NEW YORK – A windswept bloop to right field just out of Devon Travis’ reach for a double. A solid single by Jacoby Ellsbury. A hit by pitch for Brett Gardner, a pitching change, and after a wild pitch that scores a run plus a Carlos Beltran strikeout and an intentional walk to Mark Teixeira, a Brian McCann hit by pitch ties the game up. An infield single by Chase Headley that deflects off the pitcher’s wrist and away from Jose Reyes, nixing a potential double play brings home the go-ahead run.
Then, after all that, a 20-year-old making his big-league debut cleans up the mess.
That’s the unsightly manner in which things unravelled for the Toronto Blue Jays in the eighth inning of a gutting 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees on a numbingly cold Wednesday night in the Bronx. For eight and a half innings they were in total control, and then it all imploded on Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil, just as a sideways-moving mist descended to make the near freezing wind all the more miserable.
Only the continually impressive work of wunderkind rookies Miguel Castro in the seventh and Roberto Osuna in the eighth offered some relief, and gave the team more to think about.
"They both looked good, that’s encouraging," said manager John Gibbons. "We’ll figure some things out."
Figure some things out?
"Roles and who can do what," he replied. "You’re still guessing on some guys, but the better they pitch, the more opportunities there will be to pitch."
Clearly two games in no conclusions can be drawn, but it’s games like this the Blue Jays simply can’t afford to lose.
R.A. Dickey, who needs feel to effectively unleash his knuckleball, grinded into the seventh and allowed just a run despite trouble finding the strike zone. The offence scratched out a pair of runs against hard-throwing Michael Pineda on a Travis infield single in the third and a Russell Martin sacrifice fly in the fifth, and were gifted a run in the eighth off Dellin Betances via a Brian McCann throwing error.
A 3-1 lead with six outs to go against a Yankees offence that won’t be blowing out opponents very often this year should have been enough, especially on a night when it was just as tough to hit as it was to pitch. It wasn’t.
"That was tough conditions for both sides, it’s not easy playing in it, that’s where you’ve really got to be mentally tough," said Gibbons. "I thought we were, we just coughed it up."
The Yankees hit just one ball hard the whole inning – Ellsbury’s single. Travis nearly tracked down pinch-hitter Chris Young’s bloop down the right-field line, but it dropped out of his reach, much the way a similar bloop by Stephen Drew fell in beyond Josh Donaldson on the left-field line in the fifth.
Dickey erased that hit by inducing a 4-6-3 double play out of Didi Gregorius, but there was no such escape for Loup, who instead hit Gardner to load the bases.
"You make a good pitch and he just dropped it in the middle of no-man’s land out there," Loup said of the Young double that started all the trouble. "On another day it might be a catch and the inning goes a different way, but tonight the ball bounced their way."
Cecil, the closer coming into a difficult spot, couldn’t contain the damage.
A wild pitch scored Gregorius to make it a one-run game, and then with the bases loaded following the intentional walk to Teixeira, Cecil was a groundball away from getting out of the inning with the lead preserved. Instead he hit McCann to tie the game and then misjudged Headley’s comebacker, seeing it deflect off his wrist and dribble to the hole at shortstop.
"If it didn’t hit me in the wrist it would have went right to Jose," said Cecil. "He was running to the bag, easy step-on double play. It was a little deceiving, I thought it was coming a little bit slower than it was. I just didn’t get the glove up quick enough."
Up came Alex Rodriguez and in came Osuna, who at 20 years 60 days became the youngest pitcher to appear in a game for the Blue Jays, eclipsing the mark of 20 years 103 days set by Castro on Monday.
He fell behind 2-0, rallied to even the count, and then got him looking at changeup for the strikeout. Drew then flew out to end the fateful frame.
"I was waiting for that moment," Osuna said of making his debut. "When I was in the bullpen, I wanted A-Rod. When I went in and I saw A-Rod over there, I was very comfortable, not nervous or anything like that. …
"We prepared him for that pitch," he added of the changeup. "I threw a changeup first pitch, four fastballs in a row, and then go back to the changeup."
Castro took over from Dickey in the seventh with one on and one out, got Rodriguez on a fly ball that might have left in the summer, but with the tying run on second, wasted Drew on three pitches.
More performances like that will only earn the kids more trust, and give Gibbons more options. He went to his closer in the right spot given the way the game was unfolding. It just didn’t fall right.
"Cec has got the knack of getting out of some jams," said Gibbons. "If he hadn’t have touched that (Headley) ball, maybe we get a double play, we’re still tied. That didn’t happen. Figured maybe he could get us out of it, otherwise there’s no ninth inning. And there wasn’t a bottom of the ninth."
For what’s it worth, Osuna would have been his guy for the bottom of the ninth had he been needed.