Blue Jays' comeback falls short against Red Sox
Encarnacion hits game-tying homer in seventh, but bullpen struggles
BOSTON -- An 11-game win streak does wonders for an underachieving team, but it's consistency that gets squads into the playoffs.
Despite their hot streak earlier this month, the Blue Jays' momentum has fizzled into a slump. After their 7-5 defeat against the Red Sox on Friday at Fenway Park, Toronto has lost four of five.
Worse yet, the losses have come against division foes Boston and Tampa Bay, turning a five-game division deficit into an 8 1/2-game hole.
It's not as if Toronto didn't have opportunities Friday. The Blue Jays overcame a five-run deficit to tie the game in the seventh inning, but the bullpen, which has been historically effective this month, cracked.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes smashed a one-out single off Brett Cecil that just escaped the diving glove of third baseman Maicer Izturis to score Shane Victorino and break a 5-5 tie. One batter later, Darren Oliver walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia to force in another run.
The two runs turned out to be the difference.
"Jonny has had good success against Cecil in the past," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Felt like it was the perfect spot for him to make an appearance, and he came through. Worked the count deep and gets a base hit off of Izturis' glove. And then after Oliver came in, I thought we put up a couple of good at-bats."
The Blue Jays now need to win the remaining two games of the series to secure a split.
"Well, you know, we played so good for so long. That's the way the game works sometimes," manager John Gibbons said. "You're bound to cool off a little bit."
The bulk of the Red Sox's damage came with starter Josh Johnson on the mound.
The right-hander couldn't withstand the steady attack of the Boston offense, giving up five runs and eight hits over 3 1/3 innings. The outing was Johnson's worst since returning from a triceps injury on June 4, as he surrendered runs in the second, third and fourth innings before being pulled.
Johnson's struggles weren't for a lack of stuff. He said he had a good feel for his pitches, but Boston battled deep into counts, fouling off a number of quality pitches in the process. When Johnson did make a mistake, the Red Sox, who have seen more pitches than any other team this season, didn't miss.
"It was one of those frustrating outings where I should have gotten deeper," Johnson said. "They battled with me. They made me throw a lot of pitches and it just ran up my pitch count."
If it wasn't for a pair of stellar defensive plays in the third, the deficit could have been much worse. Rajai Davis made a highlight-reel catch in left field, colliding with the Green Monster and robbing Dustin Pedroia of extra bases and a potential RBI. Later in the inning, Jose Bautista fielded Daniel Nava's single and threw it on a line to nab David Ortiz trying to score from second base.
Thanks to some timely hitting and small ball, Toronto clawed its way back. Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion singled in runs off Boston rookie Allen Webster as part of a three-run rally in the fifth. One inning later, Davis hit a leadoff single, stole second, advanced to third on a grounder from J.P. Arencibia and scored on Izturis' sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 5-4. When Encarnacion hit his 23rd home run in the seventh inning, the game was tied at 5.
The Toronto bullpen entered Friday with a 0.83 ERA in June. Only the 1965 Orioles 'pen has gone a month with a lower ERA (0.77 in June) and no month in Toronto history is even close to the mark.
But one day after Chien-Ming Wang lasted just 1 2/3 innings, Johnson's early departure meant the bullpen had to work through 13 innings over two nights.
Whether it was the heavy workload or just the law of averages, Boston finally broke through.
"Like I said, they're not going to be perfect every time out there," Gibbons said of the bullpen. "I think what makes it tough is we came back and tied it. But it's never easy playing catch up, and that's what we've had to do.
"It starts with the starter, and they've been taking it to us pretty good."