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Blue Jays lose opener in extras

Blue jays drop opener in extras

PITTSBURGH -- The last thing the Blue Jays needed on Friday night was a demoralizing blow to their laboring roster. The struggling franchise had already made sweeping changes on its staff, bringing in Cito Gaston as Toronto's new manager.

In their first game under the new leadership, which includes three new coaches as well, the Jays weren't able to avoid a 1-0 loss to the Pirates in 12 innings at PNC Park. Toronto was at least counting itself fortunate that the defeat -- an apt summation of this woeful season -- didn't include the loss of ace Roy Halladay.

In the seventh inning, Pirates outfielder Nyjer Morgan scorched an offering from Halladay back toward the mound, where the baseball struck the pitcher in the side of the head. The ball ricocheted into the glove of third baseman Scott Rolen for an out, but the play was nonetheless unsettling for the Jays.

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"I was just hoping that he was fine," Toronto catcher Rod Barajas said. "It's the scariest play in baseball -- those comebackers right at the pitchers. I was just hoping for his health, hoping it wasn't going to be too bad."

Halladay exited the game following that scare, though he appeared unfazed after the loss, displaying no bruises or cuts and indicating that he was all right. Halladay didn't have time to chat with reporters, seeing as he was off to have an X-ray -- no big deal, according to the ace.

"I guess it's just precautionary," said Halladay, who isn't expected to miss a start. "I feel fine."

That's great news for the Blue Jays (35-40), who can ill-afford to lose the horse of their stellar staff. The loss to Pittsburgh was the sixth loss in a row for Toronto, which has dropped 14 of its past 18 contests, slipping to five games below .500 for the first time since May 12.

The main culprit behind the recent skid -- not to mention the driving force behind Friday's dismissal of manager John Gibbons -- has been a lack of offense. It's been an issue all season, sinking the last-place Blue Jays 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East.

"This is on the players," said Barajas, referring to the coaching changes. "When we get guys on base early, we just can't seem to get them moving around the bases. It's disappointing. We need to figure out a way as a ballclub to be more productive, because this has gone on too long."

It was more of the same against the Pirates (35-39), who were overpowered by Halladay and Toronto's bullpen. Halladay spun seven shutout innings and struck out seven before being forced from the contest, scattering six hits and picking up a no-decision for his effort.

Pittsburgh left-hander Zach Duke was similarly brilliant, allowing no runs on six hits over seven crisp frames. Then again, the Jays put two runs on base in each of the first four innings and came up empty. In all, Toronto stranded 10 runners and finished 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position -- familiar results.

"We could've had a couple runs there and won the ballgame," Gaston said. "It seems to be that that's the way we've been playing -- not being able to get any runs. Hopefully, we're going to straighten that out.

"We're going to have to get some hitting. If we don't get some hitting, you're going to see more nights like that."

After Halladay and Duke matched zeros for seven innings, the Pirates and Blue Jays combined to use eight relievers -- who continued the night's theme. It wasn't until the 12th inning, when Gaston turned to lefty Jesse Carlson and then righty Jason Frasor, that either team flinched.

Doug Mientkiewicz opened the inning with a double off Carlson, and moved to third base on an infield single by Jack Wilson. At that point, Gaston, who first served as Toronto's manager from 1989-97 and led the Jays to World Series titles in 1992-93, called upon Frasor.

Two batters later, pinch-hitter Jason Michaels drilled a pitch from Frasor toward shortstop John McDonald, who was unable to glove the ball cleanly. The baseball skipped away from the infielder, allowing the Pirates to capture a walk-off victory.

"Those guys did a great job," Gaston said of his pitchers. "We're just unable to score runs right now, but they are playing hard. That doesn't solve the problems sometimes, but if you play hard, sooner or later, something good is going to happen for you."

The Blue Jays are hoping the changes can help.

"It was a different day today -- a new start," Barajas said. "Now, it's time for us to go out there and do some good things on the field."

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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