Jays walk off empty in se­ries fi­nale

Estrada sees bright side af­ter another early hook, but Liri­ano news good

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - RICHARD GRIF­FIN BASE­BALL COLUMNIST

DETROIT— An al­ready unim­pres­sive Blue Jays team may have hit rock bot­tom on Sun­day in a 6-5 loss at Comer­ica Park, drop­ping seven games un­der .500 on a road trip where they had to be­gin to turn the sea­son around.

Af­ter starter Marco Estrada man­aged just11outs, af­ter the once-proud Jays de­fence made mis­takes to con­trib­ute to ev­ery as­pect of the de­feat, af­ter the bats fell si­lent from the fifth in­ning on forc­ing the bullpen to be per­fect in or­der to win, it came down to Lu­cas Har­rell fac­ing Miguel Cabr­era with two out and the bases loaded in the 11th in­ning.

The re­sult­ing loss was pre­dictable, but the walk-off walk was not.

“Re­ally, the way we’ve been play­ing, we’re where we should be,” man­ager John Gibbons said, look­ing de­feated af­ter the game. “The way we’re play­ing in all phases of the game, it was a tough one to­day.

How do you solve Estrada’s prob­lems? When Gibbons spoke to the me­dia ear­lier in the weekend, he praised the right-han­der’s re­mark­able con­sis­tency. It turns out he was right. Un­for­tu­nately, the con­sis­tency of late has been mostly neg­a­tive as Estrada, a big-game weapon for the Blue Jays in the last two post-sea­sons, failed to pitch at least five in­nings for the seventh time in his last nine starts. How­ever, start af­ter start, Estrada con­tin­ues to see the sil­ver lin­ing.

“Just miss­ing spots,” Estrada be­gan. “The last time I pitched was 12, 13 days ago. It’s kind of to be ex­pected, I guess. It just felt weird to me, but once I got out of that (first) in­ning, I felt great.

“I felt like my­self again, thought I made a lot of good pitches. Cer­tain things didn’t re­ally go my way af­ter that, but I’m look­ing back and think­ing, other than (Justin) Up­ton’s hit in the first, I don’t re­mem­ber much else be­ing hit too hard. I’m tak­ing those pos­i­tives with me and mov­ing on to the next one.”

This was a good news/bad news weekend for Jays start­ing pitch­ing.

The good news was the seem­ing re­turn to health and per­for­mance by Aaron Sanchez on Fri­day.

The bad news was the con­tin­u­ing in­ef­fi­ciency of Estrada, along with the neck tight­ness suf­fered by Fran­cisco Liri­ano that chased him in the fourth in­ning on Satur­day.

Liri­ano was ex­am­ined Sun­day af­ter­noon by a Tigers team physi­cian, who de­ter­mined that he does not re­quire an MRI and will be bet­ter with rest and treat­ment. In the mean­time, though, his next start on Thurs­day is in jeop­ardy.

“I just wanted to stay for my team and do any­thing I can to stay in the game,” Liri­ano said of his phys­i­cal strug­gle on Satur­day. “I wasn’t go­ing to help them just throw­ing like that. I couldn’t throw a strike and in­side to a righty. So I just couldn’t throw.”

The Jays, as is too of­ten the case, scored all five runs via home runs in Sun­day’s de­feat. In the first in­ning, Justin Smoak slammed his 24th. Kendrys Mo­rales made it back-to­back blasts with his 17th, giv­ing the Jays a short-lived 3-0 lead.

It was the fifth time the Jays have gone back-to-back this year, the se­cond time it’s been Smoak and Mo­rales. They also did it on June 2 vs. the Yan­kees.

Trail­ing 4-3, a big blow came from the bat of lead­off hit­ter Jose Bautista in the fifth in­ning. Af­ter the Tigers had taken the lead in the fourth, Bautista crushed a home run off starter Ani­bal Sanchez that ric­o­cheted off the face of a Jays fan in the se­cond row. The two-run blast gave Toronto a lead to hand off to the bullpen.

With no add-on runs for the fi­nal six in­nings, the bullpen core of Ryan Tepera, Joe Bi­agini, Danny Barnes and Roberto Osuna al­lowed just a J.D. Martinez homer in the eighth.

Then came the walk-off against Jeff Be­liv­eau and Har­rell.

DUANE BURLESON/GETTY IM­AGES

Blue Jay Jose Bautista, who home­red in the fifth, couldn’t pull back this blast off the bat of the Tigers’ J.D. Martinez in the eighth in­ning on Sun­day.

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