NEW YORK – R.A. Dickey didn’t have the best of afternoons, giving up five runs in four innings of work, the dagger a two-out, two-run double from rookie Tyler Austin in the fourth that opened a four-run advantage for the New York Yankees.
But pinning Monday’s 5-3 loss solely on the knuckleballer unfairly absolves a hot-and-cold Toronto Blue Jays offence that generated plenty of opportunities but too often failed to capitalize on them. A 2-for-9 day with runners in scoring position doesn’t win too many games, and really the bats could do the starters a solid every once in a while by giving them some breathing room.
"You look at our style of offence, that’s part of it," manager John Gibbons said before the game of the lulls his offence has experienced regularly this year. "We’re going to strike out, we’ve got guys that hit home runs, they go through those more than the other guys and really, these guys are what they are, whether you like it or not, that’s the kind of hitters they are. Sometimes you’ve just got to ride it out, take the good with the bad because eventually that will change, we’ve seen that before."
The Blue Jays (77-60) began the day atop the American League East by a game up on the Boston Red Sox, who were in San Diego, while the Baltimore Orioles (75-62) pulled within two games by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3. The Yankees, at 71-65, are hanging around at 5.5 games back.
Approach-wise, there was little to dislike with what the Blue Jays did at the plate Monday, but an inability to execute in a few key spots hurt.
The first inning offered a prime example, as Devon Travis led off with a double, Jose Bautista singled him home to open the scoring, Josh Donaldson hit a laser fly ball to centre field caught for an out, and Edwin Encarnacion then singled to put men on the corners.
Up came Michael Saunders with a runner on third and less than two out, but he couldn’t bring the run home, grounding weakly to first. Only Bautista’s break home to draw a throw prevented a double play. Kevin Pillar then grounded out as Masahiro Tanaka did a great job of damage control.
One run is better than none but against Tanaka – who in 10 career starts versus the Blue Jays has allowed more than two earned runs only once – they needed to do better there.
"That’s always big for a pitcher," said Gibbons. "Then he held us in check for the most part."
Dickey then compounded things by surrendering a two-run homer to Jacoby Ellsbury on his third pitch of the game, and the Blue Jays didn’t lead again.
Austin doubled in the third and scored on Ellsbury’s RBI single, while the first baseman cashed in a single and a walk in the fourth with a smash off the left-centre field wall for a 5-1 edge. Dickey allowed seven hits and a walk with five strikeouts.
"Sometimes this game’s a matter of centimetres," said Dickey. "One that gets off the barrel doesn’t get off the barrel, and it’s popped out to right field. Or an infield single or a single the other way that’s a pretty good one. It’s just been frustrating, but I’ve got to keep pushing forward. I’ve got a lot to offer still and four more starts to do it."
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, stranded Melvin Upton Jr.’s leadoff double in the second, left a pair on in the third and had Bautista thrown out trying to go first-to-third on a two-out Encarnacion single in the fifth.
They eventually broke through in the seventh when Encarnacion pushed a two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded to right field. But Tommy Layne, the fourth Yankees pitcher of the inning, got pinch-hitter Russell Martin on a flare to right field that second baseman Starlin Castro chased down for the third out.
"I’ve got to make adjustments, with men in scoring position they’ve been pitching me a lot away," said Encarnacion. "I just tried to put it in play the other way."
Tyler Clippard and Dellin Bentances, handling the ninth for his ninth save, closed things out from there.
Since Aug. 31, the Blue Jays have been held to four runs or less in 18 of their 32 games, which has coincided with a bit of a rough patch for the starting staff. They’ve had some big outbursts – they dropped 32 runs on the Minnesota Twins two weekends ago – but haven’t had the sustained production to be expected from their lineup.
"That’s how this game is sometimes," said Encarnacion. "We understand this game, we have a lot of time in this game, we have to keep going and don’t worry about what it’s in the past. We’ve got to focus on tomorrow’s game and the next three weeks."
Worth keeping in mind is that the Blue Jays started the day tied for second in the American League with 666 runs, which is pretty good. But unlike last season, when they led the majors by a wide margin with 891 runs, there have been more stops and starts.
"If you have a bunch of contact guys in your lineup, I guess you’d call them pure hitters, high-average hitters, that’s different, you’re probably not going to see those lulls quite as often," Gibbons noted before the game, "but you may not see as many runs, either."
The Blue Jays are built to be a big-blow offence. They’ve got 25 games left to start delivering them more often.