Rays take 2nd straight from Blue Jays
Toronto comeback falls just short
If Jesse Litsch's arm was feeling tired after pitching his third game in four days, he wouldn't say.
After walking two batters and giving up the decisive three-run homer in the seventh inning to Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton, Litsch said it was a misplaced fastball rather than a fatigued right arm that led to the Toronto Blue Jays' third straight loss.
Toronto fell 6-5 to the Rays on Saturday after the Jays' reliever walked Sam Fuld and Evan Longoria then hung a fastball over the plate that Upton batted in for his 18th home run of the season.
"You know, fatigue, you are usually up in the zone, but I was down in the zone," said Litsch. "I was missing low. That's a sign of, I'm strong, I'm just over top of the ball too much. I left the one ball up that Upton hit. You know, it just cut right back over the middle of the plate. It was a heater and I pulled it."
Litsch could be forgiven for being tired. He was used two days in a row against Kansas City, then given a day off Friday before returning to the mound. After he walked Longoria, Litsch struck out Ben Zobrist and gave Jays bench coach Don Wakamatsu hope the pitcher could make it out of the inning unscathed.
Wakamatsu, who filled in for manager John Farrell for the second straight game as Farrell recovers from pneumonia, blamed Litsch's error on the team's over reliance of the red-bearded reliever this week.
"Last three out of four days and it's been an inconsistent, up and down year, and all of a sudden now he's having to fill some spots because we haven't gone seven, eight innings as a starter," he said.
The home run was vindication for Upton, who thought he had a home run in the sixth inning when his hit was lost in the air near the left-field foul pole.
"The foul pole is so light that you can't really tell," Upton said.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon came out to argue it was a homer, and the umpires went to an instant-replay review before ruling the hit stood as a foul.
"I wasn't sure," Upton said. "It looked fair from where I was, although it hooked very hard late. I don't think it hurt to check it out."
Upton only had to wait for his next at-bat to get a home run, which put the Rays (72-59) ahead for good at 6-2.
"I congratulated him on keeping that ball fair," quipped Maddon.
Eric Thames and Edwin Encarnacion each added solo homers in the eighth inning to rally the Jays to within one run in front of a crowd of 24,052 at Rogers Centre, but Tampa Bay closer Joel Peralta shut down the Jays in the ninth for his second save of the season.
Tampa Bay starter Jeff Niemann (9-5) earned the win after allowing three runs on five hits with six strikeouts through 6 1-3 innings.
Luis Perez, pitching in his second major-league start for Toronto (66-66) since being moved from the bullpen, was steady on the mound despite needing several visits from catcher J.P. Arencibia, who put on a defensive show by throwing out three Tampa Bay base stealers.
After loading the bases in the fifth inning, the 26-year-old lefty struck out Zobrist to strand the Rays' runners. That ended the day for Perez, who gave up two runs on five hits with four strikeouts. He was replaced by Shawn Camp (1-3) in the sixth with the score tied 2-2.
'[Perez] was a bit excited'
Wakamatsu said he thought Perez kept his composure even though he fell behind in pitch counts.
"I think with Perez, his tempo was a little bit slower, he was a little bit excited going into the ball game and I think [Arencibia] did a nice job of calming him down and getting through it even though he went five innings. I thought he battled through it," said Wakamatsu.
Camp did little to impress when he first gave up Upton's disputed foul ball then hit Upton on the next pitch.
After a pretty defensive play by Toronto to catch runners at third and first base, the Rays took a 3-2 lead on second baseman Elliot Johnson's RBI single.
Jose Bautista opened the scoring for Toronto in the first with a double to drive in a speedy Thames from first base.
But the Rays broke through against Perez in the fourth when Sean Rodriguez hit a ground-rule double just inside the left-field line to score Longoria and Zobrist to give Tampa a 2-1 lead.
The Jays evened the game after a costly mistake by Johnson. After Toronto's Kelly Johnson grounded out to first, Tampa Bay attempted to catch Encarnacion sliding into second. Elliot Johnson made the tag but dropped the ball, leaving Encarnacion safe and Elliot Johnson debating the call with second-base umpire Marty Foster.
The dropped ball turned into a run later in the inning when a ground-rule double by Arencibia scored Encarnacion to tie the score 2-2.