he do?
"You want me to go out there and hit or something? I couldn't hit when I played, how am I going to do it now?" he quipped, before saying of the criticism of him, "That's fair. I've got no problem with that. That's usually always the first target, but I can live with that, I've been in this seat before. … I understand their frustrations. They don't have any more frustration than we've got, I'll tell you that."
DOMINANT DICKEY: Despite the nagging tightness in his neck and shoulder, Dickey allowed three runs on four hits and a walk over seven strong innings. He struck out four and appeared to be in total command, save for the one costly pitch to Lyle Overbay.
A solo shot to Brennan Boesch in the second was Dickey's only other blemish.
"I've been pitching with this thing now for about three weeks and I can do it and still have the results that you saw, but I certainly feel like I'm capable of more when I'm healthy," Dickey said. "We'll take it start-by-start and day-by-day and you only really have two options, you can pout about it or try to grind it out and I'm certainly going to try to grind it out."
The lingering spasms has led to some debate over whether Dickey should skip a start to eliminate the issue, but GM Alex Anthopoulos said before the game that at this point that isn't thought to be necessary.
"It's the equivalent of having a scab and obviously every time you pitch you continue to pick at it," said Anthopoulos. "It is actually gradually getting better, it's just taking a little more time. Obviously if he could take two weeks off or something I would assume it would be completely gone. Pretty much we've allowed him to tell us. It is getting better, slowly but surely, and they do believe, our training staff, that it's going to resolve itself at some point. … With the off day he'll be able to get moved back a day, even one more day will help. And he does feel a lot better so we're not concerned."
Dickey is tentatively slated for an MRI in the coming days to try and better target the treatment he's receiving to a specific area, but doesn't think skipping a start is needed.
"You certainly get to a place where you think you've turned the corner and then it's time to take the ball and you have to break it down again in order to compete," Dickey said. "If I'm able to do that over and over again, it's certainly not what you hoped for, but we're in a situation now … there are times to grind it out and there are times to take a break. Right now I feel like it's time to grind it out."
GO GET IT: The oft-maligned Blue Jays defence enjoyed a fine day in the field, with a couple of terrific plays standing out.
In the fourth inning, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki chased down a Travis Hafner down the left-field line and made a running grab with his back to the ball before tumbling to the ground.
Not to be outdone, Henry Blanco in the sixth tracked Robinson Cano's popper behind the plate to the stands, reached a row in and snared the ball around some fans for the out.
TRAINER'S ROOM: Reliever Sergio Santos (sore triceps) is playing catch at 90 feet although a return to the Blue Jays isn't enough. The next step is for him to progress to a bullpen and "as long as he doesn't have any setbacks we expect to get him back as soon as we get him into a game and maybe get him a back-to-back appearance," said GM Alex Anthopoulos. That's likely to be at least a couple of weeks, a process lengthened by the injection of dye during his MRI, which requires five or six days of inactivity afterwards. … Shortstop Jose Reyes' left ankle is out of a cast and into a walking book, and he can start walking more regularly once it's removed in roughly 10 days. As for when he returns, Reyes is aiming for June although the Blue Jays will proceed with more caution. "We told him three months and he told me, 'I'm going to be back in two,'" Anthopoulos said. "I said, 'Look, if you can be back in two without taking any chances, great.' But we're not going to take any chances." … Josh Johnson (triceps tightness) didn't play catch Sunday but may Monday, with the aim of having him start Friday or Saturday.