Blue Jays' 9th Inning Rally Come Up Short, Drop Series to Astros

By Thom Tsang

I don’t think this was the expected result headed into the weekend series against the worst team in baseball, but the game has a peculiar way of surprising teams in both good and bad ways. The Toronto Blue Jays got a dose of the latter over the weekend, culminating in this afternoon’s 3-2 loss at the hands of the Houston Astros, and dropping the team’s first series in 5. A little embarrassing, really, considering that we were taking on the weakest of NL teams at home – but, I guess the Astros have to win sometime.

Simply put, we just didn’t get enough offense on the board today against the Astros pitching. Veteran starter Wandy Rodriguez got the best of the Jays bats, holding the bluebirds to just 2 runs on 6 hits over 6 innings of work with 6 strikeouts. Not helping matters was a extra-wide strike zone being called by home plate umpire Dan Bellino – something that Rodriguez too full advantage of, especially in his two strikeouts of Jose Bautista. Bellino was consistent with his crazy zone, though, so it’s not like you could fault him entirely.

Both of the Jays runs came off the long ball, as we got home run displays from Juan Rivera and JP Arencibia (who has more home run than any other rookie catchers, but that was to be expected). Unfortunately, the team just couldn’t get the big hit with runners on base, stranding 11 runners in total and going just 1-for8 with runners in scoring position. If those homers came at slightly different times, the ballgame would likely have had a different result.

Yunel Escobar isn’t something I talk about a lot here, but he’s been quietly putting a nice 3-game hitting streak together. Today, he was the Jays’ biggest contributor at the plate, going 2-for-3 while drawing 2 walks. Aside from Jose Bautista, you could make a case for Escobar being the most consistent Jays bat at this point of the season. Unlike most leadoff hitters, Escobar doesn’t really have blazing speed; he’s been able to get himself on base at a good clip, though, and the occasional home run ball definitely helps.

Despite playing from behind for most of the game, the Blue Jays still managed a spirited 9th inning rally with 2 outs, capped by the Astros intentionally walking Jose Bautista to load the bases for Aaron Hill. Unfortunately for Hill, he put the ball in play on a groundout – just one missed glove, and he would’ve been the hero of the day; instead, he took the 0-for-4 collar in a close game. Despite today’s setback, Hill has come around a bit: he’s hit .306/.360 over the last week, and the balls he puts into play are mostly lined into the outfield. So there are some good signs, and hopefully the results will continue for the embattled 2nd baseman, who has went from an all-star in ’09 to what has turned into a 1+ season struggle to find consistency.

On the hill for the losing effort for the Jays was rookie Kyle Drabek, who put up another uneven performance, allowing 3 earned runs on 8 hits over 6 innings of work. Like his previous starts, he struggled with his control early, and worked his pitch count up while having to escape trouble on several occasions. The biggest damage was done by the Astros’ best hitter, Hunter Pence, who hit a 2-run home run in the 5th which broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Astros a lead they would not relinquish. As a viewer, it can be little frustrating to watch Drabek; he’s got some pretty good stuff, but often can’t put it where he wants. Pitching around MLB hitters isn’t really a process he’s going to be able to learn in the minors, and although it’s hard to watch sometimes, the process is paramount to Drabek’s development. Even the most heralded rookies have to go through a learning curve, after all.

With interleague play now complete, the Jays will look to right the ship against a much tougher opponent starting tomorrow, when they roll into New Yankee Stadium to take on the Evil Empire. Carlos Villanueva will make his first start of the season out of the bullpen in lieu of an injured Jesse Litsch, against the Bartolo Colon Career Revival Tour.

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