Blue Jays welcome break after JJ's rough start
Righty allows most runs in a game since '07, dropping finale to O's
BALTIMORE -- One step forward, two steps back.
That seems to be the way it's gone for the Blue Jays before the All-Star Break this season, and the final weekend series before the Midsummer Classic was no exception.
Sure, the team got Brett Lawrie back as a second baseman and won Saturday's game in his return from a six-week absence with a high ankle sprain. But a 7-4 loss Sunday to the Orioles at Camden Yards, coupled with Friday's slug-it-out loss, meant the Jays dropped another series and precious ground in the American League East before the four-day All-Star break.
The Blue Jays already knew they could not finish the unofficial first half with a .500 record, but Saturday's win offered hope that they could still pick up a series victory and enter the break on a positive note, perhaps something to build off of as they try to climb out of the cellar during baseball's second half.
But starter Josh Johnson gave up four runs in the first inning Sunday, as the Blue Jays fell behind and never recovered. Johnson went six innings and allowed seven earned runs, the most he's given up in a game since June 23, 2007.
"In some ways, it sums up the first half a little bit," Gibbons said. "But it's over and there's no looking back. I do think these four days [off] will do us some good."
But to call Sunday's loss and the series defeat a microcosm of the Blue Jays' season may be premature. They were in a deep hole early, made a charge in the middle, but couldn't recover from the deficit they created for themselves Sunday. The beginning and middle sound similar to Toronto's season, but Blue Jays fans hope the season has a different ending from Sunday's game.
"It's definitely frustrating," Gibbons said. "These four days will be good for us. Little breather, regroup and find out what we're made of and how good we are in the second half."
Although he's had spotty run support, Johnson's one win before the All-Star break is likely far fewer than he or the Blue Jays expected out of the former ace in his first season with Toronto. He missed 48 days with right triceps inflammation, but pitched to a 5.16 ERA and a 1-5 record over 12 starts and 66 1/3 innings.
Johnson's lone win came against the Orioles on June 23, part of the team's 11-game win streak.
The Orioles opened this one with back-to-back singles in the first. After a flyout, Adam Jones drove in a run with a single that flared into right field and out of the reach of Lawrie at second base. Then Chris Davis smoked a line-drive double into the right-field corner, driving in two.
"It seemed like I couldn't catch a break, I threw a couple [bad] pitches in the first inning," said Johnson, later blaming himself for putting his team in an early hole. "First batter wasn't a good pitch, I just got behind. Two hitters in a row, I threw pretty good pitches, they just got base hits. Not a good pitch to Davis."
Davis also got to Johnson in the third, putting the game seemingly out of reach and tying an American League record in the process. Jones walked with one out and Davis smacked his 37th homer of the year, a deep drive to left field that buried the Blue Jays in a 6-0 hole. Davis' blast tied Reggie Jackson's 1969 mark for the most home runs before the All-Star Break by an AL player.
"Superhuman," Gibbons said of Davis, who hit an opposite-field home run in every game this series. "He's having some kind of year. I saw him a little bit when he was with Texas coming up. He can always hit home runs. He's gotten the opportunity here to play every day. He's taken advantage of it and it's pretty impressive."
Meanwhile, Orioles starter Scott Feldman limited the Blue Jays to just three runs over 7 1/3 innings, protecting a lead throughout his first win with Baltimore. The lineup once again didn't do Johnson any favors. The Blue Jays' offense enters the break averaging 3.9 runs per game over its past 20.
"It's obviously a key, but you have to do a lot of other things well, too," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of quality starting pitching. "It's a given that the other four teams in our division are going to be good and do things [in the second half]."
Maicer Izturis drove in a pair of runs with a two-out single in the fourth, and other than that, Toronto failed to put much of anything together until it was too late.
Feldman set the Blue Jays down in order four times. In the second, he pitched around a one-out Colby Rasmus single, and in the fifth, he stranded Jose Reyes at second base when Jose Bautista struck out.
The fourth inning was the only frame in which the Jays got to Feldman. Adam Lind doubled to right-center field with Edwin Encarnacion on first base and one out. Rasmus struck out, but Izturis knocked a seeing-eye single through the right side of the infield to drive in both runs and put the Blue Jays on the board.
The Orioles weren't done scoring runs off Johnson, though. Jones hit a solo homer to center field -- his 19th of the year -- in the fifth inning to pad the Orioles' lead.
Once reliever Tommy Hunter came on in the eighth, Encarnacion added another run. Reyes singled with one out in the eighth to chase Feldman, and after Bautista grounded out to the pitcher, Encarnacion singled home Reyes. The Jays also got a run in the ninth, when Rasmus led off with a double and Izturis again drove in a run with an RBI single.
But Orioles closer Jim Johnson came on to put out the fire, and after a tense ninth inning that brought Reyes to the plate as the tying run with two men on base, Johnson secured Toronto's fate to earn the save.
Gibbons and several players were hopeful the mental and physical break that awaits most players on the Blue Jays' roster will be restorative enough to make a charge up the standings in the second half.
"Hopefully just take some time off and get away from the game for four days, and sometimes that's good," Johnson said. "Get your mind off baseball. Get your mind off pitching or hitting or whatever it is and just think about nothing."