TORONTO - The starting pitcher tossed a brilliant game. The manager made the correct move going to his bullpen. The Blue Jays lost the game.
What's the saying about best laid plans?
All it took was one pitch.
The scenario: Blue Jays up 2-0 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. Marcus Stroman, to that point, had two-hit the White Sox. Only two White Sox hitters, Adam Dunn (three times) and Jose Abreu had reached base off the Toronto starter. Dayan Viciedo was due up as the go ahead run. Manager John Gibbons made the call to the bullpen for Dustin McGowan, his most trusted right-handed reliever not named Casey Janssen.
McGowan's first pitch was a slider. It was a cement-mixer, as seamheads like to say, in that the slider didn't break. It caught the entirety of the plate. Viciedo was looking for it, stayed back and launched a go-ahead three-run home run into the leftfield seats.
There was no doubt where the ball was headed the moment Viciedo made contact. The White Sox led 3-2 and wouldn't cough it up en route to a 4-3 victory.
Gibbons, it says here, made the right move going to McGowan. It gave Viciedo a different look. It allowed Stroman to leave the game feeling good about his performance. The result, clearly, was undesirable. The strategy made sense. Still, Gibbons admitted he second-guessed himself.
"Yeah, of course," he said. "I mean, if you could do things over you leave him in but my thinking was (Stroman) pitched his butt off, it's unchartered territory, you don't want him to lose the game right there. That's the way it goes. You always look back on things like that. I had a plan. It just didn't work."
The Blue Jays bullpen blew its 10th save of the season, which puts it in the middle of the pack. Pittsburgh's 14 blown saves rank as the worst in the majors.
Toronto's number is made less hideous when you factor in that six of the blown saves came in a span of 15 games from mid-April to early May. Yet, after McGowan was tagged with Chicago's third and fourth runs on Saturday, Toronto's bullpen ERA climbed to 4.45. That's fifth-worst in baseball.
The late-game meltdown sullied the second consecutive strong start by Stroman, who was coming off an eight-inning, four-hit performance in a win over the Yankees on Monday.
"It's tough to deal with but it's part of baseball," said Stroman of the Viciedo home run. "I have 100 per cent faith in Dustin to come in and get that out every time. He makes a pitch like he knows he can and we're not even having this conversation. I know McGowan's going to be right back to it. I'm not worried about it. He's been great for us all year, coming out of the 'pen, so I'm not stressing about it at all."
The Jays were held to two runs, a Darin Mastrioanni two-run homer in the fourth, on four hits over seven innings by White Sox' ace Chris Sale. He picked up the win to run his record to 7-1.
ABREU IMPRESSES BLUE JAYS
Jose Bautista was planning to speak to Jose Abreu about taking part in the home run derby, part of the All-Star Game festivities on July 14 in Minneapolis.
Manager John Gibbons is impressed with the 27-year-old Cuban rookie, whose 25 home runs tie him with Edwin Encarnacion and the Orioles' Nelson Cruz for the most in baseball this season.
"A pretty good looking player," said Gibbons. "The numbers speak for themselves. Those kids that come over from Cuba, they're all pretty damn good so that really shouldn't surprise anybody. They put a lot of money into him for a reason and they're reaping the benefits right now. He's got a nice, short, simple swing and he's producing with it."
Abreu leads the majors with a .633 slugging percentage. To go with his 25 home runs, he has 16 doubles and a triple, meaning almost 57-percent of Abreu's hits have gone for extra bases.