CLEVELAND - The Toronto Blue Jays believe they can contend in the rugged AL East.
That's why simply winning a series isn't enough to satisfy them these days. After taking the first two games of the season against Cleveland, the Blue Jays fell one big swing short of a sweep, losing to the Indians 4-3 Sunday.
"Ideally, you'd like to win all three," said slugger Jose Bautista, who popped out with the bases loaded to end the game. "We'll take two, but we feel like we should have won all three games."
The Blue Jays, who play their home opener Monday night against Boston, certainly had the right man at the plate with the game on the line. Bautista who led the majors in home runs the last two seasons, came up against closer Chris Perez, who blew the save in Thursday's season opener. Bautista got ahead in the count, but popped up a 2-1 pitch.
Toronto's slugger got the pitch he was looking for, but he hit the ball straight up in the air to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who made the catch behind the mound.
"It was a fastball," Bautista said. "It was very hittable. I was a little early on it. I was just a tad bit ahead of it."
Bautista said his past success against Perez, which included a game-winning home run in the 10th inning July 7 at Progressive Field, didn't enter his mind.
"I'm just looking for a good pitch to hit and take advantage," Bautista said. "I did get it, but I wasn't able to connect it."
Perez was 5 for 9 with a homer, double and three RBIs against Perez going into the at-bat.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell had good reason to be confident with Bautista up and the gaame on the line.
"Anytime you have Jose Bautista at the plate with the tying run on third, we'll sign up for that opportunity each and every game," Farrell said.
Cabrera's fielding error on a potential game-ending double play grounder by Ben Francisco gave Toronto a chance. The miscue put runners on first and second with one out.
Perez came back to strike out Yunel Escobar, but walked Kelly Johnson before getting Bautista.
The Blue Jays came from behind for extra-inning wins in the first two games of the series, both by 7-4 scores. J.P. Arencibia's three-run homer in the 16th inning was the key hit in the opener. Rajai Davis' two-run double in the 12th inning put Toronto ahead Saturday.
Farrell is pleased with the way the Blue Jays played in the series.
"We ran up against some very good starting pitching," he said. "We chipped away (Sunday) and battled back to be one swing away."
Joel Carreno, losing his first career start, gave up four runs and six hits in six innings. He was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas following the game because the Blue Jays don't need a fifth starter until April 21. Farrell said left-hander Aaron Laffey will be called up from Las Vegas and will be used out of the bullpen.
Carreno allowed a pair of home runs to Carlos Santana, a solo shot in the second and a two-run drive in the fifth that broke a 2-all tie. He struck out three and walked four.
"I expected more than one start, but it happened, you know," said Carreno, who worked 11 times in relief a year ago for the Blue Jays.
"Joel did a very good job considering we needed someone to go relatively deep in the game," Farrell said. "Santana's a very good hitter. He got one hanging breaking ball and a 3-1 fastball."
Santana's home runs came on his 26th birthday for his second career multihomer game. On his last four birthdays, including two years in the minors, Santana is 10 for 17 with five homers and 13 RBIs.
Derek Lowe (1-0) pitched seven strong innings in his Indians debut. He allowed five hits and had one walk and one strikeout.
Edwin Encarnacion had an RBI double and Brett Lawrie a sacrifice fly as Toronto tied it at 2 in the fourth.
Adam Lind's RBI single in the eighth made it 4-3.
Monday's home opener at Rogers Centre is sold out.
"There's going to be a lot of energy so we're excited about that," Bautista.
NOTES: Blue Jays OF Colby Rasmus is 1 for 15 this season, but his manager isn't concerned. "The numbers don't lie," Farrell said. "They are what they are, but it's three games. He's our centre fielder." ... ... Farrell hopes Laffey will match up well with Boston's left-handed hitters. Laffey started on Thursday for Las Vegas, allowing seven runs and 11 hits in 4 2-3 innings. ... RHP Henderson Alvarez will pitch the Blue Jays' home opener against AL East rival Boston and LHP Felix Doubront.