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Blue Jays haunted by late bullpen issues

Axford tosses 3 scoreless before 'pen allows 8 runs over final 2 frames
MLB.com @gregorMLB

CHICAGO -- The first time the Blue Jays went with a "bullpen day" it turned into a borderline nightmare. The second time, it started off working like a charm, but finished in similar fashion on Saturday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

John Axford made the first start of his career with three scoreless innings and the Blue Jays carried a four-run lead into the bottom of the seventh until yet another late collapse by the bullpen. Right-hander Tyler Clippard allowed two runs while Jaime Garcia and Ryan Tepera combined to allow six more in the eighth en route to a 9-5 loss to the White Sox.

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CHICAGO -- The first time the Blue Jays went with a "bullpen day" it turned into a borderline nightmare. The second time, it started off working like a charm, but finished in similar fashion on Saturday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

John Axford made the first start of his career with three scoreless innings and the Blue Jays carried a four-run lead into the bottom of the seventh until yet another late collapse by the bullpen. Right-hander Tyler Clippard allowed two runs while Jaime Garcia and Ryan Tepera combined to allow six more in the eighth en route to a 9-5 loss to the White Sox.

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Blue Jays players dubbed the event "Ax Day" in the hours leading up to first pitch, and the popular Canadian did not disappoint. He created a feel-good story by retiring the first six batters and by facing the minimum over three innings, but any positive vibes were quickly erased over the final two frames of the game. For the second time in less than a week, the bullpen day backfired.

"We tried it twice, it hasn't worked real good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "It makes it tough, these bullpen games. You roll the dice and try to win that game, and then if you don't, you're probably [in trouble] the next day with your 'pen [also]."

By the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Blue Jays were already onto their fourth pitcher of the game, and the White Sox were on the verge of taking over. Clippard allowed runs for the third time over his last five appearances, while Garcia's experiment as a high-leverage reliever might be short-lived after he walked the leadoff batter in the eighth and later surrendered a double before the game slipped away.

When Tepera stepped onto the mound in the eighth, the tying run was on second base and there was only one out. Tepera has been known to get out of these type of jams before, but this time it didn't even come close to working out. The 30-year-old fill-in for Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna did not retire a single batter he faced. The White Sox greeted him with three hits and a pair of hit-by-pitches as the game quickly fell apart for the Blue Jays.

"I haven't seen that in awhile," Gibbons said when asked about Tepera. "It's gotta be [just an off night]."

When the Blue Jays began openly mulling the possibility of going with a bullpen day over the last couple of weeks, Axford began lobbying the coaching staff for an opportunity. He initially was in line to start last Monday against the Twins, but he was pressed into action out of the bullpen the day before and had to be ruled out for a spot outing.

There was a risk of that again on Friday night, but the Blue Jays managed to secure a 10-5 victory over Chicago without requiring his services. That opened the door the following day for Axford to make his first start since Aug. 22, 2008, when he was pitching for Milwaukee's farm team in Class A Advanced Brevard.

The outing was a ceremonial gesture to a valued veteran more than anything, but Axford made history alongside Russell Martin, who hit a solo homer, by forming the first Canadian battery to start an MLB game since Denis Boucher and Joe Siddall for the Expos on Oct. 3, 1993.

Video: TOR@CWS: Martin crushes a solo homer to left

"I think I tried to hide as many smiles as I could," Axford said. "It was good. I think I had a few different emotions going on, but after leaving in the third inning, I think it was hard for me to hold a smile from my face. It was fun."

GURRIEL MAKES HISTORY
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. set a Blue Jays franchise record by picking up multiple hits for the 10th consecutive game. The 10-game multi-hit streak surpassed the previous high set by Blue Jays shortstop Tony Fernandez in 1983. It's the longest such streak in the Major Leagues since Bernie Williams matched the feat in August 2002.

Video: Must C Classic: Gurriel's 10th straight multi-hit gam

Gurriel's streak is tied for the seventh longest multi-hit streak in Major League history. Rogers Hornsby holds the longest streak on record (since 1908), with multiple hits in 13 consecutive games way back in 1923. A streak of at least 10 games has happened 15 times (by nine players) since 1908, with Shoeless Joe Jackson having done it twice. Gurriel's latest performance included a pair of singles and two RBIs.

"It's so hard to get hits in the big leagues, what's that 10 games now?" Gibbons said. "That's pretty incredible. I've never seen it. Not many guys in history have done it. He's getting down there with some of the big boys. You know what? It wouldn't surprise me if he keeps doing it."

HE SAID IT
"I thought he looked great. Three innings, one hit, it was a little swinging bunt. Maybe he's going to be a starter for us, why not? We'll see." -- Gibbons, on Axford

UP NEXT
Rookie left-hander Ryan Borucki (0-2, 2.79 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays close out a three-game series against the White Sox on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field, with first pitch scheduled for 2:10 p.m. ET. Borucki should have plenty of friends and family in attendance as he starts in his hometown for the first time in his professional career. Nerves could be a factor, but he has allowed more than two earned runs just once in five starts. Chicago will counter with left-hander Carlos Rodon (3-3, 3.58).

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, John Axford