The Toronto Blue Jays were perilously close to ending their losing streak. Then they discovered a new way to lose.
With the Blue Jays a strike away from their first victory since July 13, the ball bounced over the head of centre fielder Colby Rasmus, allowing the Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig to cross the plate and tie the score. An implosion by reliable reliever Juan Perez in the 10th inning sealed the Blue Jays' seventh straight loss, 8-3 to the Dodgers on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.
"I thought we rock-bottomed last night, but I guess not," Gibbons said, referring to Tuesday night when his team blew a five-run lead. "We had a chance to win tonight, we had a chance to win last night, but we just couldn't get it done. That's frustrating, demoralizing, but you've got to come back tomorrow."
When closer Casey Janssen entered the game in the ninth to protect a one-run lead, it looked like Toronto finally had a winning recipe. Starter Esmil Rogers worked his way out of several jams, and the offence manufactured the go-ahead run in the eighth.
But in a season that has grown increasingly frustrating, Rasmus' error provided another chapter. Andre Ethier lined a 1-2 pitch to centre, and it hopped over Rasmus' head, scoring Puig from first.
"I shouldn't have walked Puig in the first place," said Janssen, who blew just his second save of the season. "You don't want to get into anything more than that. I threw a decent pitch, (Ethier) hit it, and you've got to credit (Puig) for running hard first to third. Leadoff walks always hurt, and tonight it got me."
Rasmus declined to speak to reporters after the loss, according to a team spokesman. Gibbons said the ball took a "big kick" off Rogers Centre's "spongy turf."
When the Blue Jays couldn't bail Rasmus out, the vaunted bullpen fell apart for the second straight night. After one of the team's lone bright spots the lead Tuesday, Perez had his nearly-perfect season hit a roadblock on Wednesday.
Perez, who entered with a 0.00 ERA, allowed a walk and then a two-run home run to Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis. It was just the start of an unravelling inning, as Puig homered to break the game open, and later Ethier hit a two-run double to send fans streaming to the exits.
"They just hit him. I'll tell you what, they swing it over there," Gibbons said. "(Perez) had a tremendous run there. You assume that he was going to give up some runs. He made a mistake in the middle of the plate, and the balls went a long way. That's what normally happens to everybody."
Toronto was on the edge of falling apart a handful of times early in the night, but Rogers worked some magic to escape trouble. He allowed two base runners to reach before recording an out in four straight innings.
Yet the Dodgers managed to score two runs in the process. Rogers induced one inning-ending double play, struck out four and limited the damage by walking just one Los Angeles batter.
An error by first baseman Edwin Encarnacion didn't prove costly, and left-fielder Melky Cabrera's catch to end the seventh got Rogers out of yet another jam.
"He had his back against the wall all night long: runners on early, a lot of them with no-out situations," Gibbons said. "He was Houdini tonight. You tip your hat to the guy. They were all tough innings and he hung in there and pitched late in the game. He gave us a chance to win."
Rogers finished with two earned runs on 10 hits, throwing 73 of his 104 pitches for strikes and stranding 11 runners. He credited improved performance throwing from the stretch but added that not much changed.
"It's nothing different about last start or something like that — I just made pitches today," Rogers said.
Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco made pitches, too, despite less-than-perfect command. The Dodgers' starter faced the minimum through three innings and didn't allow a Blue Jays runner past first base until the fifth inning.
Then the Blue Jays took advantage of two walks in the fifth. Third baseman Brett Lawrie, who entered the night hitting .206 and whose struggles were a major point of discussion during general manager Alex Anthopoulos' pregame remarks, broke up the no-hitter by doubling off the centre-field fence and driving in two runs to tie the score.
Cabrera started a go-ahead rally in the eighth inning with an infield single. Pinch-runner Rajai Davis stole second and looked to advance to third on Jose Bautista's groundout.
When Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez couldn't connect on a throw to reliever Ronald Belisario covering the bag, Davis scored without a problem. The Blue Jays couldn't tack on an insurance run that would have proved valuable, and Lawrie showed some frustration after his bunt attempt gave away an out.
"Just the whole everything was frustrating," Lawrie said. "I didn't do a job, I didn't get the guy over and we ended up losing the game. So, yeah, it's really frustrating."
"Frustrating" — not rock-bottom — was how Lawrie described this defeat. Janssen tried to accentuate the positive amid a torrent of losing.
"We want it to stop," Janssen said. "We're as positive as we can be. We're grinding. It's no fun, but we've got to come to the park every day ready to play and ready to win."