ATLANTA – Sometimes baseball players get away with their mistakes, the way Lourdes Gurriel Jr., did Tuesday night, when he misread the trajectory of a Randal Grichuk single, broke late and failed to score the go-ahead run. When Russell Martin, the next batter, drove him in and the Toronto Blue Jays eventually won, the untimely hesitation ended up being no biggie.
Other times, the wrong decision can sabotage an inning, an outing or an entire game, the way Justin Smoak’s unsuccessful attempt to get an out at home on Mike Foltynewicz’s squeeze attempt opened the floodgates to a six-run second the Atlanta Braves rode to a 9-5 win Wednesday.
The bunt was part of a messy and unfortunate sequence of events for the Blue Jays that prevented Sam Gaviglio from getting out of the second inning in his shortest outing of the year. Relievers Jake Petricka, Tim Mayza, Luis Santos, John Axford, Aaron Loup and Joe Biagini covered the remaining 6.1 frames, leaving the bullpen a hangover it will need J.A. Happ to cure with a long outing Thursday in Boston.
That’s a less than an ideal situation with Marco Estrada still questionable to start Saturday despite throwing a side Wednesday. A bullpen day was one option under consideration if he indeed can’t go this weekend.
Things sure can get messy in a hurry.
“I feel like different things happen when you play in the National League and it’s something we’re not used to doing a lot of,” Smoak said of the unusual second. “It’s the fundamentals of the game and we know how to do that, but at the same time, not that it snuck up on us, but it’s one of those things where I tried to make a play right there and looking back at it, I probably should have just taken the out (at first base).”
The origins of the Blue Jays’ disaster inning trace back to the Braves starting Johan Camargo at first with the count full on Dansby Swanson, who fought back from an 0-2 hole against Gaviglio and fouled off four pitches before rolling over a sinker to shortstop.
But because Camargo was going, a tailor-made double-play ball rolled through to the right of Aledmys Diaz, who had charged left to cover second base. Which infielder takes the throw at second depends on who’s up and how he’s being pitched and what his swing looks like.
“We didn’t have the good coverage when that guy was in motion – Swanson was pulling everything, we covered with the shortstop and he pulled it through,” said manager John Gibbons. “That opened up a lot of things, too.”
So instead of the inning being over with the pitcher’s spot leading off the third, Foltynewicz came up with men on the corners and one out, promptly got ahead 2-0 and after fouling off a changeup, he bunted a sinker up the first-base line.
Smoak charged the ball and with the big man’s momentum lumbering toward the plate, scooped the ball home in the hopes of getting Camargo rather than conceding the run and taking the sure out at first. The ball arrived late, the run scored and Luke Maile exacerbated matters by trying for an out at first and firing the ball way over the head of Gurriel, covering at the bag.
“If my thought process is just getting an out, then it’s not a hard play,” said Smoak. “But my thought process was he hit it hard enough and I felt like maybe I had a chance at the plate. I took a chance and it didn’t work out.”
The inning unravelled on Gaviglio from there, as Ender Inciarte followed with a run-scoring double, Ozzie Albies hit a sacrifice fly, Freddie Freeman ripped an RBI single, Nick Markakis followed with an RBI double to left that Teoscar Hernandez played tentatively and Tyler Flowers capped the rally with an RBI single.
That was the merciful end for Gaviglio, who allowed six runs on six hits with a strikeout, and was by no means sharp, but certainly not as dreadful as his pitching line might suggest.
“The pitch execution just wasn’t there,” said Gaviglio. “I need to do a better job of making my pitches and helping the team win.”
Said Gibbons: “We’re not used to seeing a lot of bunting in the American League. You take that out at first base, who knows what happens?”
Still, the damage was such that by the time the Blue Jays broke through against Foltynewicz in the seventh inning, the deficit was too big for them to overcome.
After Albies extended Atlanta’s lead to 7-0 in the sixth with a really, really long homer off Luis Santos, Smoak turned on a 96.6 m.p.h. fastball and sent it into the second-deck bar in right field. He now has five homers in his last 11 games and 17 of his last 23 hits have gone for extra bases.
“I feel like I’ve been a little more aggressive, being ready to hit more,” said Smoak. “At times, when I wasn’t feeling great, I was waiting to see the pitch to react instead of being ready. That’s how you get out of sync, how you get out of whack, you get in between, you feel like your swing is off and you’re not in a good position to hit. I’m trying to be more aware of that.”
After Hernandez and Grichuk struck out, Gurriel and Diaz singled before Maile hit a little roller that Swanson couldn’t field cleanly for a base hit.
Devon Travis, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, then hammered the third straight slider Foltynewicz offered up over the wall to make it a 7-5 game, and spoil what had been a dominant outing for the righty.
The momentum didn’t last long, as in the eighth Danny Santana greeted Loup with a double and Albies took him deep for homers from both sides of the plate and a 9-5 lead, the early mistakes proving too much for the Blue Jays to overcome.