Jays fall short after forcing extras

Jays fall short after forcing extras

TORONTO -- Nearly five hours of baseball stretched across 14 grueling innings essentially came down to one pitch that bounced in the dirt in front of home plate and skipped under the glove of catcher Gregg Zaun.

It was a pitch that the veteran has blocked countless times before, but one that simply got away from him in the final inning on Wednesday night against the Rangers. Officially, the curveball in question was ruled a wild pitch, but that hardly provided solace for Zaun after the costly blunder contributed to Toronto's 7-5 loss.

"It's frustrating," Zaun said. "When something as simple as a ball getting between my legs is possibly the difference in the ballgame, that's hard to swallow."

There was plenty of frustration to be found within the latest defeat for the Blue Jays (8-7), who matched a franchise record by using nine pitchers in a game. Toronto staged a late rally against Texas to force extra frames, but missed chances on offense ultimately tilted the game in the Rangers' favor.

Toronto finished a dismal 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, providing ample opportunity for Texas (6-9). By the time the 14th inning rolled around, the Blue Jays had cycled through their entire bullpen and had to turn to right-hander A.J. Burnett -- Toronto's probable starter for Friday -- for a rare relief appearance.

"He showed a lot of guts," manager John Gibbons said of Burnett. "We talked it out in there, and that's what team guys do. If you get enough of those guys, that's how you win."

It was against Burnett (1-1), though, that Texas finally found a way to pry itself out of a 5-5 deadlock, though with some assistance from that errant breaking ball. With two outs and runners on the corners in the 14th, Burnett fired a first-pitch curve to Josh Hamilton that dove drastically before reaching the plate.

Zaun moved from his crouch and onto his knees, anticipating a short hop. The baseball bounced in front of the dish and stayed low to the ground, rolling under Zaun's glove, allowing Frank Catalanotto to sprint home from third base to put Toronto behind, 6-5. Two pitches later, Hamilton stroked an RBI double to up the Jays' deficit to two runs.

"I just didn't get my hands down," Zaun said. "It's a ball I've blocked a thousand times before, and I didn't get the hop that I was expecting. The cardinal sin is not getting your hands down to protect the hole between your legs, and I just didn't get them down in time.

"It's something that can't happen in that situation. I take all the responsibility, because if I block that ball, we've still got some strikes to work with, and who knows how differently [Burnett] pitches Hamilton in that situation. They count on me to block those balls."

Zaun might have felt the need to shoulder the blame for the way the final inning unfolded, but Burnett knew that his catcher wasn't entirely at fault. Burnett managed a slight smirk when asked about the pitch, because -- for perhaps the first time this season -- he finally located the type of sharp diving curve he's been known to feature.

"It was nasty," Burnett said. "It's one of those that just got through, because it broke so much -- that's all you can say. That's the good thing out of tonight, I found my curveball. [Zaun] blocks that ball nine out of 10 times. It was just one of those days."

It was certainly another one of those games in which Toronto's pitching staff outshined its offense. Not including Burnett, the seven relievers who followed starter Jesse Litsch combined to surrender just one run over eight innings, including three stellar frames from left-hander Jesse Carlson.

With the game knotted at 5 in the 11th, Carlson took the mound with no outs and the bases loaded. The lefty registered three straight strikeouts to escape the threat, then held Texas off the scoreboard through the 13th. It was a crucial performance that saved Toronto from scrambling for a ninth pitcher until absolutely necessary. It was also the first time in 48 years that a pitcher entered a game in extras with no outs and the bases loaded and struck out the side.

"It was gutty," said Zaun, assessing Carlson's night. "He came in in a tough situation, and he had to go all the way through the lineup, and he pitched out of some big situations. That's a pretty mature performance from a young man who's only been in the big leagues for a couple of weeks."

As well as the bullpen performed, it was the lack of timely hits that helped sink the Blue Jays. Trailing, 5-2, Toronto managed a three-run rally in the eighth inning, but two of those runs came courtesy of a throwing error by Texas first baseman Ben Broussard, who was attempting to turn an inning-ending double play.

"The pitchers hung in there, and they laid their guts out there," Gibbons said. "We battled back and managed to tie that thing and made some runs. But we didn't capitalize on some opportunities. We had a chance."

Gibbons declined to discuss the possibility that the Jays might call up a pitcher on Thursday to help the bullpen, considering that the club was worn thin in Wednesday's game, which that lasted four hours and 53 minutes. Helping matters, at least, is the fact that the Jays are sending ace Roy Halladay to the hill.

"We'll talk about that later," Gibbons said. "We've got the right guy going, that's for sure."

Even though he endured an unexpected stint as a reliever, Burnett didn't believe he'd have to miss his scheduled start on Friday.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "No problem."

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