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Downward spiral

Downward spiral

BOSTON -- The Blue Jays' latest debacle in the Fens served as a fitting summation of an April that went completely and utterly awry on the spiraling ballclub. The pitching was dominant, the hitting was absent and Toronto fell short in opportune situations.

The end result on Wednesday night was all too familiar: the Blue Jays slogging off the field at Fenway Park in the wake of a 2-1 defeat. The loss extended a forgettable road trip for Toronto, which has gone 1-7 on its current journey with one game remaining in Boston before it can finally retreat north of the border.

Dustin McGowan was stellar for the Blue Jays, matching zeroes with Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka for six swift innings. As impressive as Matsuzaka was on this evening, it was a continued lack of offense from Toronto that once again spoiled a dominating effort by its pitching staff.

"It's gradually getting more frustrating," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "We can, obviously, swing the bats a lot better than we have been -- that's the frustrating thing."

Through eight games on their current nine-game venture, the Blue Jays (11-17) have managed just 21 runs -- or an average of 2.6 runs per game. Over that same span, Toronto's lineup has produced an astonishing .093 batting average with runners in scoring position, notching five hits in 54 at-bats.

Those statistics are startling in the sense that the Jays entered this season with high hopes for their offense. Then again, the shortcomings on Toronto's latest road trip are characteristic of the club's season so far. Entering Wednesday's tilt, the Jays ranked 12th in the American League with 115 runs and last with a .215 average with runners in scoring position.

A prime example of Toronto's offensive struggles came up in the eighth inning against the Red Sox (17-12). After Matsuzaka exited the contest -- the right-hander spun seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits -- Adam Lind and Gregg Zaun singled and doubled, respectively, to open the inning for the Jays.

Alex Rios followed with a run-scoring sacrifice fly off Boston reliever Hideki Okajima, who then struck out David Eckstein and Scott Rolen to escape the threat relatively unharmed. That lone run accounted for all of Toronto's offense, which finished 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the loss.

"I don't know what to tell you," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who has run out of answers or explanations. "Both sides pitched great -- that's basically what it came down to. It was one of those tight ballgames. They've been winning those -- we haven't."

It was an eerily similar finish to Toronto's 1-0 walk-off loss to Boston one night earlier. Much like Tuesday night, the Red Sox plated the game's decisive run with two outs in the ninth inning -- this time on a single to center field by Boston catcher Jason Varitek.

On Tuesday, Wells bobbled a ball in center on the final play, robbing him of a chance at throwing out the runner at the plate. This time around, Wells gloved the ball cleanly and came up firing, but his throw was slightly off target, allowing Manny Ramirez to score, putting Boston ahead for good.

On the previous play, Boston's Brandon Moss drilled a pitch from Scott Downs (0-1) into center field, where Wells also scooped up the grounder and rifled a throw to catcher Rod Barajas. Blocking the plate, Barajas received the relay from Wells and stopped pinch-runner Jed Lowrie from scoring, momentarily preserving the 1-1 tie.

"You charge it hard and give yourself a chance to make a throw," Wells said. "The second throw was just a little more off than the first one."

It was slight missteps like that which loomed large in this particular loss. McGowan churned out 7 1/3 strong innings, but an ill-fated changeup in the seventh led to a solo home run off the bat of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. That snapped a run of 16 consecutive outs retired by McGowan.

In the ninth inning, Matt Stairs led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner John McDonald. With Wells at the plate, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-0) quickly fired the ball to first base, where McDonald unsuccessfully scrambled back to the bag, winding up picked off in the process.

"The bottom line is you can't get picked off in that situation," said McDonald, who agreed with Gibbons' assessment that Papelbon balked, flinching his front leg before throwing to first.

It's yet another example of the many mistakes that have haunted the Blue Jays throughout the season's opening month. Toronto can only hope that its offense can turn things around now that the calendar has turned to May.

"It's frustrating, but it's more frustrating for the hitters," McGowan said. "You know they want to get us out of this as bad as we do. We're in this together."

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

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