Blue Jays go quietly as 11-game win streak ends
Club can't recover after Rogers allows three straight homers in second
ST. PETERSBURG -- All good things must eventually come to an end, and it became clear relatively early that the Blue Jays' winning streak was running on borrowed time Monday night.
Toronto had its franchise-best 11-game streak come to an abrupt conclusion, but not before a prolonged run which saw the club reestablish itself as a potential contender in the American League East.
The Blue Jays came away on the losing side for the first time in just under two weeks after being defeated, 4-1, by the Rays at Tropicana Field, but after the game, it wasn't exactly a disappointed clubhouse.
"Losses are never easy, but we've been on a nice little roll," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You knew it was going to happen sooner or later.
"I just told [the team], 'Great job.' Some nights you run into really good pitching, they've got a good little team and they're really tough down here."
Toronto's 11-game stretch tied a franchise record for most consecutive victories after the mark had been previously set during the 1987 and 1998 seasons. The winning streak was the longest in the Major Leagues this season and the most since Detroit won 12 in a row back in 2011.
The Blue Jays began the positive stretch 12 games back of Boston for first place in the AL East. They now trail by just 5 1/2 games and also find themselves just three games back of the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.
There's still plenty of work to be done, but the past two weeks have gone a long way in helping to erase an incredibly poor start to the season. On June 4, Toronto still found itself 10 games below .500, but even after Monday night's loss, the club is one game above (38-37).
"We gave ourselves a chance, that's the biggest thing," Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "That's why streaks like that are very few and far between. It's tough to sweep a three-game series.
"We put it behind us, learn from it, and tomorrow we come ready for another game."
A lot of the recent success can be attributed to the pitching staff, which entered play on Monday night having a Major-League best 1.80 ERA since June 13. The quality innings were there again in the series opener vs. Tampa Bay, with the exception of the second, and that's all it took for this game to unravel.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers surrendered three consecutive homers to put the Blue Jays in an early deficit they were unable to overcome. James Loney, Wil Myers and Sam Fuld all went deep to mark just the second time in franchise history that Tampa Bay accomplished the feat.
Rogers continued on but was charged with four runs on seven hits while walking three over six innings of work. It was the first time in five starts this season that Rogers surrendered more than two earned runs and just the third time in 11 games a Blue Jays starter did the same.
After the game, Rogers expressed some regret about not having enough faith in his offspeed pitches during that second inning. Loney's homer came on a changeup, but after that, Rogers went to his four-seam and two-seam fastball a little bit too much.
"I think I lost a little bit of my confidence out there, a little scared to throw my breaking pitch," Rogers said. "I don't know why something like that was coming out of my mind. I'll learn about that moment and say it's not going to happen again."
Toronto's offense entered the game having scored at least one run in the first inning for five consecutive games, but that streak was quickly snapped by Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. The 26-year-old Hellickson recorded a quick three-up, three-down in the first and got through almost his entire outing in a similarly quick fashion.
The Blue Jays recorded just one hit against Hellickson and the only scoring opportunity came in the second, when the club had runners on the corners with one out until Maicer Izturis grounded into an inning-ending double play. Hellickson departed after throwing seven scoreless innings and pitching around four walks while striking out four.
There was one late spark in the eighth inning, when the Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out but came away with just one run. It proved to be much too little, much too late.
"The balls I left over the plate didn't hurt me tonight," Hellickson said. "We made a ton of good plays out there."
With the loss, Toronto also had its winning streak on the road snapped at five games. That was the longest mark since the Blue Jays won five in a row from May 13-23, 2011. The club obviously knew all along that the winning streak would eventually come to an end, but the Blue Jays can ill afford to let the disappointment linger for any period of time.
The Blue Jays have embarked on a crucial seven-game road trip through Tampa Bay and Boston with an opportunity to pick up more ground in the AL East. Toronto hasn't lost a series since dropping two of three to the Padres from May 31-June 2 and has outscored the opposition 103-57 in the ensuing games.
"They just outplayed us," Gibbons said of the Rays. "But it's been a nice little streak, you know?"