The deciding moment was innocent enough. Grant Balfour threw a fastball on the bottom edge of the strike zone but off the plate away. It was the type of well-located, tough pitch that might very well have earned a strikeout. It was the kind of pitch that you could look at and say "this is a good pitcher." Instead, Steve Tolleson flicked it off the end of his bat into short right field, just fair, to drive in two runs in the top of the ninth to break a five-five tie. And you know what, the other run Grant Balfour gave up was on a fine pitch also -- a low fastball to Jose Bautista -- that resulted in a weak fly ball the other way, but landed inches ahead of a sliding Ben Zobrist. That pitch too was one that a good pitcher might have made.
But Grant Balfour is not just what he showed in those two pitches. If he routinely painted the edge of the zone with fastballs, we would be happy. He is also the pitcher who walked Dan Johnson on four pitches. He's the pitcher who hung a slider to Jose Reyes (for a double). He's the pitcher who walked Melky Cabrera on five pitches. He's the pitcher who yanked a fastball into the dirt three feet in front of the plate. When you routinely dig a hole, sometimes they hit your good pitches too, and push you into it. The Rays have a $4 million mop-up man.
Losing this game in the ninth hurt extra, because of the excitement of the seventh inning. With two outs, the Blue Jays brought in Dustin McGowan to face Evan Longoria. Longo walked on nine pitches. James Loney had a much easier time of it, walking on five pitches. That brought up Sean Rodriguez, facing a righty. S-Rod looked at Joe Maddon, expecting to be pinch hit for, but the Jays had Aaron Loup, the side arm lefty specialist, already warm in the bullpen. Maddon decided that Rodriguez had the better chance and let him bat. The first pitch was a fastball over the plate that Sean barely missed. The third pitch was a hanging slider that he did not miss. Sometimes, Rodriguez's extreme raw power comes out, and it's beautiful. This was one of those moments, and it tied the game.
Some other notes:
- Chris Archer started off well, befuddling the Jays with his fastball/slider combo and striking out the first four (and five of the first six) batters he faced. Starting in the third inning, the Jays saw him well and hit him hard, reinforcing a fact I never quite believe: that you can't really predict a pitcher's performance within a game by in-game results.
- Desmond Jennings fouled a ball off the inside of his knee, and finished the at bat, but then was substituted before taking the field. X-Rays were negative, and he's day-to-day with a bruised knee.
- Noland Reimold also left the game after appearing to come up a little bit lame while running the bases.
- In the bottom of the sixth inning, with Yunel Escobar on first base, Logan Forsythe grounded to short. It was a good double play ball, but Escobar actually beat the flip at second. Munenori Kawasaki completed the turn and got an out at first base. It's an interesting play, because with a more aggressive slide, Escobar could have probably broken up the turn. He might have also broken Kawasaki's ankle though, so really, I have no problem with his decision to slide to the bag, not over it.
- Dan Johnson was back in The Trop today as the Jays' designated hitter. He walked four times. Still miss you, Dan.
- The picture for #RaysFlexFriday was clearly Lionel Messi wearing an American flag and a Rays jersey. I dig it.