TORONTO – Starting a slumping hitter against Chris Sale to get him going is pretty counterintuitive, yet there was Randal Grichuk out in right field Thursday night, looking to use a date against one of baseball’s best starters as a catalyst out of his funk.
There was some method to manager John Gibbons’ madness, as back on June 30, 2015, while the spindly-limbed lefty was still with the Chicago White Sox, Grichuk enjoyed a 3-for-4 day with a home run against him, and maybe, the thinking went, it might happen again.
Well, it didn’t for Grichuk, who went hitless in three at-bats against Sale, 0-for-4 overall and is now mired in an 0-for-17 slide. But two of his teammates, on the other hand, did find some life against the Boston Red Sox ace, with Justin Smoak and Devon Travis each taking him deep.
The Toronto Blue Jays managed to put up three runs in all against Sale, but it wasn’t enough as Marco Estrada surrendered a three-run shot in the fifth to J.D. Martinez that proved to be the difference in a 5-4 loss before a crowd of 23,571.
Martinez’s drive spoiled what had been a decent night to that point for Estrada, who has now given up 14 earned runs in 14 innings over his last three starts. He couldn’t hold leads of 2-0 and 3-1 against the Red Sox (19-5) as the Blue Jays (14-10) ended up losing their series with the American League East leaders and finishing a seven-game stretch against Boston and the New York Yankees at 2-5.
Three of the losses by one run.
“We battled,” said Gibbons. “Those games are tough and if you’re going to do anything, you’ve got to beat the top teams. I think we can do that, we’ve just got to tighten some things up. Really, get our starting rotation on a roll. We’re killing our ‘pen right now, that’s for sure. That can’t hold up. Maybe take a cheap single sometime up the middle or the other way every now and then, too.”
Estrada allowed five runs on eight hits and a walk in five innings, but had the game under control until the fifth, when after two quick outs Andrew Benintendi turned around an up-and-in fastball for a base hit, Hanley Ramirez blooped a change-up to right to put two on for Martinez, who lined a middle-up fastball over the wall in right.
The quick-strike sequence left Estrada frustrated and feeling the burden of the loss.
“The first hit, I threw the ball in just where I wanted it, he put a good swing on it. Hanley’s hit, I couldn’t have thrown it any better and he blooped it over and unfortunately the very next pitch, I tried to go up in,” said Estrada. “I got it up where I wanted it, just not in enough.
“It’s unfortunate. It could have been a good night. Everybody played really well. It sucks I let it get away from us.”
Travis’ homer was his first of the season and he added a triple in the seventh inning off Carson Smith before scoring on a Kendrys Morales groundout to pull the Blue Jays within one at 5-4, with his two extra-base hits in the game doubling his season total.
He began the night with only seven hits in 59 plate appearances, so the breakout for him was substantial.
“Today was a more comfortable day for me at the plate,” said Travis. “I look forward to more of these days. … When you’re going through a little bit of a hard time, you try everything, from your feet to your hips to your hands. Tough game. Just got to keep going.”
Smoak had been similarly cold, trapped in a 5-for-41 rut with 10 walks over his previous 11 games, and hadn’t gone deep since a pair of homers against the Yankees on April 1. The all-star first baseman also followed a Teoscar Hernandez walk with a bloop single in the first inning, setting the stage for Kevin Pillar’s sacrifice fly on a pitch nearly at eye-level.
The Blue Jays squandered an opportunity in the eighth after Pillar and pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson worked one-out walks off Matt Barnes, bringing Grichuk to the plate. He ended hitting a chopper to shortstop and Tzu-Wei Lin’s throw to first appeared to just pull Mitch Moreland’s foot off the bag.