TORONTO - Toronto reliever Aaron Loup was left shaking his head after his two-run throwing error in the 11th inning helped the New York Yankees stave off a Blue Jays' comeback in a 5-3 victory Saturday afternoon.
A Rogers Centre sellout of 46,095 was equally dazed. As, no doubt, was the legion of Toronto fans watching on TV.
The 7-11 Jays, hyped to go deep into the post-season, are finding new, painful ways to lose in 2013.
"At this level you've got to play good, solid defence," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, whose happy-go-lucky demeanour is diminishing after every defeat. "That bit us today.
"There's no doubt (when) you screw up the fundamentals, you're not supposed to win."
Toronto has now lost five of its last seven, while New York (10-6) has won nine of its last 11.
Gibbons' team has been outscored 96-64 this season with Saturday marking the 11th time in 18 games that it has failed to score more than three runs. The Jays have scored 22 runs and gone 3-5 since all-star shortstop Jose Reyes — seen in the clubhouse Saturday on crutches — went down with an ankle injury in Kansas City.
The warts on the face of this team make for ugly viewing.
Toronto's starting lineup featured seven players hitting below 250.
Former Blue Jays centre-fielder Vernon Wells' solo homer to left in the second inning Saturday marked the 13th time in 18 games that the opposition has scored first. Toronto's record in those games is 3-10, compared to 4-1 when scoring first.
The Jays have been outscored 16-9 in the first inning and 15-7 in the second.
"Let's face it we haven't played good enough baseball to win," Gibbons said bluntly. "We're where we should be."
That's four games under .500, good for fourth in the American League East.
The key miscommunication between Loup and third baseman Brett Lawrie wasted a solid pitching performance by Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle, as well as an eight-inning comeback capped by Melky Cabrera's two-run single to tie it at 3-3.
Wells and Francisco Cervelli opened the Yankees' 11th with singles off left-hander Loup (1-1). Both scored after Loup fielded Ichiro Suzuki's sacrifice bunt and went for the forceout at third but couldn't immediately find Lawrie, who had charged the ball only to see the pitcher was there.
The third baseman back-peddled like an NHL defenceman but couldn't get to Loup's toss, which was hard and a little wide of the bag.
"I thought we had an easy play at third base," said Loup. "I didn't have enough awareness to realize Lawrie was crashing in on the play. By the time I realized he was backpeddling back to the bag and he wasn't there, it was too late and I had already let go of the ball."
Said Lawrie: "I was trying to fight to get back as best I could."
"He just got caught in no-man's land," Gibbons said of his third baseman.
Lawrie was also front and centre in the fifth when, with the bases loaded, Kevin Youkilis' hard liner bounced off his glove at third, driving in Jayson Nix and Brett Gardner for a 3-0 lead. It was scored a single.
Buehrle had caused his own problems by yielding a single and double to start the inning. After a strikeout, Toronto then walked Robinson Cano to load the bases and set the stage for Youkilis, who left the game later with a lower back issue.
Lawrie made amends with three terrific fielding plays off hard hit balls later in the game before the decisive 11th.
Buehrle, in his 400th career start, could have used a helping hand from his teammates in the fourth and fifth innings. The 34-year-old left-hander had the Yankees under control the rest of the way.
He yielded eight hits and three earned runs in his seven innings, striking out seven and walking one (intentionally). Buehrle threw 108 pitches, with 71 of those strikes.
"I felt like I threw a better game than the results showed," said Buehrle.
He refused to point the finger at his defence, however.
"My first two outings I pitched like crap and we scored tons of runs and I spit the hook," Buehrle said. "So I think in the long run, at the end of the season, everything kind of evens out. You're going to have your good games, you're going to have bad games."
Cabrera's two-run single had capped Toronto's three-run comeback in the eighth inning, tying the game as Yankees reliever David Robertson was unable to finish off a fine pitching performance by starter Hiroki Kuroda.
A one-out Colby Rasmus infield single chased Kuroda in the eighth. Pinch hitter Adam Lind walked with two out and Rajai Davis singled home Rasmus, setting the scene for Cabrera's heroics.
"Those are the games you've really got to win when you've got momentum on your side," lamented Gibbons.
The Jays had also paid for poor fundamentals in Friday night's 9-4 loss to the Yankees.
With two Yankees on base, Rasmus tracked down Eduardo Nunez's routine fly ball. Rasmus, a fine outfielder, made the catch but his throw to home plate to keep the two Yankees where they were on base was slightly short and the ball ricocheted off a charging catcher J.P. Arencibia, allowing two runs to score for a 5-1 lead.
Rasmus was charged with an error that could have been shared with his catcher.
Mariano Rivera pitched the 11th for his fifth save of the season — and the 613th of his career — despite giving up a Jose Bautista double to open the inning. The 43-year-old finished the game with two strikeouts.
Toronto had its chance to win in the 10th. Maicer Izturis singled off Boone Logan to start the inning and moved to second on Emilio Bonifacio's bunt. That brought on Yankees reliever Shawn Kelley (1-0), who got Davis to pop up and Cabrera to ground out.
Kuroda scattered three hits over 7 1-3 innings and Wells homered for the second day in a row to give the Yankees their 3-0 lead.
Coming off a five-hit complete-game shutout against Baltimore, Kuroda held Toronto to two singles, a double and walk. After giving up a one-out double to Cabrera in the first, the 38-year-old right-hander retired 10 in a row and 20 of the next 22 before Rasmus singled in the eighth.
Kuroda stuck out seven and walked one. He gave up one run after throwing 108 pitches, including 64 strikes.
There were more fielding woes for Toronto in the fourth when, with one out, second baseman Izturis dropped a double play ball after taking a perfect throw from shortstop Munenori Kawasaki. Buehrle got two outs to get Toronto off the hook.
After a tough day at the office, Gibbons tried to see the positives.
"We've got a good team. I like this team. And it's going to happen in a good way," he said. "But we've got to play better baseball."
The question is what do they need to do to accomplish that?