Err of de­spair sinks in af­ter ex­tra-in­ning dud

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - Richard Grif­fin In Detroit

When the Blue Jays’ man­ager stated fol­low­ing one of the most dis­heart­en­ing losses of the year that “the way we’ve been play­ing, we’re where we should be,” that’s a clear in­dict­ment of the first 91 games of their sea­son, as they sit at 4249 with seven teams ahead of them for the se­cond wild card.

The strug­gling Jays seem to be moon­walk­ing to­wards a precipice with a com­bi­na­tion of poor start­ing pitch­ing, shod- dy de­fence and a lack of sit­u­a­tional hit­ting, where they rely too much on their sud­den-strike ca­pa­bil­ity.

The Tigers won 6-5 on Sun­day by do­ing ev­ery lit­tle thing bet­ter on of­fence.

“That was there for the tak­ing,” John Gibbons said. “We just didn’t play good enough ball. That’s the bot­tom line. We took the lead, gave it right back. Got the lead back again. It’s tough to ask your bullpen to go five clean in­nings there at the end.”

The Jays scored three in the first on a pair of home runs. But with Marco Estrada on the mound the Tigers tied it up ef­fi­ciently, us­ing two walks, an in­field hit, a dou­ble and back-to-back sac­ri­fice flies.

Then, in the 11th, the Tigers got lead­off man Alex Avila to first on a walk and sac­ri­ficed him to se­cond.

A two-out er­ror by third base­man Josh Don­ald­son on a hot grounder over the bag was fol­lowed by a pair of walks and the walk-off cel­e­bra­tion in Mo­town be­gan.

Mean­while, the Jays were 0-for-2 with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion, scor­ing all five of their runs on homers.

But it’s the Jays’ de­fence that has taken the big­gest step back­wards from 2015-16.

It a de­fi­ciency that showed up on Sun­day in non-sup­port of an al­ready strug­gling Estrada. He needed more.

In the first in­ning, Don­ald­son slid to back­hand a ball, then made an ill-ad­vised throw from one knee on an in­field hit that al­lowed Ian Kinsler to stroll over to third, later scor­ing.

In the third, short­stop Troy Tu­low­itzki glided into the hole to his right, with the ball glanc­ing off his glove for an er­ror.

In the fourth in­ning, cen­tre fielder Kevin Pil­lar seemed to as­sume that a fly ball to right cen­tre would be caught by Jose Bautista, but in­stead it dropped gen­tly onto the Me­tal­lica-dead­ened grass for a dou­ble. James McCann then drove a ball deep to left that Eze­quiel Car­rera leaped for and mis­played into a dou­ble.

Estrada re­tired the next two Tigers, then is­sued a walk to Nick Castel­lanos that spelled the end of his night. Estrada had a point that he wasn’t as bad as it seemed. But he was very care­ful in his choice of words re­gard­ing the de­fence.

“I don’t know how many guys I walked af­ter the first in­ning,” Estrada said. “I walked a few more, and when balls fall in those guys are go­ing to score. I don’t re­ally need to change much, to be hon­est. I like what I was do­ing. I think if it was a dif­fer­ent day things would have gone dif­fer­ently. I’m tak­ing a lot of pos­i­tive things from this game. It’s un­for­tu­nate what hap­pened.”

There were so many things that went wrong, in­clud­ing from a man­age­rial per­spec­tive. Gibbons was giv­ing all-star Justin Smoak a day off his feet by al­low­ing him to DH while Kendrys Mo­rales han­dled first base. That did not work out well.

With only three bench play­ers, Gibbons was un­able to pinch run for Mo­rales in an at­tempt for an in­sur­ance run in the eighth, and was un­able to get Smoak back at first base late in the game while nurs­ing a lead, oth­er­wise the pitcher would have had to bat. Mo­rales botched a ground ball for an er­ror lead­ing off the seventh.

Gibbons was also un­able to get Russ Martin in to end the game be­hind the plate with the lead be­cause he was also the last po­si­tion player left on a short bench in ex­tra in­nings.

Mean­while, Tigers man­ager Brad Aus­mus made ev­ery move to put his team in a po­si­tion to win: pinchrun­ning for the two Martinezes: J.D. af­ter he had just stolen se­cond, and Vic­tor as the po­ten­tial go-ahead run in the eighth. He pinch-hit for catcher McCann late, and called for a bunt to put the win­ning run on se­cond in the 11th.

The Tigers stole three bases off Jays backup Miguel Mon­tero, and would have had a fourth if the al- ready-safe Justin Up­ton had not bounced up off the bag. It was Mon­tero’s first run­ner thrown out in 2017, in 35 at­tempts.

The Tigers also: ad­vanced on a wild pitch, took se­cond on fielder’s in­dif­fer­ence and had a sac­ri­fice bunt and two sac flies.

As far as Estrada is concerned, he’s not off the hook for his head­scratch­ing steps back­ward since June 1. In eight starts since the end of May, Estrada is 0-4 with four no-de­ci­sions and a 9.50 ERA. He has thrown 759 pitches to wend his way through 36 in­nings. That’s 181 ev­ery nine in­nings, with a 2.00 WHIP.

While the start­ing pitch­ing has been in­jured and un­der­whelm­ing, the team de­fence has been jaw­drop­pingly non-sup­port­ive. It’s not just one po­si­tion and it’s not just er­rors. It’s also plays not made and poor ex­e­cu­tion.

Af­ter the game, Gibbons was down­cast and rightly so. His op­tions in left field are be­low av­er­age de­fen­sively with Car­rera and Steve Pearce. His op­tions at se­cond base are of­fen­sively chal­lenged Ryan Goins and Dar­win Bar­ney.

His backup catcher, Mon­tero, threw down to se­cond base on a bounce four times Sun­day, and al­most drilled pitcher Joe Bi­agini, who ducked out of the way on the mound. The once all-world de­fence on the left side of the in­field with Don­ald­son and Tu­low­itzki has been less than spec­tac­u­lar, mak­ing eight er­rors apiece. One sus­pects lower­body in­juries may still be in play.

So now it’s on to Bos­ton, where the Jays can ei­ther make up ground in the AL East against the first-place Red Sox — or be buried.

CAR­LOS OS­O­RIO/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wob­bly Jays starter Marco Estrada gets the hook from man­ager John Gibbons in the fourth in­ning on Sun­day in Detroit.

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