Baseball experts traditionally look at how a manager is doing by how he uses the bullpen. Last night’s game for the Toronto Blue Jays has been a typical situation of a manager relying on his starter for fear of his bullpen losing the game. Too often this season, the problem has been the starters imploding in the later frames.
Over 43, 000 people flowed into the Rogers Centre to watch the series opener against the New York Yankees. More specifically, future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter. He is gracing Canada’s presence for the last time as a player. The farewell tour will continue for the rest of the series and be capped by yet another gift for the Yankee’s captain. However, in this game, the Yankees received a gift in the seventh inning.
Chris Capuano got the start on the mound for the Yankees against the wily veteran, Mark Buehrle for the Blue Jays. Capuano came to the Yankees in a trade from the Boston Red Sox bullpen, sporting an ERA of 4.24, which closely matches his career numbers. A respectable pitcher, but one who can give up runs in the long stretches. Buehrle started off strong this season, but was 1-3 by giving up 29 runs in his last 10 starts. Both lefty pitchers like to stay a bit out of the strikezone to get groundouts.
But in the bottom of the fourth inning, it was the face of the Blue Jays’ franchise, Jose Bautista who started the scoring. He launched his 27th home run of the season over the left field fence to give the Blue Jays the lead.
Recently, turning the ball over to the Blue Jays bullpen with only a small lead has proved fatal to their skipper, John Gibbons. In particular, Casey Janssen has lost his form since the All-Star break, blowing a couple of save opportunities and ballooning his ERA to 7.56 in his last 10 games. So, Gibbons kept Buehrle going in the seventh, even though everyone under the sun knows that the veteran pitcher bleeds runs. If he hasn’t given up a run in six innings, Buehrle is due.
After Brian McCann doubled and Carlos Beltran walked to start the inning, Brett Gardner doubled to right field. After Bautista hit the cutoff man, Steve Tolleson, the second baseman made a throwing error that moved Gardner to third base. After Ichiro Suzuki made a soft ground ball to earn an infield single, Buehrle was relieved by Aaron Loup. It didn’t get much better for the Jays, as Dioner Navarro called Tolleson’s throwing error and raised him a run during a pickoff attempt. Jacoby Ellsbury added to the misery, as he hit his 14th homer of the season to right field. The Yankees scored five runs in the frame to take the lead, which they never relinquished.
The Blue Jays did not roll over and die. Kevin Pillar doubled to center field, scoring Colby Rasmus. Melky Cabrera continued to show his leadership at the plate by a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Pillar. Sadly, this was as far as the Blue Jays’ nine hits could carry them in this game.
It’s hard to continue having to dig yourself out of a hole when mistakes keep making that hole deeper. The Chase Headley homer in the top of the ninth inning became a footnote off of Dustin McGowan, compared to what transpired in the seventh inning. Buehrle told Shi Davidi of Rogers Sportsnet, “‘It could be a sign of getting old and a lot of innings, I get to the fifth, sixth inning and start to putter out a little bit, I don’t know,’ said Buehrle. ‘I felt strong even going out there for the seventh inning, I felt as strong as I did in the first and it’s just the results aren’t there. I’m missing location, which that obviously is a sign of getting a little tired…The way I’m feeling now, I’m happy about it, I just need to get the results.’”
The Blue Jays bats were silent after Bautista’s home run. Even with hits later in the ballgame, Gibbons does not necessarily keep Buehrle in the seventh inning if the lead was a bit bigger and the bullpen is more sure of themselves. Some people could argue that Gibbons’ frustration lately stems from the feeling that he can’t make a decision without some part of the team imploding on him. Right now, the bats, the bullpen, the starters, and the coaching decisions are being affected by each of the other parts of the team. Lack of faith? Lack of confidence? The Blue Jays better figure it out if they want to have any hope of still being in this year’s wildcard race.