TORONTO – Between Russell Martin’s stiff neck, Josh Donaldson’s beat up legs and Michael Saunders’ sore hamstring, not to mention the usual assorted maladies that accumulate during a baseball season, the Toronto Blue Jays are at minimum bruised, if not battered at the moment. And that was before a train-wreck seventh inning in Monday’s 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox added to the pain, as Dioner Navarro’s comebacker clipped Marcus Stroman around the left elbow and a comfortable win proceeded to derail suddenly, gruesomely.
In the aftermath of yet another gut-punch loss after a pair of steadying victories against the Oakland Athletics, loomed dates with Chris Sale on Tuesday and Jose Quintana on Wednesday. Even under ideal circumstances for dominant lineups, facing the left-handers is tough sledding, and the task will be all the tougher if Martin needs more time to fight off his neck issue and the lineup is understaffed.
“It definitely would have been a nice three-game win streak if we win, and it looked like it was heading in that direction and then things fell apart,” said Troy Tulowitzki, who gave the Blue Jays another bizarre ending to a game when he got struck by Michael Saunders’ infield chopper as he charged to second for the final out. “It was definitely a tough loss. We gain some momentum, then we lose some and that’s why we’re pretty much playing .500 baseball.”
At least one extra body will be available Tuesday as the Blue Jays are expected to call up Matt Dominguez from triple-A Buffalo to replace Drew Hutchison, the Sunday spot starter who couldn’t be sent down Monday because as a three-plus service time player he had yet to clear optional waivers.
But the Blue Jays as a whole will need to be a crisper outfit than the one that squandered a 5-1 lead with seven outs to go, leading Stroman to throw a tantrum in the dugout after everything unravelled.
“I don’t think at all,” the right-hander replied when asked if his outburst was directed at Brett Cecil, who followed Stroman but couldn’t escape the seventh. “I think if you ask my teammates, they know the type of character I am, that resonates with every single individual in this clubhouse, in no sense have I ever tried to (show) my teammate up in any sense. It’s the frustration in the fact that I felt like I didn’t do my job in the end of that inning. I put my team in position to win when I went back out there for the seventh, and I was frustrated, I’ve always been an emotional guy, that’s how I am and that’s how I’ll continue to be.”
Stroman pitched better than his pitching line – four runs on six hits and two walks over 6.2 innings – but the White Sox, leading the American League at 16-6, rallied in the seventh with men on first and second and Navarro up. The former Blue Jays catcher’s comebacker caught him on the left elbow as he instinctively spun and swiped at the ball, sending it up high in the air, and Ryan Goins made a pretty play for the out at first since Navarro still runs like a Molina.
Had he left the ball alone, though, things might have turned out differently.
“I was right there, we had the shift on, I was right behind him, it would have been a double play,” said Tulowitzki. “But sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, you don’t get any breaks and tonight that was a perfect example.”
Stroman insisted he was fine to stay in the game but a four-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Austin Jackson suggested otherwise, and manager John Gibbons turned to Cecil with the bases loaded and Adam Eaton due. The right move at the right time went wrong when Eaton snuck a dribbler up the middle just past a diving Tulowitzki to score two. Jimmy Rollins followed with another RBI single, Cecil didn’t get the call on a check-swing appeal before walking Jose Abreu and then Gavin Floyd came and served up a two-run double to Todd Frazier that put the White Sox up 6-5.
It was the kind of inning that makes people want to chuck stuff.
“I had Cecil up but I wasn’t in a hurry to take (Stroman) out,” Gibbons said of bringing in his lefty. “But when he gets hit and he’s not even close to the plate, you go, ‘OK, maybe something’s there,’ and it was really set up for Cecil to do his thing. …
“We’re going to need him, let’s be honest,” Gibbons added later. “We’ve got to get him to get sharp, he needs to find it. With two strikes he wasn’t able to bury it, that’s what he does normally, it just kind of sat there for Eaton.”
The Blue Jays basically went silent after a three-run third that featured an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single and two-run Saunders homer that made it a 5-1 game, eventually putting two on in the ninth against closer David Robertson before Saunders’ high chopper skidded right into Tulowitzki.
“Tough play, I’ve got to get to second base there, so I’m trying to time it perfect, the ball kicked back at me a little bit, hit me in my arm,” said Tulowitzki. “You sit there pretty frustrated, you don’t want a game to ever end that way. But at the same time, I know I did everything I possibly could to try and make that play work, it just didn’t happen.”
After Stroman surrendered a run in the first on Abreu’s RBI groundout, the Blue Jays responded against Miguel Gonzalez in the bottom half, as Donaldson hammered a ball off the top of the right field wall for a double, Jose Bautista walked and Encarnacion brought them home with another double.
Both doubles missed leaving by a combined 15 centimetres, maybe less.
A key moment came in the fourth when Miguel Gonzalez – who came into the day 7-3 with a 2.61 ERA over 76 lifetime innings in 14 games versus the Blue Jays – faced Encarnacion with the bases loaded and two out. Encarnacion pounced on the first pitch and sent a drive to deep centre that Jackson chased down on the track for the final out.
The drive might have broken the game open, even though at the time, things already looked to be in hand. Ultimately they weren’t, leaving the Blue Jays to lick old wounds, as well as some new ones.