Jays unable to hold decisive early lead

Jays unable to hold decisive early lead

TORONTO -- Cito Gaston wasn't able to come up with a word to serve as a suitable summation of the game he witnessed on Saturday afternoon. The Toronto manager leaned back in his chair inside his office and shook his head, more in disbelief than anything else.

There were plenty of ways for Gaston to describe the Blue Jays' 10-9 loss in 12 innings to the Rays -- a game that saw Toronto run out to an eight-run lead after just four frames -- but the words that first came to his mind weren't of the family-friendly variety.

"There's a tough word to come up with that you can write," Gaston said. "It was awful."

Blue Jays closer Scott Downs -- victimized by a pair of solo home runs in the ninth inning that led to a blown save -- didn't hesitate when asked for his take on the contest.

"For me, it's embarrassing," Downs said.

Downs entered the game in the ninth inning with a chance at closing the door on an improbable comeback by the Rays. After the Blue Jays held an 8-0 lead in the fourth, and then a 9-1 advantage after six innings, Gaston sent Downs to the hill with his club clinging to a 9-7 lead to start the ninth.

It was a chance at redemption for Downs, who allowed two runs in the 10th inning of a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday night. Instead, the veteran left-hander's recent woes continued. Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who was 1-for-12 in his career against Downs prior to Saturday, promptly sent a 1-0 pitch deep to left-center field for a solo homer.

Two batters later, Willy Aybar jumped on the first pitch he saw from Downs, launching the ball to center for another solo blast -- this one pulling the contest into a 9-9 deadlock. In the 12th inning, Jays reliever Shawn Camp yielded an RBI double to Jason Bartlett, breaking the tie and completing the Rays' rally.

"Bottom line, it's not executing," Downs said. "We had a lead coming in, and you have a chance to close out a ballgame and you don't do it. ... Mistakes are supposed to be hit and they're hitting them. Yesterday, I beat myself. Today, it was just bad location."

Downs has allowed five earned runs over his past three appearances -- after giving up five runs in his previous 21 trips to the mound. Entering Saturday, the lefty had allowed just one home run this season, and he has surrendered three homers total in each of the past two seasons. Needless to say, having Downs give up two blasts in one inning is rare.

"That's really unexpected," Gaston said.

Downs missed roughly three weeks with a left foot injury before being activated from the disabled list shortly before the All-Star break. The reliever said he doesn't feel like he's battled command issues since returning -- only in the past few games.

"It happens," Downs said. "When things are going bad, things are going bad. It's unacceptable. It's embarrassing. That's really the only thing I can say."

The Blue Jays (47-51), who slipped to 1-8 against the Rays and 11-22 against the American League East this season, used four home runs to sprint to an early lead. Second baseman Aaron Hill led the charge with a pair of blasts off Tampa Bay lefty David Price, who was sent to the showers after giving up six runs over just three innings.

Jose Bautista and Alex Rios added solo homers for the Jays, providing a large cushion for left-hander Brian Tallet. In his first start since July 8, Tallet cruised through the first six innings, in which he scattered four hits and allowed just one run. He quickly ran into trouble in the seventh, though, loading the bases with no outs before yielding a three-run triple to Pena that cut Toronto's lead to 9-5.

Jeremy Accardo then gave up two runs in the eighth -- both coming on a single by Tampa Bay designated hitter Pat Burrell -- to create a save opportunity for Downs. The closer's struggles in the ninth paved the way for the Rays (54-44) to complete the eight-run comeback, tying the largest lead surrendered in a loss in Jays franchise history.

Combined, the two clubs cycled through 14 pitchers, who used 418 pitches in a game that dragged on for four hours and 24 minutes. The result was the sixth straight extra-inning loss for the Blue Jays and the type of disheartening contest that Gaston knows can be difficult for players to forget.

"What's going to be hard is -- when you score that many runs and you lose a ballgame -- to get up the next day and do it again," Gaston said. "That's going to be the telling point [on Sunday] -- how well we hit, how many runs we can score -- because sometimes in baseball, you just feel like, 'Whoa, we had a 9-1 lead and lost.'

"The next day, it's hard to get yourself back up and motivated to do that again."

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