ST. LOUIS – A doubleheader sweep by the St. Louis Cardinals marked a bitter end to a 3-4 road trip for the Toronto Blue Jays, who headed home with more frustration and fresh concerns about the state of closer Roberto Osuna.
Buried by a messy first inning and a deficit that eventually grew to six runs, the Blue Jays fell 6-4 in the nightcap after blowing a late four-run lead during an 8-4 loss in 11 innings. That erased the good vibes from Tuesday’s 6-5 win in 11 innings, with Osuna’s third blown save in four chances flipping the switch.
“It could have been a good day,” lamented manager John Gibbons. “It didn’t finish too good.”
Not even close, as the Blue Jays were poised to win consecutive games and clinch a series victory for the first time this year when Osuna came on in the ninth with a 4-2 lead in the opener. But he surrendered a leadoff double to Yadier Molina and recovered to get Jose Martinez and Kolten Wong before Randal Grichuk turned on a 94-m.p.h. fastball and sent it over the wall in centre to knot things up.
He’s now allowed a run in each of his last three appearances and four of his six overall, a shock to the system for someone near automatic the past two seasons.
“I don’t know, man. I feel good every time I go out there,” said Osuna, dismissing the neck injury he endured during the spring as a possible explanation. “It’s tough with everything happening after two outs. One pitch for some reason. And it’s hard to figure out. I don’t think I’m doing anything different or something is wrong with me. I feel great. I can’t understand it.”
While Osuna had a noticeable dip in his velocity during spring training, his stuff has mostly been there since the season started. His average fastball velocity was 94.6 m.p.h. before Thursday’s outing, down a tick from last year’s 95.8 m.p.h., but that shouldn’t, in theory, be making such a dramatic difference.
His heater ranged from 93.4 m.p.h. to 95.7 against the Cardinals.
“There’s always concern, but he’s still got plenty on the ball,” Gibbons said. “They’re capitalizing on him, which is very unusual. We’ve got to figure it out.”
The Cardinals won it in the 11th. Wong led off with a triple into the right-field corner off Ryan Tepera, Grichuk and Dexter Fowler were walked intentionally. After Aledmys Diaz flew out to shallow left, J.P. Howell came on.
Howell didn’t get the call on a close 2-2 pitch, and Matt Carpenter took him deep over the wall in right, laying waste to unexpected contributions from Mat Latos and Ryan Goins. Latos threw six shutout innings to outduel Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez, while Goins had a key two-run single. Russell Martin ripped a solo shot in the second inning to open the scoring while Justin Smoak added a sacrifice fly in the seventh before the Cardinals rallied.
The Blue Jays sought to return the favour in the second game, as a four spot in the fifth inning off Adam Wainwright on Kevin Pillar’s RBI single and a three-run homer by Kendrys Morales gave them a chance. But they managed just one hit from that point on, with Trevor Rosenthal closing things out in a 12-pitch ninth. Eight of his pitches were at 98.4 m.p.h. or higher, four over 100.
At 6-16, the Blue Jays are now a season-high 10 games under .500 as they prepare for a three-game series at home versus the arch-nemesis Tampa Bay Rays starting Friday night. Plagued by mental and physical errors along with the ongoing absences of key regulars Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays at least saw signs of revival from Martin, Jose Bautista, Devon Travis and Steve Pearce on the trip, although much room to correct remains.
“We expect that and we truly believe that will happen,” said Bautista, who reached base four times in the opener and came on in the seventh inning of the second game to play two innings at third base for the first time since 2013. “Obviously, it’s too early to be talking about it – we have to wait until the end to see – but the challenge right now is that when we have situations, just execute. We need to focus on that.”
The Blue Jays didn’t execute behind Lawrence early on. After Lawrence surrendered back-to-back singles to open the first, Darwin Barney couldn’t cleanly field a Matt Carpenter double-play ball, settling for one out as the first run came home. Greg Garcia then stole third but the play went unchallenged when a few replays suggested he might have been out. He promptly scored on a Stephen Piscotty sac fly and another run came home later in the inning on a Matt Adams RBI double.
The Cards then tacked on a run in each of the next three innings and the hole was too big for the Blue Jays to rally from. Lawrence at least managed to get through five innings, sparing a bullpen spent from the afternoon.
“Probably about the only positive is grinding away through five,” said Lawrence, who allowed 10 hits and three walks. “Other than that, I’m pretty disappointed with it. Reflect on it here the next couple of hours and move on.”
Earlier, Latos provided a short-lived lift for his team, allowing only three hits and four walks, one of them intentional, while striking out four. In contrast to his first outing covering for the injured J.A. Happ, the contact against him this time was nowhere near as hard. He was in the zone far more often, too, quickly equalizing what looked like a sizable mismatch versus Martinez.
“I’m able to eat five or six innings,” he replied when asked what he thinks he’s showed so far. “Today was a better day than my last outing. I felt real good going into the sixth inning. I’m just trying to fill in a hole right now for a couple guys that are hurt and just make the most of it and the best of it I can.”
Martin was the first to get at the bee-bee throwing Martinez, pummelling a 95.8 m.p.h. four-seamer over the wall in right-centre for a 1-0 lead. Latos held it there until the sixth, when walks by Jose Bautista, Martin and Devon Travis brought up Goins, who funnelled a first-pitch changeup up the middle to cash in a pair.
“I was throwing the ball down in the zone and hitting my spots more than my last outing,” Latos said. “Last outing, I’ve done it a time or two, but you still get nervous, you still get that anxiety when you compete and whatnot, so being more comfortable and making more pitches.”
The Blue Jays could have really opened it up in the seventh against lefty Tyler Lyons when they loaded the bases with none out, but he limited the damage to Smoak’s sacrifice.
The Cardinals pecked away from there, getting a two-out RBI single by Grichuk off Joe Biagini in the seventh (the outfielder then gifted the final out by senselessly getting thrown at second) and a run-scoring single by Carpenter off Joe Smith in the eighth, setting the stage for the fateful ninth.
“Today was probably the best day, I felt great out there. I felt aggressive with my pitches. I tried to locate my fast ball a little better and that’s what I did. I missed one pitch right in the middle and he hit a homer,” said Osuna, adding later: “I don’t have words right now.”
He’s not the only one.