NEW YORK – John Gibbons extended his ejection streak to two games Thursday, but his team couldn’t match that run in wins on another night of frustration for the Toronto Blue Jays.
A 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees stymied any potential momentum from an invigorating 6-5, 11-inning win in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, and once again highlighted the struggling club’s vulnerabilities.
The decisive blow in this one came during the third inning on a two-out, three-run blast by Robinson Cano off Mark Buehrle, preceded by two challenging but playable grounders that shortstop Munenori Kawasaki and second baseman Maicer Izturis couldn’t turn into outs.
Kawasaki fielded Jayson Nix’s chopper in the hole but didn’t have enough arm to record the out, while Izturis couldn’t get a glove on Brett Gardner’s awkward chopper. Cano then crushed a 3-1 fastball deep into the pretty dusk sky for a 4-3 Yankees lead.
“This game is going to frustrate you at times because you make pitches and they get hits,” said Buehrle. “Right before that two infield hits and then a home run. That right there changes the game. We come out quick and score three runs … any time guys are on base and you give up a two- or three-run (homer) or a grand slam, that’s what kills us, and takes us the wind out of us.
“I wanted to throw a strike in, four-seamer in,” added Buehrle. “If I throw it further in he swings and misses it or takes it for ball four and a guy hitting .800 off me (Vernon Wells, 23-for-47 versus the lefty with four doubles and three homers coming in) comes up next. It’s frustrating that he hit a home run, but I’m not going to look back and sit there and be pissed off I threw that pitch. It happened, it’s part of the game.”
Coming on the heels of catcher J.P. Arencibia’s comment that the Blue Jays as a whole needed to clean up their game, the failure to make plays underlined the club’s middle infield issues, exacerbated by Jose Reyes’ absence.
HEAVE HO II: Controversy struck the Blue Jays for the second straight day, leading to the 22nd career ejection for manager John Gibbons.
With a runner on in the seventh inning, Ben Francisco’s weak chopper to third was barehanded by Brett Lawrie and fired across the diamond to first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who scooped the ball against the ground.
First base umpire Chad Fairchild called him out, but the umpires gathered to discuss the play, and crew chief Jeff Kellogg, who was at second base, reversed the play after the conference. Encarnacion immediately threw his glove up and out came Gibbons, who gave it to Kellogg before getting heaved.
“We saw the ball on the ground, where the ground was assisting the ball staying in the glove while the runner went over the base, and it was after the fact that he pulled it up,” Kellogg told a pool reporter. “You’ve got to have secure possession in the glove or the hand. That ball is resting on the ground with the glove wrapped around the top of the ball.”
Encarnacion disagreed — “I was sure I had the ball. I don’t see why they think I bobbled the play,” he said – as did Gibbons, who said, “I didn’t see a bobble.”
“My big concern was there was no appeal by the other side, and I thought the rules say on an appeal by the other side, the umpire making the call can check,” continued Gibbons. “That’s my interpretation of the rule. Luckily nobody scored. That’s a good umpiring crew, but when I saw (them rule) bobble, I just didn’t see a bobble.”
Countered Kellogg: “Our thought process is we’re going to try to get the plays right. That was it.”
So who’s right?
Rule 9.02(c) states: “If a decision is appealed, the umpire making the decision may ask another umpire for information before making a final decision. No umpire shall criticize, seek to reverse or interfere with another umpire’s decision unless asked to do so by the umpire making it.”
The wording seems to provide enough leeway for both to be right, as long as Fairchild and not Kellogg initiated the discussion.
Kellogg looked to have called for the conference, and when asked if he thought the ball was trapped right away, he replied, “My sense the ball was resting on the ground and his glove was around the top of the ball.”
Asked who made the call, Kellogg replied: “It’s not necessarily one person’s call, we get together as a crew, we talked about it as a crew and made sure everyone else saw the same thing. That’s when we decided we were going to change the call. If we see something that we think is incorrect, we get together, talk about it, make sure everybody else has the same thing, and then we go from there. Which is what we did.”
Ultimately the call didn’t affect the game’s outcome, as Brett Cecil came on and escaped the two-on, one-out jam with no damage.
