After mounting a five-run comeback, the Blue Jays came up empty when it mattered most, squandering a chance to take advantage of loaded bags with no outs in the seventh inning. The result was eerily similar to familiar shortcomings before Gaston's arrival on Friday, and he aims to get to the bottom of the issue.
"One by one, you'll talk to guys and say, 'What's your approach with the bases loaded?'" Gaston said. "Then, you can find out what they're thinking and, if they're thinking the wrong things, see if you can tell them the right thing to do up there."
Toronto (37-42) had done plenty of things right in the first six innings, helping to overcome a shaky outing by ace Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays climbed back from a five-run hole to tie the score by the sixth, and the club appeared primed for another rally as the seventh began to unfold in Toronto's favor.
Alex Rios opened the frame with a single off Reds reliever David Weathers, who then surrendered consecutive base hits to Vernon Wells and Matt Stairs to load the bases. Each Toronto batter hacked at the first pitch he saw, rapidly creating an opportune chance to take the lead.
Three more pitches and the inning was over.
Scott Rolen, who was 0-for-5 on the night for the Jays, offered at the first pitch he saw and popped out harmlessly to second baseman Brandon Phillips -- hardly deep enough for a sacrifice fly. Lyle Overbay followed by chopping a pitch back to the mound, where Weathers gloved the ball and initiated an inning-ending double play.
"You can't let that happen," Overbay said. "It was a situation where I had a good game plan and you just have to stick to it, and I didn't. You've got to get a pitch to hit. ... Bases loaded, he's got to come to you and you've got to make him come to you, and I didn't."
That helped send the Blue Jays to their 15th loss in the past 21 games -- a skid that's dropped Toronto into last place in the American League East. Toronto, which is 11 games behind first-place Boston, fell to 5-9 in Interleague Play, 3-7 in extra innings and just 11-20 in one-run contests.
The problem goes beyond just Overbay, though the 15 double plays he's grounded into -- not to mention the unfortunate triple play he lined into on May 12 in Cleveland -- do lead the AL. As a whole, the Jays' .213 average with the bases loaded was the second-worst mark in the league, entering Wednesday.
Hopes were flying high around the Jays after Tuesday's 14-run, 22-hit parade against the Reds. Questions about Toronto's issues with runners in scoring position -- the club's .236 average in that situation ranked 13th in the league heading into Wednesday's tilt -- went by the wayside for one day.
That trend was back in force by Wednesday, when Toronto hit just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
"The only way we can correct that," Gaston said, "is to find out what they're thinking in those situations and see if we can correct them. ... If you just go up there and stay within yourself and try to make good contact, I think everything is going to work out for you."
There was the matter of Toronto's rally, which would've seemed improbable during earlier stretches this season. By coincidence or not, though, the Blue Jays have averaged six runs per game since Gaston replaced manager John Gibbons over the weekend.
"I think I've been preaching five runs, haven't I?" Gaston said. "We could've used six tonight."
Early struggles by Halladay put Toronto in a five-run hole by the third inning. After striking out the first two batters of the game, Halladay issued a walk to Phillips and then became the 385th different pitcher to be victimized by a Ken Griffey Jr. home run -- the 602nd of the outfielder's career.
Halladay spotted the Reds (36-43) three more runs in the third inning, when Cincinnati opened the frame with four straight hits. Down 5-0 in the home half of the third, though, Toronto answered against Reds starter Aaron Harang with four runs -- two each on homers by Adam Lind and Joe Inglett.
"For me, the biggest part was the third inning," said Halladay, who struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings "I left some pitches out over the plate and those add-on runs are what hurt you. Fortunately, we were able to battle back, but it's hard to put your team in the hole five runs early."
Toronto knotted the score at 5 in the sixth inning, when Marco Scutaro drove a pitch into left field for a single that scored Overbay. While that accounted for all the offense from the Jays, the Reds found home plate once more in the 10th inning, courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Jay Bruce.
"Doc battled as hard as he could," Gaston said of Halladay. "It's unfortunate we didn't get that win for him. That's a tough loss. You don't like to lose ballgames like that when you have the bases loaded and nobody out -- that's a tough loss for us."