TORONTO — Once again the Toronto Blue Jays had a chance to gain some ground on the Tampa Bay Rays, and once again their bullpen let them down.
Carl Crawford’s third career grand slam keyed a six-run ninth inning for the Rays in a 7-3 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
The ninth-inning failures by the Jays’ bullpen spoiled a possible sweep of the Rays, and Toronto ended up losing of three games to the American League East leaders.
The Rays scored four runs in the ninth against Kevin Gregg on Tuesday to defeat the Blue Jays 7-6. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said one loss didn’t hurt any more than the other.
“They’re both tough when you’re leading like that,” Gaston said. “You know you’ve got a chance to sweep these guys and all we had to do was get three outs and we weren’t able to do it.
“That says a little bit about their team over there and somewhere where we need to improve.”
Shaun Marcum (5-2) who entered the ninth looking for his first complete game in 12 starts this season took the loss instead. By the time relievers Jason Frasor and Downs were finished, Marcum was charged with five runs, four earned, in 8 1/3 innings in which he allowed 10 hits but no walks.
“Very tough (to take),” said Marcum who gave up two singles to start the ninth. “They are probably the best team in the league and we’ve played them six times (winning two) and taken them down to the wire every time.
“It’s just late in the game they come back and battle and that’s probably why they were in the World Series a couple of years ago and why they’re leading the division.”
Instead of pressuring the Rays for the division lead, the Jays fell into fourth in the AL East, 5.5 games back of Tampa Bay.
The ninth-inning rally made a winner of David Price (8-2) who allowed nine hits and two unearned runs in eight innings. As they did Tuesday, the Blue Jays scored a run in the bottom of the ninth against Rays’ closer Rafael Soriano.
The collapse also rendered useless the alertness of third baseman Edwin Encarnacion who noticed that Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodriguez missed third base trying to score from second on a sixth-inning single. The Blue Jays appealed and third base umpire Angel Hernandez agreed and the Rays were deprived of the potential tying run, for the time being.
“He just missed the bag,” said Joe West, the umpires’ crew chief. “It’s an important play, it’s the tying run but he missed the bag, so what do you do?”
It only put off the tying run the ninth when Dioner Navarro put down a squeeze bunt with one out to score Rodriguez, who led off the ninth with a single. Reid Brignac’s double scored the go-ahead run. Frasor came in to load the bases with a walk and Downs did the rest.
“The squeeze play, we knew it was coming,” Marcum said. “The runner didn’t take off, it was more of a safety squeeze and I tried to throw something down and a way hoping he’d foul it off and he did a good job to put it in play.”
The Rays committed three errors to the Blue Jays’ one, but also played stellar defence, especially third baseman Evan Longoria who started two double plays.
“There’s a lot of things in that game that could have changed it,” Gaston said. “We hit the ball hard. Longoria made a couple of good plays. It could have busted wide open a couple of times there. But it didn’t happen. That’s something we have to put in the past and move on to Friday.”
The Blue Jays have Thursday off before facing the New York Yankees on Friday.
“We’ve got to continue to play like we’re playing,” Gaston said. “Somewhere there we’re going to get three outs in the ninth inning.”
The Blue Jays scored an unearned run in each of the first two innings. After Marcum survived a first-and-third situation with one out in the first, an error by Brignac — playing shortstop because Jason Bartlett has a hamstring injury — set up Toronto’s first run in the home half of the inning.
Fred Lewis led off with a single. Adam Lind hit a one-out grounder that eluded Brignac to put runners at the corners.
Vernon Wells struck out but Jose Bautista singled on a curve after fouling off three successive 96-mile-an-hour fastballs with a full count. It was Bautista’s 42nd run batted in of the season.
The Blue Jays took a 2-0 lead in the second. An error by centre-fielder B.J. Upton on Lyle Overbay’s one-out double to right centre put the Blue Jays first baseman at third base. John Buck brought him home with a sacrifice fly to centre on another 3-2 curveball from Price.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the fifth, set up by Buck’s throwing error on Brignac’s bunt. Instead of nailing fellow catcher Navarro at second, Buck’s throw squirted into centre field to put runners at second and third with none out.
Navarro, who started the inning with a single, was thrown out at home by Bautista on Upton’s fly to right, but Crawford singled to score Brignac from third.
Notes: Announced attendance at the Rogers Centre was 13,517....Wells led off the fourth with a double to extend his hitting string to 11 games, a Blue Jays’ high this season. He was picked off second for the second out of the inning...Toronto has Thursday off before opening a three-game home series against the New York Yankees on Friday when former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett (6-2, 3.28 earned-run average) starts against Bret Cecil (5-2, 3.81 ERA). The Yankees send out Andy Pettitte (7-1, 2.48 ERA) and Javier Vazquez (4-5, 6.06 ERA) respectively on Saturday and Sunday against Ricky Romero (5-2, 3.14 ERA) and Brandon Morrow (4-4, 6.00).