Jays endure a rare Down-er at home

Jays endure a rare Down-er at home

TORONTO -- The well was dry, but John Gibbons dipped into it anyway. On Monday, the Blue Jays manager turned to oft-used reliever Scott Downs at a critical juncture in Toronto's afternoon tilt against the Yankees, and the move backfired in a rare lapse by the left-hander.

As he had done 56 times already this season, Downs answered the call and made the trek from the bullpen to the mound -- this time in an attempt to prevent a sixth-inning rally by the surging Yankees. New York has proved to be Downs' primary nemesis all year long, though, and this confrontation was no different.

Downs wasn't able to tame the Yankees, who quickly erased the efforts of Blue Jays rookie starter Jesse Litsch. The result was a four-run outburst by New York that sent Toronto to a 5-4 loss, which was the first defeat at home for the Jays since July 20, snapping a streak of eight consecutive wins at Rogers Centre.

"He's been great all year," said Gibbons, referring to Downs. "You can just write that one off. They threw some quality at-bats on him. That's all you can say."

The Jays (56-55) have given Downs a hefty workload this year -- the left-hander's 57 appearances represent the third-highest total in baseball -- but it's hard to argue against using the southpaw. Entering Monday's game, Downs (1-2) had relinquished only one run over 29 games since June 1, which was good enough for a 0.40 ERA over that span.

The 2.13 ERA that Downs carried into the contest was one of the better marks among American League relievers, and he had yielded runs in only five of his 56 appearances. Downs also hadn't given up a run since July 19. Then again, that was when the Blue Jays were taking on the Yankees in the Bronx.

After his latest meltdown, Downs' ERA against the Yankees (62-50) this season ballooned to 10.50. In eight appearances against the Bronx Bombers, the 31-year-old southpaw has yielded seven of the 12 runs he's allowed to them this year. Downs owns a 1.25 ERA across his 49 outings against other opponents.

This time around, Gibbons turned to Downs before he typically does, but the decision made sense in the situation. Litsch walked New York's Bobby Abreu and gave up a single to Alex Rodriguez to put two runners aboard with no outs and the left-handed-hitting Hideki Matsui at the plate. With the Jays nursing a 3-1 lead, Litsch understood why he was pulled.

"There was a lefty coming up, and Downsie is one of the best left-handers," Litsch said. "I mean, how many appearances has he had, you know? He goes out there and gets the job done 99 percent of the time."

It was that unfortunate one percent that came back to bite Downs on this occasion.

Matsui looped a single into shallow left field that allowed Abreu to score, cutting Toronto's lead to one run. Two batters later, Robinson Cano sliced a pitch from Downs into left-center for a two-run double. The Yankees moved ahead, 5-3, late in the frame on an RBI single by Melky Cabrera.

That outburst by New York, which has gone 19-7 with an average of 7.7 runs per game since the All-Star break, canceled out the outing turned in by Litsch. The 22-year-old right-hander was charged with three runs on six hits with four strikeouts. Litsch also walked three -- none more glaring than the free pass issued to Abreu to lead off the sixth.

"All walks are big, and he came around to score," Litsch said. "I got a ground ball to A-Rod that just wasn't where I wanted the ground ball to be. It happened. I can't do anything about it now. I tried to throw a two-seamer, which I struck [Abreu] out with early on in the game, and it just sunk down too far."

Gibbons had no complaints about Litsch.

"Jesse pitched a good ballgame -- he really did," Gibbons said. "They worked him on a hot day, and he got through five [innings] in a tight ballgame. He did a nice job. He ought to feel good about himself. He's been on a roll and he's been pitching great."

The four-run sixth for the Yankees, who moved into a virtual tie with the Tigers for first place atop the AL Wild Card standings, also overcame the work of the Blue Jays' offense. Toronto pieced together three runs against left-hander Andy Pettitte (8-7), who allowed six hits and struck out six over 5 2/3 innings.

Pettitte was able to slam the door on the Jays in the fifth, when Toronto was presented with an opportune scoring chance. John McDonald doubled and Reed Johnson walked to put two runners on base with no outs. The pair then successfully converted a double steal to move into scoring position.

Pettitte allowed one run to score on an infield single by Vernon Wells, but the Yankees lefty struck out three to limit the damage. The lone run in the frame put Toronto ahead, 3-1, which proved to be too little for the Jays' pitchers to utilize against the Yankees' bats, which entered the game with a .328 average since the break.

"That was big," said Gibbons, referring to Toronto's inability to mount more offense in the fifth. "Tack-on runs are big, especially when you're facing that lineup. With the way they've been swinging it lately, it turned out to be the difference today."

Especially in hindsight, considering the rare collapse by Downs.

"That's the game right there," Gibbons said. "The first two guys got on in the sixth and then we went to Downsie, but he's been tremendous. He'll let this go."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.