Blue Jays fall victim to Jose Quintana once again

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Chicago. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AP)

CHICAGO – Perhaps as much as any other pitcher in recent years, Jose Quintana has been a real pain in the bats for the Toronto Blue Jays, and a shift in leagues from the Chicago White Sox to the cross-town Cubs last month certainly didn’t change that. Consider that under a pristine sky Saturday afternoon, the Colombian with the nasty sinker/cutter mix allowed two earned runs over six tidy innings in a 4-3 win and his career ERA versus his American League East opponents actually rose, from 1.77 to 1.88.

That’s some tough sledding.

“He’s an elite pitcher and he’s got good stuff,” said centre-fielder Kevin Pillar, who lined out on a laser to third and singled off Quintana before adding an RBI single off Hector Rondon later in the game. “Some guys see him well and some guys just don’t pick up the ball off him, and he’s got command of both sides of the plate. When you can do that, it makes it tough.”

Still, Quintana alone wasn’t responsible the Blue Jays’ second straight loss at Wrigley Field, this one before a crowd of 41,558 stocked with a sizable contingent of hosers that was treated to Don Cherry singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. Cleverly, he went neutral with the lyrics and urged fans to root, root, root for “the best team” rather than the “Cubbies.”

Once again the Cubs utilized an array of dinks, gorks and bleeders to complement an Ian Happ solo shot off starter Nick Tepesch and pull out the victory.

In the first inning, after Tepesch loaded the bases with one out and two walks and a hit-by-pitch, Jose Bautista couldn’t come up with a Happ flare to right that opened the scoring.

In the sixth inning, a slow Javier Baez grounder up the middle glanced off Darwin Barney’s glove and deflected into centre field to break a 2-2 tie.

And in the seventh, Anthony Rizzo’s little dunk to right field just eluded Barney’s outstretched glove for a base hit that opened up a 4-2 edge.

“Jam-shot hits are the product of a good swing,” said manager John Gibbons. “You stay on the ball, the bat stays through the zone … it’s always been that way. It’s when you come off the ball that you get the ones that just carry to the outfield or go a little bit deeper. That’s a part of it.”

Much like Friday, the Blue Jays made things interesting in the eighth as Pillar turned around a 99.5-m.p.h. fastball from Rondon for an RBI single to left that made it 4-3, delivering a little fist pump as he reached first base.

But Rondon induced a weak grounder to first against pinch-hitter Kendrys Morales to end the frame, and Wade Davis locked things down in an uneventful ninth. Marco Estrada starts Sunday against Kyle Hendricks trying to prevent the sweep.

“We’ve done a good job as a team to get ourselves back in contention and that was a big at-bat for our team, a big at-bat for me,” Pillar said of the single in the eighth. “I was feeling good where I’m at right now at the plate, it feels good to come up and get a big hit in a big situation in Wrigley Field in front of a sold-out crowd. Sometimes you’ve got to let the emotions out and try to motivate your teammates.”

Tepesch made it through 3.2 innings of dipping and diving around five hits and three walks, surrendering the 2-1 lead Raffy Lopez handed him with a two-run single in the top of the frame by serving up Happ’s 18th homer of the season. He left men on second and third with two out, and Danny Barnes caught Jon Jay looking to end the frame.

“Giving up the home run after we score a couple there, that’s the last thing you want to do right there,” said Tepesch.

Barnes followed with a clean fifth but a leadoff walk to Happ in the sixth cost him when Baez’s weak grounder snuck through.

“I think I probably hung it,” Barnes said of the pitch. “If I get it in the dirt, he maybe swings over it, but that’s how it works out sometimes.”

Quintana, meanwhile, suffocated the Blue Jays offence, allowing the two runs on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts. He’s now 7-3 in 10 starts against them, allowing only 16 runs, 14 earned on 53 hits and 16 walks in 67 innings with 61 strikeouts. Since 2012, he’s nearly a full run better against them than any other pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka a distant second at 2.62.

Just their luck that just after Quintana got traded out of the American League, they find him back on the mound during their first visit to Wrigley Field in 12 years.

Notes: Crew chief Joe West, Andy Fletcher, Hunter Wendelstedt and Ben May all wore white armbands Saturday as part of a wider umpire protest against “escalating verbal attacks,” and their objection to baseball’s “response to the verbal attacks,” their union announced. Gibbons had no objections to their actions. “I like those guys, they work hard, it’s a thankless job, somebody is always tired of you, pissed off at you like that,” he said. “It’s a tight group and they’re a big part of baseball. I’ve got no problem with what they do.”

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