TORONTO - For the fourth time on this home stand the Blue Jays enjoyed a lead of at least three runs. They lost, overall a fourth in a row, while dropping their record to 1-3 in those games in which the offence has gotten off to a hot start.
Brandon Morrow and the newly-recalled Chad Jenkins were the culprits in a disastrous third inning which saw the Red Sox score six times to erase a 3-0 deficit en route to a 7-6 victory.
"I came in with one goal and that was to pitch late in the game and keep us in it," said Morrow. "I let down the team in a big way today."
Morrow flirted with disaster from the get-go, walking two Red Sox in each of the first two innings only to escape with double play ground outs. After two quick outs in the third, it all unraveled as Morrow walked four-straight hitters to force in Boston's first run. Manager John Gibbons had Morrow on a short leash and promptly called for the newly-recalled Chad Jenkins, who immediately gave up back to back home runs, a grand slam to A.J. Pierzynski and a solo shot to Will Middlebrooks.
"He just didn't throw strikes, it's pretty simple," said Gibbons of Morrow. "It's a simple solution. We've been walking way too many guys all year. I mean everybody. That's unlike us. We've got some strike throwers."
The afternoon's eight walks ran the pitching staff's season total to 99, second-most in all of baseball. After Morrow's brief outing, which felt much longer than its 2 2/3 innings would indicate, Toronto's starters have given the club 127 2/3 innings of work, an average of just less than 5 1/3 innings per game. The four clubs which trail the Blue Jays are nipping at Toronto's heels and each has played fewer games.
Gibbons, with 138 games left to play, isn't about to panic despite his club's obvious weakness, a starting rotation which was thought to be a problem when everyone reported to Dunedin more than two months ago. The skipper closed ranks.
"You know what, I mean this is a team," said Gibbons. "It's not hitters against pitchers. It's 25 guys. I'm not going to get caught up in all this … we've been struggling in certain areas. It's no secret. But we're going to get better."
They're going to have to get better. Much better, in fact, with the schedule about to bombard them with 20 consecutive games starting Tuesday until the next off day on Monday, May 19.
You don't want your best left-handed reliever pitching the seventh inning when you're trailing by four runs, for example, as Brett Cecil had to on Saturday.
Back to Morrow, who has pitched six innings only once this year, reached five innings twice and on two occasions hasn't made it to the end of the fourth. He's had issues controlling his fastball dating back to spring training. Most of his fastballs on Saturday were up.
"It's embarrassing to not be able to command your fastball," said Morrow. "I had decent command of the other stuff. I threw my curveball for strikes, threw the split for strikes for the most part. I was just wild with the fastball, mainly arm side and up. That's number one which I have to do. Command the fastball to be successful."
Pitching coach Pete Walker was ejected in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes during a mound visit with Morrow. Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg's strike zone was small but it went both ways.
"He voiced his frustration a little bit out there," said Gibbons. "Nothing wrong with that."
Morrow wasn't looking for excuses.
"A lot of my pitches didn't miss by just a fraction of an inch," said Morrow. "I was all over the place for a lot of it. It's not a good feeling when you can take the blame for the game and place it squarely on your shoulders."
The offence mounted a comeback, scoring twice off Junichi Tazawa in the eighth and once, on a solo home run by Jose Bautista, off Boston closer Koji Uehara in the ninth. The Jays had the tying run at second and the winning run at first when Edwin Encarnacion lined out to centerfield to end the game.
Toronto will turn to R.A. Dickey on Sunday as the Blue Jays look to avoid a Red Sox sweep.
The man with the unpredictable pitch is tasked with bringing some predictability to the starting rotation.