Gibbons was thrown out protecting Lawrie on Wednesday after a sketchy called third strike in the ninth inning. The Blue Jays recovered to win that one, but not this time, as Mariano Rivera closed them out.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (9-14) dropped back down to a season-high five games under .500 before a Yankee Stadium crowd of 31,445. The Yankees (12-9), meanwhile, won for just the second time in five games on the day shortstop Derek Jeter, out at least until after the all-star break with a fracture in the ankle he broke during the ALCS, rejoined them.
While Jeter expects to be back this season – “When you have doubt, that’s when you’re in trouble,” he said – Yankees GM Brian Cashman made it clear the expectations for his team haven’t changed. “We’re not where we want to be,” he said. “We want to be in first place.”
DREAM START FOR NAUGHT: The Blue Jays opened the scoring for just the seventh time this season, getting a two-run blast by Edwin Encarnacion in the first, but fell to 5-2 when they draw first blood.
Brett Lawrie added a solo shot leading off the second, an opposite field drive for his first homer of the year, to open up a 3-0 lead that didn’t last long.
“We tried to do the best we can do, sometimes it doesn’t work,” said Encarnacion. “We have to just keep focused and focused on the next game, try to do the best we can do. We have to keep our heads up and keep focused.”
Vernon Wells homered against the Blue Jays for the third time this year in the bottom of the frame before Cano’s game-changer, while Francisco Cervelli added an insurance solo drive in the fourth.
“Vern’s a good player, always has been,” said John Gibbons. “He’s got a new life going over there. You know he’s motivated. There’s something about playing in Yankee Stadium for the Yankees. This place brings out the best in people.”
RICKY’S RETURN: After about a month of work on his refined mechanics in side sessions and simulated games, Ricky Romero will pitch in a real game for the first time his demotion to single-A Dunedin on Saturday against Brevard County.
Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said Thursday all the reports on Romero have been very solid and that the left-hander feels good about his progress.
Romero was demoted to Dunedin on March 26 after an erratic performance in his final Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
DRAFT WATCH: The Blue Jays will be keeping an eye on the NFL draft this week to see what happens with prospect Luke Willson, the Rice tight end they added to the system two years ago in case football doesn’t work out for the native of Lasalle, Ont.
The 6-6, 250-pound Willson played behind Brett Lawrie on the Canadian national junior team in 2008 but the third baseman but doesn’t “remember a whole lot about him because he didn’t play every single game, but the physicality was there.”
“He hit behind me,” said Lawrie. “He needed to still work on his game baseball-wise. The athleticism was there, he was a big guy, didn’t have to do a whole lot to hit the ball out of the yard, but that was when we were 18, so it was kind of hard to see him as a baseball player because I knew he wanted to play football. It was hard, are you going to be all-in on this or all-in on this and he chose football.
“He had some tools in baseball, he was probably going to be a first baseman, didn’t have a cannon, but he had the physicality.”
LIND ON LEAVE: Adam Lind, who left the Blue Jays on Wednesday after his wife went into labour, was placed on paternity leave Thursday with right-hander Brad Lincoln recalled from triple-A Buffalo to cover him.
Under baseball rules, leaves can last 24-72 hours, and Lind is expected back for Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees.
Lincoln, acquired from Pittsburgh for Travis Snider last July, was expected to be part of the back-end of the Blue Jays bullpen, but they decided to stretch him out during spring, he suffered shoulder soreness, and ended up with the Bisons.
“So far, so good,” said Lincoln. “I’ve been able to bounce back after each outing a little bit quicker every time. It’s pretty much back to normal now, I’ve been throwing the ball pretty well down there and feeling good.”
SHORT HOPS: Reliever Sergio Santos (triceps) played catch Thursday after 10 days of no throwing. There’s no timeline for his return, but it’s likely to be at least two weeks before he’s close to being ready. … Right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, who cleared waivers last week, was placed on the roster for single-A Dunedin. … RHP Ramon Ortiz, designated for assignment Tuesday, cleared waivers and was assigned to Buffalo.