ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Blue Jays fell once again at Tropicana Field, dropping to a lowly 15-6 in the month of June. They’ll have to continue on, for now anyway, without their emotional leader Munenori Kawasaki, who was sent back to Buffalo after the game to make room for the return of Jose Reyes.
The Jays sent Kawasaki down both because Reyes’ return would have him stapled to the bench and because they didn’t want to expose any of Emilio Bonifacio, Juan Perez and Dustin McGowan to waivers.
From a rational standpoint, it was the right move for the team to make, even though we will all miss Kawasaki – in professional sports, moves made out of sentimentality are almost always the wrong ones. Sadly, you have to go with your head, not your heart.
Here are three things that stood out to me about the Blue Jays’ loss to the Rays:
ALL THE STREAKS ARE ENDING
Tropicana Field has been a house of horrors for the Blue Jays for years now – they’ve lost 40 of their last 52 games here – and despite the fact the Jays actually split a series with the Rays here last month, the curse continues. With Tuesday night’s loss, the Jays have failed to win any of the last 18 series they’ve played here in St. Petersburg.
Not only did the Blue Jays’ club record-tying 11-game win streak come to an end here on Monday night, Brett Cecil’s amazing run out of the bullpen came to a quick finish on Tuesday.
Cecil came on to work the seventh with the Blue Jays down 4-1, having not pitched since his two perfect innings against the Orioles on Friday night. The lefty had faced 43 consecutive batters without giving up a hit dating back almost a month to May 28. He had also gone 19 2/3 straight shutout innings.
It didn’t take long for both those streaks to end. Yunel Escobar greeted Cecil with a ground single up the middle to snap the hitless streak and James Loney followed with another base hit. The two Rays’ runners then pulled off a double steal and Escobar scored on a weak grounder to second by Kelly Johnson.
RAYS DID, JAYS DIDN’T
Both starting pitchers struggled on Tuesday night, but the Blue Jays allowed Matt Moore to wriggle off the hook every time while the Rays got to Mark Buehrle once, and that was the difference.
Moore walked six in his six innings of work and the Blue Jays had men on base in every inning but the fifth against him. Their best chance came in the third when, with the score tied 1-1, they loaded the bases with one out but Moore struck out Rajai Davis and Colby Rasmus – two of his 11 Ks on the night. In all, the Blue Jays left nine runners stranded in the six innings that Moore pitched.
Buehrle escaped two-out jams in each of the first three innings, stranding six base runners, but he did himself in during the fourth by walking Jose Molina to lead off the frame and hitting the next batter, Kelly Johnson. Desmond Jennings followed with a single to load the bases with nobody out, and all three of those runners wound up scoring.
Molina and Johnson each came in on sacrifice flies – Molina with a deft slide to avoid J.P. Arencibia’s tag attempt on a throw from Jose Bautista that beat him by plenty – and Jennings was cashed by Wil Myers’ two-out RBI single.
SCORING FIRST DOESN’T MEAN THAT MUCH
It’s an old baseball adage that the team which scores first has a huge advantage, and therefore scoring the first run of the ballgame is extremely helpful – if not imperative – for a winning team. That idea is so ingrained in the baseball consciousness that when Jim Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early ‘90s (back when they were winning divisions), he would bat Jay Bell second because he was such a good bunter. In ‘90 and ’91, Bell led the majors in sacrifice bunts, moving the leadoff man up for Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla just so the Pirates had a better shot at scoring the game’s first run.
Here’s the thing, though. If you score the first run and then don’t score the next, it might not matter nearly that much.
The Blue Jays opened the scoring on Tuesday night, but the Rays scored the next one and went on to win. I’m not taking a one-game sample, by any means, because that doesn’t mean anything at all, but how about this: When the Blue Jays have scored first this season, they’re 28-12. When they score first, but not second, they’re 4-6. Conversely, in games in which the Blue Jays have allowed the first run this season, but have scored the second, they’re 5-6 whereas, overall, the Jays are 10-26 when they don’t score first.
I would love to do an intensive study of every game in the big leagues this season, but I don’t think I can manage that. When we get home, I’ll try to set aside some time to look back at a few full seasons of the Blue Jays.
I have a feeling I’ll find a similar result – if you ONLY score first, it doesn’t matter that much.