Bullpen lapse derails Blue Jays' sweep effort
Loup walks three straight batters, gives up go-ahead hit in sixth
CLEVELAND -- The Blue Jays completed a difficult nine-game road trip with a winning record, but they also have to be wondering about what could have been following a pair of blown leads in the past four days.
Toronto went through Baltimore, Minnesota and Cleveland with five wins and four losses. That likely would have been considered an accomplishment a week and a half ago, but now it's also somewhat difficult to take because of the tough losses. The first one happened on Thursday night vs. the Twins, and the latest disappointment came in a series against the Indians.
The bullpen once again struggled with its control, as left-hander Aaron Loup walked the bases loaded before surrendering a three-run double to David Murphy, and the Blue Jays came up just short of a sweep with a 6-4 loss to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
"I guess I just have to say it was one of those days," said Loup, who entered the game with a 2.25 ERA. "Chalk it up to one of those rare days where you just kind of don't have it. You kind of have those days every once in awhile. Hopefully they're not as bad as today, but when they do come, you just kind of take them when [they] come and move on, go out there the next day and do your job."
Toronto carried a 4-2 lead into the sixth inning before things started to fall apart. With two outs, Loup walked three consecutive batters to load the bases for Murphy. Loup then got ahead in the count, 0-1, before Murphy slapped a fastball down the left-field line.
The ball appeared to bounce off a post in the fence and ricocheted toward the infield. That caused a delay in Melky Cabrera being able to throw it back into the infield, and all three runners came around to score, as the Indians took a lead they would not relinquish.
The issues with command came just a few days after the Blue Jays set a franchise record by walking eight batters during an inning. Steve Delabar, Sergio Santos and J.A. Happ were responsible for that meltdown, which cost Toronto a 5-3 lead and eventually led to a 9-5 loss.
"It's still a good road trip, 5-4 is still a good road trip, but we were in a position to have a little bit better," Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow said. "Today and the other day. It's hard to sweep, but that's what we were looking to do. We were in a good position, and it just didn't work out for us in either of those [games]. But those guys are going to bounce back; they're strike-throwers, and they're going to be back in the zone doing what they do."
Earlier on Sunday, it appeared as though Toronto was well on its way to recording its first three-game sweep of the season. The Blue Jays scored three in the fourth as Jose Reyes, Cabrera and Jose Bautista opened the frame with three consecutive hits. Juan Francisco and Brett Lawrie later added a pair of RBIs to put the Blue Jays in front, 3-1.
Toronto added another run in the fifth on a single by Reyes. Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco was charged with all four of the runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out five. Even though the results were rather mediocre, the outing was still a step in the right direction for a pitcher that entered the game with 10 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings pitched.
Morrow once again struggled with a high pitch count early, and as a result was unable to pitch deep into the game. He allowed one run in the second, another in the fourth and was eventually pulled following a leadoff single in the sixth. He was charged with two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out six and throwing 95 pitches.
Loup entered and proceeded to get one out on a fielder's choice, and then Jason Kipnis was picked off and caught stealing second. That made it seem as though the Blue Jays were in the clear, but three consecutive walks and the double by Murphy quickly changed all of that.
"On lefties, he's really tough," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Loup. "Murph hung in there, took that one swing, cleared the bases, and that ends up being the ballgame. But we did a good job of swinging at strikes, especially off of [Loup]. ... He's got so much deception, especially against the lefties. You can almost give an at-bat away if you don't really bear down. Our guys did a good job."
The Blue Jays did have one final chance in the top of the ninth inning when they loaded the bases for Edwin Encarnacion. The count went to 3-0, and then Indians closer John Axford threw what appeared to be ball four. Encarnacion started walking to first base, but home-plate umpire Ron Culpa called the high strike.
Instead of Francisco walking to the plate with the tying run on third, the at-bat continued, and Encarnacion eventually hit a grounder to second base for the final out of the game. Encarnacion continues to struggle this season, and he is batting just .230 (17-for-74) with no home runs and 19 strikeouts in 19 games.
The Blue Jays will take the day off on Monday before opening a three-game homestand vs. the Orioles and Red Sox beginning on Tuesday night. The 5-4 record was acceptable, but Toronto also knows it could have been much better.
"You look at the whole league, it's pretty much bunched up, nobody has really taken off," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But sooner or later, you have to do that."