Three runs and a suspenseful save were enough for a Blue Jays win Wednesday, but that formula faltered Thursday, as the Mariners scored three in the ninth to take a 4-3 win and split the two-game series in front of 20,452 at Safeco Field.
Closer Kevin Gregg, the American League saves leader, got himself into a sticky situation in the bottom of the ninth on two singles and a walk, and he walked in a run and gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly before Ken Griffey Jr. wrapped things up with a walk-off line drive to right field.
"We had a chance to win that ballgame, and if I do my job, we win," Gregg said. "To me, it's just walking guys. That's unacceptable right there. You can't be walking those guys, and I didn't execute my pitches."
Starter Ricky Romero did, and he made sure the Mariners' struggling bats stayed that way during his 6 2/3 innings. Jose Bautista's fifth-inning home run seemed to give Toronto all it needed, as the Blue Jays were firmly in control until the late collapse.
In the fifth, Alex Gonzalez extended his hit streak to seven games with a one-out single, and Bautista brought him around with a two-run home run that bounced off the top of the left-field fence and into the Jays' bullpen.
The blast gave Bautista a team-high 12 for the season, and while he jumped all over the 2-1 pitch, his bat was a bit slower than on a similar hit Wednesday, and that made the difference. In the first matchup, he pulled a ball further to left and struck the raised scoreboard down the line for a double. His dinger Thursday was about 25 feet to the right, just clearing the wall.
The Jays added another run in the seventh when Lyle Overbay singled and scored on a sacrifice fly, but they leave Seattle with just 11 hits in two games. It was the usual efficiency from a team that came into the game ranked No. 20 in hits and third in runs, but the Mariners' Jason Vargas, Kanekoa Texeira and Shawn Kelley combined to prevent any major damage.
"You have to look at it that way. Their pitchers did a pretty decent job, and this is just a tough ballgame to lose today," Bautista said. "We gave them a good run, but they did a great job in the ninth inning with getting on base and getting productive at-bats. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat."
That's one of the few hat-tips for the Mariners lately. They've lost 15 of their last 19 contests, and the late win provided some smiles for a team that had been doing anything but.
"It was big, especially against Kevin Gregg," Seattle first baseman Casey Kotchman said. "He has been stingy and hardly given up anything all year. Our offense has been just the opposite, and to come up big in the ninth in front of our home fans was huge. Hopefully this is something that will spark us for the next few weeks."
Romero followed last week's complete-game shutout with another solid outing, but his performance is tempered somewhat by Seattle's struggles at the plate. The Mariners scored one in the third on a walk, single and two sacrifice bunts, and with little confidence in their bats, they tried the same ploy in the fifth.
In that frame, the M's put two on with no out, but Josh Wilson struck out on three fouled bunt attempts and the next two batters grounded out. They didn't get anything going until the ninth, when Gregg's control problems opened the door for a comeback.
In one-third of an inning, he threw 25 pitches (12 strikes), walked two and gave up three hits.
Romero was pulled in the seventh after giving up a double to Josh Bard. Manager Cito Gaston said his starters are on a pitch count of about 110, and with Romero at 101, he elected to give him a rest.
Romero said the key to his day was staying aggressive. That was the same philosophy Brett Cecil used for his win Wednesday, a sure tactic in spacious Safeco Field against a floundering offense.
"That's one of the things coming in -- if you fall behind in the count, let them put it in play," Romero said. "You have to really hit the ball pretty good here to hit it out of the yard. There were some situations where I was like, 'Here you go, hit it,' and we got some outs."
Mike McCall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.