Fennelly: Brutal way for Rays to open homestand
ST. PETERSBURG -
Before the season, Monday looked like top drawer: Blue Jays and Rays, start of a four-game series, clawing at each other atop the AL East.
At least they got the clawing part right.
One was treading water in fourth place, one was on the sea bed, gurgling. Payroll and transaction lists apparently can't be used as floatation devices. The Rays were 14-16, clinging to belief, while Toronto was in a very dark place, 11-21.
In a gesture of solidarity before Monday's series opener, Blue Jays and Rays players and coaches formed a human chain in center field to spell out: When do WE play the Astros?
That didn't happen.
But this game really did. Really, it did.
In a contest befitting these clubs' Make Up Your Mind status, the home team grabbed a 7-0 lead on an Evan Longoria grand slam and a Luke Scott two-run homer — then blew it again, all of it, in a crushing 8-7 loss, to open a 10-game homestand, no less. Nice.
They were doomed, again, by another blown lead, beginning with more mutt pitching from Jeremy Hellickson and Jake McGee, then a gruesome error by defensive replacement Yunel Escobar (as if hitting .172 wasn't enough) before J.P. Arencibia's two-out, two-run homer off Fernando Rodney as Rodney tried to secure a five-out save, a desperate Joe Maddon move that backfired.
“You score seven runs in one inning, you should win that game,” the Rays' manager said. “It's got to stop. We're better than that.”
Maybe this win jump starts desperate Toronto — and drains the Rays' battery.
The Jays are still back of the Rays. That sort of went back to what Toronto manager John Gibbons said before the game when asked about Jays-Rays:
“They're not where they want to be, but they're better off than where we're at, to tell you the truth.”
I'd say they're even. Look no further than this Thursday's Whuh Happened? matchup, David Price against R.A. Dickey, the reigning Cy Young winners. They have three wins between them. Price has a 6.25 ERA and Dickey has a 5.26 ERA. Tweet that.
The profoundly disappointing Jays are faring no better with Marlins players than the Marlins did. They're lucky that all of Toronto is trained on the eerily beloved Maple Leafs, who are making their once-every-nine-years Stanley Cup playoff appearance.
“I'd use the word 'mediocre,'” Maddon said of his team before the game. “At the same time, I'm kind of appreciating where we're at, despite not even playing close to our best baseball.”
14-17 — catch the fever. Or wear a mask.
The Jays went for it in 2013. They traded with the Marlins for shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, among others (Among those Toronto sent to Miami was Escobar, who then found his way to Tampa Bay). Then the Jays traded for Dickey, the nicest man in baseball. They seemed a playoff lock.
Reyes is injured, Johnson is injured, Buehrle was 1-2 with a 7.02 ERA and you know about Dickey. Throw in a lot of other problems and stow that Jays hype.
“We're beyond that,” Dickey said. “We're just trying to win a game.”
They did Monday.
The spin at Rays Central is that their toughest month is behind them. Through rain and sleet and snow, through the two longest road trips of the season, right off the bat, they've stayed afloat.
My spin here is that the pitching, of all things, isn't backing up the hitting. These blown leads are now an open menace to this season.
And to think, these two teams were supposed to battle for the division title.
“The heat comes down on you,” Gibbons said. “You can't slide by, that's for sure. You want expectations, because it means you think you have a good team, that the baseball world thinks you have a good team. You still have to go out and do it.”
Now there's heat on the Rays. They have to go out and start doing it. They haven't played their best baseball yet.
Will they ever?