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MLB

Jays' playoff chances 'microscopic' after gutting loss

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Brandon Guyer #5 and Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate Zobrist's home run in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during MLB action at the Rogers Centre September 14, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Abelimages/Getty Images/AFP)

Brandon Guyer #5 and Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate Zobrist's home run in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during MLB action at the Rogers Centre September 14, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Abelimages/Getty Images/AFP)

TORONTO  - 

The Blue Jays’ margin for error was already very small. After Sunday’s 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s microscopic.

This late-season run for a playoff spot has always been against the odds and now, after losing two of three to the Rays at home, those odds are overwhelming.

The loss was especially gut-wrenching after the Jays rallied from a 5-1 deficit on Adam Lind’s three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth and then John Mayberry Jr.’s dramatic two-out, two-strike pinch-hit home run in the ninth, forcing extra-innings.

In the 10th, the Rays loaded the bases, then took the lead for good on a Sean Rodriguez sacrifice fly. This time, with the top of the order coming up, the Jays had no response. Brandon Gomes set Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista down, then lefty Jeff Beliveau dealt with pinch-hitter Kevin Pillar to end it.

“It was one of those games where we were out of it the whole way, just kind of moving along and then we came back and struck real quick,” said manager John Gibbons.

“This time of year, there’s really no room for error and it makes it that much tougher. It’s always hard to take when you battle back, one of those games where not much is happening yet you come back, strike quick, the momentum is on your side. Everybody is upbeat and then you end up dropping it like that.

“Those are always tough but at this time of year, knowing where we are at, it’s especially tough.”

There were 28,633 at the Rogers Centre on Sunday, hoping for the Jays to keep this September rally alive with another offensive explosion in support of Mark Buehrle but, for seven innings, those fans were greeted with the sounds of silence, courtesy of Rays right-hander Chris Archer.

Archer gave up just three hits and the only one of note was Edwin Encarnacion’s 32nd home run leading off the seventh to break up what at the time was a 4-0 shutout. That long ball aside, Archer avoided any solid contact all afternoon. He gave up a leadoff single to Jose Reyes in the first inning and another leadoff single in the third by Danny Valencia, then nothing more until Encarnacion’s homer.

The Rays added another run in the top of the eighth on what would become a very important home run by Yunel Escobar against reliever Todd Redmond.

Things got interesting — and noisy — in the bottom of the eighth when Rays reliever Grant Balfour came out of the pen and gave up one-out singles to Jose Reyes and Bautista before Lind belted his second homer in as many games to cut the lead to a solitary run.

In the ninth inning, McGee got the first two quick outs, setting the stage for Mayberry, batting for second baseman Munenori Kawasaki. McGee got ahead 1-2 in the count but Mayberry sent the next pitch out of the park on a line, just over the wall in left to tie the game.

In the top of the 10th, the Rays quickly loaded the bases. Brandon Morrow walked Wil Myers, then gave up a single to Logan Forsythe, putting runners at first and third with nobody out. Lefty Brett Cecil was summoned to face Escobar, but walked him to load the bases, still with nobody out. Sean Rodriguez then delivered the go-ahead sixth run with a long sacrifice fly to centre. Cecil got out of the inning without further scoring, but the damage was done.

Buehrle gave up two runs in the third and two more in the fourth when Bautista lost a ball in the sun that went for a double and ended up costing both runs. The veteran left-hander gave up nine hits and four runs over six innings and now sits 12 innings short of his 200-inning goal, with two starts remaining.

The Blue Jays now head out on a seven-game trip to Baltimore and New York where they will need to be perfect if they expect to play meaningful games during their final homestand to end the season.

“Obviously we don’t like the position we’re in, with three teams in front of us,” said Buehrle. “If there is one team in front for that playoff spot, it would be a different story. But we all know we’re not in a good position, we need help from other teams. But at the same time, we have to worry about ourselves and win the games we have to play.

“I’d like to say we’re in a better position but we’re not. We put ourselves in this position and we have to deal with it.”

After Buehrle set down the Rays in order in the first and second innings, things went south in a hurry in the third inning.

Sean Rodriguez led off the third with a double down the right-field line. He advanced to third on Ryan Hanigan’s fly ball to centre, then came home on Kevin Kiermaier’s groundball out to first. With two out, Ben Zobrist belted his 10th home run of the season to make it 2-0. Brandon Guyer followed with a double to right but he was gunned down at third on a nice relay from Bautista to Goins to Valencia.

The Rays scored two more in the fourth. Longoria singled to lead off then a routine fly ball off the bat of Wil Myers was lost in the sun by Bautista, putting runners at second and third with nobody out. Logan Forsythe’s grounder to third scored one run. One out later, Hanigan’s line single to centre plated Myers with Tampa’s fourth run.


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