NEW YORK – Miserable losses are going to be a part of this period of transition and acclimation for the Toronto Blue Jays, especially when they’re facing American League East powers like the New York Yankees. The already wide gap between the clubs is only exacerbated by the inherent growing pains and dismal weekends like the one in the Bronx are part of the deal.
In other words, get used to it, gang.
Still, there’s a big difference between learning the ropes and playing bad, fundamentally flawed baseball, which is why manager John Gibbons lit into Kevin Pillar for getting thrown out trying to steal third to end the sixth inning. With two outs, the attempt was absolutely needless and Gibbons sure seemed to mumble the word selfish after a few saltier terms during a roughly 30-second tirade in the dugout once Pillar came in to get his glove.
Given all the kids currently on the roster, making such points is especially important lest bad habits become normalized as the turnover moves forward.
“Well, that play is unacceptable in rookie ball. That play is unacceptable in high-school ball. That shouldn’t happen. It can’t happen. You’re down. He knows it,” said Gibbons. “It’s tough to criticize Kevin because of the way he plays the game. He does everything right. He sacrifices his body and all of that. But every now and then we lock up mentally, I guess.
“He knows that. That’s part of it.”
So that’s why Ryan Borucki gets a pat on the back after giving up six runs to the first six batters of the game before recording two outs and leaving after 44 pitches. And it’s why Pillar – who plays hurt and plays hard – gets lit up in front of teammates immediately after a play more about self than team.
“That’s what was said and that’s what should have happened,” said Pillar. “Live and learn. Made the mistake before. I’m out there trying to make something happen when sometimes I’ve just got to allow things to happen. The way the game was going, it was rainy, it was wet out there, I was trying to do something that probably rarely ever happens, getting (the catcher) to throw the ball away, try to score a cheap run, try to get us back in the game. But I’ve got to trust the guys behind me to drive me in, which they’ve been doing a good job of.”
The weekend certainly reinforced to J.A. Happ just how better a place he’s in now.
The Blue Jays made several infuriating mistakes in the three games, not just in Sunday’s 10-2 pounding that capped a three-game sweep by the Yankees, and that may have contributed to Gibbons’ decision to make his point right then and there to Pillar (he got ejected for the sixth time by first-base umpire Jansen Visconti in the bottom half after two close calls went against the Blue Jays).
On Saturday, a trio of miscues contributed to Sean Reid-Foley allowing a pair of unearned runs in his difficult 4.1 innings of work, while leadoff walks issued by pitchers led to runs in each of the three losses.
On Sunday, Borucki was off from the jump, missing the zone with eight of his first 13 pitches en route to a pair of leadoff walks, before some unfortunate BABIP luck loaded the bases with two runs in.
Greg Bird then turned on an inside sinker for a grand slam that essentially sealed the deal, and the 24-year-old lefty, already 30 pitches into his inning at that point, was left to salvage whatever he could from there.
“Ryan had a tough one but you know, that’s not the worst thing in the world,” said Gibbons. “As long as he’s pitching, he could be a 10-year vet and that same thing happens to those guys. You just have to learn from it. It helps you figure out, when things go good, what you’re doing, when things go bad, what’s happening to you.”
With some better fortune, the inning could have played out much differently. Didi Gregorius just beat out an infield RBI single, colliding with Kendrys Morales at the bag and leaving with a bruised left heel, while Gleyber Torres followed with a little nubber he just beat out, loading the bases with none out instead of having one on with two out.
“It’s not really frustration, that’s just how it goes sometimes,” said Borucki. “There are going to be times where I pitch 5-6 innings and I let up 5-6 balls to the track and a bunch of line drives that (are caught). And there are going to be times where that stuff happens. …
“It’s not going to be the last time I’m going to get my brains beat in a little bit. I’m just going to try to go about it like I usually do, just act like it’s just another day, act like I just pitched pretty well, and just go through my five-day routine and be ready to (go) against Philly.”
Joe Biagini did his bullpen a major solid by throwing 3.1 scoreless innings of mop-up duty and after the just-recalled Justin Shafer debuted with a scoreless fifth, Tim Mayza couldn’t escape a poop-show sixth, forcing acting manager DeMarlo Hale to use Thomas Pannone.
The lefty, also just up from triple-A Buffalo, was slated to start Wednesday in place of Marcus Stroman, who was placed on the disabled list with a blister on his right middle finger. He’ll be fine for that outing against the Baltimore Orioles, Gibbons said.
As things stand he’s one of three kids in the Blue Jays rotation behind Sam Gaviglio and Marco Estrada, the lone established arm to act as an anchor.
Happ, the pending free agent traded to the Yankees three weeks ago, allowed two runs in 5.2 innings of stability in his first start against his former teammates, who under the circumstances sometimes must prioritize simply covering innings, rather thriving in them.
That’s particularly applicable to games against the Yankees, against whom the Blue Jays are now 4-12 this season, along with 4-12 against the division-leading Boston Red Sox. That makes them 47-45 against the rest of baseball, while Sunday’s loss also pushed the Blue Jays to a season-worst 14 games under .500 at 55-69.
Amid their plethora of problems, it makes sense that frustration is mounting.
“That’s how you make it in this game,” Gibbons said of facing struggles. “Baseball is a hard game to play. These guys make it look easy sometimes but it’s very difficult and part of your growing pains as a young kid is taking your lumps. It’s a better league than they’ve ever played in. Ballparks like this, it can be intimidating. It’s still the same feel, but it’s Yankee Stadium, it does something to you. A guy like Ryan, he’s going to be a good pitcher in this league, he got that one out of the way. You know what? I’ve seen it before, young guys, that’s just the way it goes sometimes. They’re all fully capable, get the experience and figure it out.”
Regardless, every once in a while a line in the sand needs to be drawn, and when Gibbons confronted Pillar, he did precisely that.