ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The umpires didn’t arrive until 40 minutes before first pitch because of a raging brush fire that burned through roughly 16 hectares about 10 kilometres north of Tropicana Field. There were a total of 71 pitches in a first inning Francisco Liriano didn’t make it out of. Rickie Weeks Jr., hit a double that deflected off the roof’s B-Ring and landed near the infield. The game’s 12 pitchers issued a combined 12 walks and only six times did they face the minimum. The whole thing took three hours 53 minutes, all on the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Blue Jays’ inaugural game in 1977.
So yeah, their 10-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night was part test of attrition, part Gong Show, and not only because Liriano came out of it with an ERA of 135.00 and a no-decision. The Blue Jays led 2-0 after their half of the first, trailed 5-2 after the bottom half and 6-2 after the second, rallied to take a 7-6 lead in the sixth, coughed up a three spot in the bottom half, pulled within one in the eighth on Josh Donaldson’s first homer of the season before the Rays added another insurance run and Alex Colome locked things down in the ninth.
"Me and (Jason) Grilli were just talking about this, we saw a lot of things that you don’t normally see in just one game," said Aaron Loup, the last of the Blue Jays relievers, who went two innings and struck out five while allowing a hard-luck run. "It’s a tough one to stay locked in and keep grinding but we fought hard and we gave it a run and ended up falling short."
During that run, Troy Tulowitzki collected both his first hit of the season, a two-run double in the first, and his first homer, a solo drive in the fourth; Jose Bautista picked up his first RBI, on a fly ball in the fifth that Steven Souza Jr., inexplicably dropped on a play credited both an error and a sacrifice; Donaldson added a double and a walk to go with his homer; and Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales worked consecutive bases-loaded walks in the sixth to give the Blue Jays their short-lived 7-6 lead.
"From the get-go, you knew when it started the way it started it was going to be a grind all the way through," said Justin Smoak, who chipped in with an RBI double and a walk. "Our bullpen did a great job keeping us in the game there, and it was one of those days. It’s not easy."
Neither will be dealing with the night’s repercussions, as every Blue Jays reliever but Joe Biagini and Jason Grilli pitched. With Aaron Sanchez due to start Saturday in his first outing since popping a blister nearly two weeks ago in spring training, at least one reliever will be needed to keep the team from being exposed.
"We’re going to need to do something, no doubt," said manager John Gibbons.
Once the Blue Jays fought back, things went sideways immediately in the bottom of the sixth as Ryan Tepera, who followed Dominic Leone’s impressive 2.2 innings of one-run relief with two strong innings of his own, gave up a leadoff single to Tim Beckham.
Howell then went walk, two-run Souza double and walk before Joe Smith took over, and he struck out the side around a bad-luck bloop single over the drawn-in infield by Logan Morrison that made it 9-7.
After Donaldson’s solo shot in the top of the eighth, Loup gave back a run in the bottom half on Derek Norris’ RBI single, all set up by Kevin Kiermaier’s infield single off the lefty’s glove. All three hits off him were by lefties while all five of his strikeouts were versus righties.
"My slider was good today and I got a few guys to swing on heaters up," said Loup. "For whatever reason I could get righties out but couldn’t get a lefty. That’s just part of it."
Liriano lasted only a third of an inning – the second time he’s only gotten one out in a start during his big-league career – throwing only 13 of his 35 pitches for strikes during a spectacularly messy outing.
He was all over the place with his pitches, making for a long Blue Jays debut for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The two had worked well together during the left-hander’s previous two pre-season outings, when Liriano threw a cumulative 8.1 innings, allowing only two runs on four hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts.
Against the Rays, he gave up five runs on three hits – including a long Evan Longoria two-run shot – and four walks.
"I was kind of lost out there," said Liriano. "I tried to do too much and I didn’t make any pitches when I needed to. One of those games where you go out there and you don’t even know what you’re doing."
Asked if his troubles were primarily mechanical, Liriano replied that "it was a little bit of everything," an answer somewhat fitting for a game that featured much of the same.