Blue Jays rally late, but fall in 11 to Yankees
TORONTO -- It's a play that's practiced almost every day during Spring Training, but one that still caused mass confusion in the Blue Jays' infield Saturday.
The Yankees had runners on first and second with nobody out in the top of the 11th inning. With Ichiro Suzuki in the batter's box, the bunt play was on, but third baseman Brett Lawrie and left-hander Aaron Loup weren't exactly on the same page.
Both players converged on the left side of the infield, and while Lawrie attempted to backtrack to the bag, it was too late. Loup's throw to third sailed down the line as two runs came around to score which led to Toronto's 5-3 loss at Rogers Centre.
"It's a play we run all Spring Training long, basically every day," Loup said. "I felt like it was bunted fairly back to me, for the most part. I thought we had an easy play at third base, and I didn't have enough awareness to realize Lawrie was crashing in on the play.
"By the time I realized he was backpedalling to the bag -- and he wasn't there -- it was too late and I had already let go of the ball."
The Blue Jays were put in the awkward situation after Loup surrendered a pair of singles to lead off the 11th. When Ichiro bunted, Loup's initial reaction was to get the lead runner, with the intention of keeping the go-ahead run off third base.
The problem was that Lawrie intended to field the ball and get the out at first. By the time he realized that Loup was going to make the play, Lawrie was stuck in no-man's land.
After the game, there appeared to be some confusion on who made the correct decision. Loup went with what he believed was the designed play, but Lawrie didn't seem to see things exactly the same way.
"Obviously in that situation, trying to get an out," Lawrie said. "I was playing a little bit in because Ichiro, you don't know, he's fast as well, so he could have pushed one. I just couldn't get back to the bag in time, and by the time I turned around, the ball was already on me."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Blue Jays' season to date has been their inability to execute on defense. Toronto has committed nine errors, which ranks seventh in the American League, but perhaps even more glaring than those miscues are the plays that aren't being converted.
An example of that occurred in the fifth inning with the bases loaded. New York's Kevin Youkilis hit a liner to third base and Lawrie made a small leap but had the ball bounce off his glove.
The play looked relatively routine but was ruled a two-run single rather than an error. Lawrie said after the game the liner had a knuckleball effect off Youkilis' bat, which made it difficult to track the flight of the ball.
On their own, both plays during Saturday's game could be forgiven, but when added into the big picture, it presents a more murky image. The Blue Jays, who were without Lawrie until earlier this week because of a strained left oblique muscle, have struggled with their infield defense all season.
For a team with aspirations of reaching the postseason, manager John Gibbons knows it's something that needs to be cleaned up sooner rather than later.
"At this level, you have to play good solid defense, and that bit us today," Gibbons said.
"[Friday] night, it bit us on the throw home, and today, it's that time of the game. You have to execute, that's part of baseball. It happens. The timing of it, extra-inning game, is what kills you right there."
The Blue Jays' offense saw its prolonged struggles continue through the first seven innings of the game. New York starter Hiroki Kuroda surrendered just two hits and one walk while holding the Blue Jays scoreless until he came back out to start the eighth.
That's when Toronto's offense began to show some signs of life. Colby Rasmus got the rally started with a one-out single to center which chased Kuroda from the game with a lead seemingly well in tact. Right-hander David Robertson came on and struck out the first batter he faced before the wheels began to fall off for New York.
Pinch-hitter Adam Lind drew a two-out walk, and Rajai Davis followed with an RBI single to center. Davis then immediately stole second base, which put two runners in scoring position for Melky Cabrera, who promptly singled to center and tied the game at 3.
That allowed the Blue Jays to carry some momentum into the ninth inning, but they were unable to score in either that frame or the 10th before the troublesome play in the 11th cost the club a shot at another victory.
"I was shocked," said Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells, who added a solo homer in the second inning. "You know what? You get in the moment and you make an aggressive play like that, and sometimes it works out. You look great when it works out, and bad when it doesn't."
The Blue Jays now find themselves four games under .500 and have dropped four of their past five games. The club will look to avoid a series sweep by the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre before hitting the road for a six-game road trip through Baltimore and New York.
It's still early, but the Blue Jays know they can only make that claim for so long. There's a need to turn things around on the diamond before losing too much ground in the competitive AL East.
"Let's face it, we haven't played good enough baseball to win," Gibbons said. "We're where we should be. Nothing's working against us, we're just not playing good enough to win right now."