Jays drop series finale to Reds

Jays drop series finale to Reds

TORONTO -- Joey Votto crossed home plate and jogged back toward the visitors' dugout at Rogers Centre during the seventh inning on Thursday night. The Reds first baseman had just crushed a tie-breaking solo home run against the Blue Jays, but the Rogers Centre crowd didn't rain down boos.

Instead, scattered cheers could be heard as Votto headed back to his seat on the dugout bench. It was a warm response for a local boy, even if he did his part in sending Toronto well on its way to a 7-5 loss by being a nuisance for the Jays all evening.

In his first series off the disabled list, Votto -- born in Toronto and raised just outside the city in Etobicoke -- was a thorn in the Blue Jays' side in the finale. His run-scoring double in the first inning opened up the floodgates that sent Toronto rookie Brett Cecil to an early exit, and his blast later in the game erased a Jays comeback and some defensive gems.

"That's what started it," said Cecil, referring to Votto's first-inning hit.

Cecil, making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas, was one strike away from escaping the first inning unscathed for the Blue Jays (40-34), who won two of three games in the Interleague set against the Reds. The 22-year-old lefty yielded a leadoff double to Willy Taveras, but retired the next two Cincinnati hitters in order before Votto stepped to the plate.

Votto slipped into a 2-2 count before a slider from Cecil leaked high in the strike zone. The Reds first baseman drove the pitch into left field for a double, putting Toronto behind, 1-0. Jonny Gomes and Jay Bruce added doubles of their own before the inning was through, and the Blue Jays' deficit grew to four runs as a result.

Cecil turned in the shortest outing of his career, being chased from the contest after just three innings after he allowed five runs on nine hits, walked three and needed 86 pitches. Naturally, it was Votto -- off the DL after dealing with anxiety issues related to the passing of his father -- who drove in the fifth run with a single in the second inning to put the Jays down, 5-1.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said the main issue for Cecil was simply a lack of control. Cecil left too many pitches high in the strike zone and Cincinnati's lineup made sure the rookie paid for the mistakes.

"The first part of the game is what really got us," Gaston said. "Cecil didn't have his good stuff out there. He didn't have good command and got way up in the pitch count, so we had to get him out of there. ... I just thought he was up tonight in the strike zone a lot."

Cecil didn't argue with that assessment.

"I felt like all my pitches were good," said Cecil, who walked away with a no-decision. "The main thing was everything was up. That's the difference right there. You get up to these guys and they're going to hit it."

Gaston turned to reliever Shawn Camp, who turned in four strong innings against the Reds (35-36). That gave Toronto's offense time to chip into Cincinnati's advantage. Through the first four innings, all the Jays managed against Reds starter Johnny Cueto was a first-inning home run off the bat of Aaron Hill, who sent a 2-1 offering from the right-hander over the wall in left for a solo shot.

In the fifth inning, the Blue Jays pieced together a four-run outburst off Cueto to pull the game into a 5-5 deadlock. After Cueto issued two walks and allowed a base hit to load the bases with two outs, center fielder Vernon Wells pulled a pitch down the left-field line for a two-run double. Jays third baseman Scott Rolen then delivered a two-run single to tie the contest.

Unfortunately for the Jays, that was the extent of their rally.

"The guys battled to get back to that point," Gaston said. "We just couldn't hang on and score any more runs."

Defensively, Toronto's players did what they could to try to prevent another Cincinnati run.

In the sixth inning, Rolen moved to his right on a sharply-hit grounder off the bat of Jerry Hairston, snaring the baseball with a backhanded grab that forced the third baseman to his knees. While on the ground, Rolen fired across the diamond to first baseman Lyle Overbay, easily beating Hairston on the remarkable play.

"He's just amazing to watch night in and night out," Gaston said. "You're getting to where you expect it."

Not to be outdone, Blue Jays shortstop Marco Scutaro turned in a spectacular play of his own in the ninth inning. Gomes ripped a pitch to Scutaro's right, and the shortstop backhanded the ball, falling to his back on the play. While sitting deep in the infield, Scutaro quickly relayed the ball to first base to retire Gomes by a few steps.

"They played some outstanding defense," Reds manager Dusty Baker. "They had web gems all over the park tonight. They're a real good team."

It was probably easier for Baker to dish out the compliments after being able to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Jays. A big reason for that was Votto, who finished 4-for-5 with three RBIs -- his final hit being the most damaging for the Jays.

Gaston stuck with Camp in the seventh inning, and Votto sent a first-pitch slider deep to right-center field for a solo home run that put the Jays down, 6-5. Overall, Camp pitched admirably, throwing 32 pitches -- the same total Cecil needed to get through just the opening frame -- and only four balls in his four innings.

Thanks to Votto, though, Camp and the Jays wound up with a hard-luck loss.

"I always want to play well, definitely in front of family and friends, I wanted to play well," Votto said. "But had I had that big game tonight and we would have lost, it would have been really disappointing to have left here being swept. Getting the 'W' was far more important."

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