TORONTO - John Gibbons knows his team can't afford to lose its best player in the middle of a wild card chase.
So when Jose Bautista was ejected from Sunday's 2-1 extra innings loss to the Tampa Bay Rays for arguing a strikeout with home plate umpire Bill Welke, Gibbons didn't mince words when asked about the situation.
"Bottom line we need him in the game. Say your peace, and get the hell out of there," the Blue Jays manager said. "We're trying to get in the playoffs, we need you on the field.
"He (Bautista) is a marked man in this game. Bill Welke, I thought he had a pretty good zone today. He was steady, I thought he was looking to call strikes. But we need you in the game."
Bautista's absence brought Nolan Reimold into the contest at right field.
The move proved costly as Reimold misplayed a ball hit by Logan Forsythe in the top of the 10th inning, allowing Ben Zobrist to move from first to third base. Zobrist scored the winning run when the next batter, Evan Longoria, hit a single to left field off reliever Sergio Santos, freshly recalled from triple-A Buffalo on Saturday.
After the game, Reimold took full responsibility for the error.
"I saw (Zobrist) take off ... I was thinking about throwing him out before I caught the ball and it was completely my fault," he said. "That play’s got to be made."
Longoria drove in both runs for the Rays (64-66), who played to 10 innings for the second time in as many days at Rogers Centre after losing 5-4 on Saturday afternoon.
Brad Boxberger pitched the bottom of the 10th for the save, Jake McGee (4-1) threw two scoreless innings of relief for the win and starting pitcher Chris Archer racked up six strikeouts through seven innings with six hits, one walk and one run.
Drew Hutchison threw six strong innings for Toronto (64-64), giving up one run in the first inning before settling down. He struck out seven, walked two and gave up six hits in the no-decision.
Aaron Loup, Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen and Brett Cecil combined on three scoreless frames, though Janssen gave up back-to-back singles and a sacrifice bunt to start the ninth.
Dioner Navarro had two hits for Toronto (66-64) while Juan Francisco picked up an RBI on a sacrifice fly.
Bautista's ejection was the fifth for a Blue Jay this season, and first for a player. Following the game, the Toronto slugger refused to divulge any details about his conversation with Welke.
"Doesn't matter what I think," Bautista said when asked about the location of the strikeout pitch. "The only thing that matters is what (Welke) thinks and he made the call."
Bautista did admit that not arguing the call would have served the team better, however, especially in a one-run game.
"At any point in the game it would have been wiser (to leave the call alone)," Bautista said. "What I'm sure I said, I don't feel was warranting that (ejection) happening. But if you want to get the details you can go ask him (Welke)."
With the strikeout, Bautista failed to reach base for the third straight game. The last time he was held off base for that long was a three-game span in April 2012.
Asked how much of his recent slump had to do with him arguing with the umpire, Bautista replied, "Zero."
The Blue Jays threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the 10th as Francisco led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on an error to James Loney and moved to third on a bunt base hit from Munenori Kawasaki. But Jose Reyes fouled out, Melky Cabrera popped out and Reimold struck out to end the game.
"It's kind of easy to just give up in that situation and say 'they're going to at least score one run, we'll play for the tie,'" Longoria said of the runners on first and third with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. "Boxberger did a great job making his pitches right there. It's good to come out on top of that one."
Santos — who was pitching in his first major league game since July 12 — was saddled with the loss after walking Zobrist ahead of Reimold's error. The run he allowed was unearned.
The Rays got on the board in the first inning when Longoria grounded into a force-out, allowing Zobrist to score from third base. Toronto finally got to Archer in the seventh inning, tying the game 1-1 on a sacrifice fly from Francisco that scored Navarro.
Both teams had plenty of chances to cash in more runs as Tampa left 10 on base while Toronto stranded eight.
The Rays' best scoring chance came in the top of the ninth when Wil Myers and Yunel Escobar hit back-to-back singles off Janssen with nobody out. Janssen's day ended after the next batter, Curt Casali, hit a sac bunt to advance the runners 90 feet. Cecil struck out the next two batters to end the inning, offering an emphatic fist pump as he walked off the field.
"He's definitely struggling a bit now," Gibbons said of Janssen. "His game is location and he's definitely off with that. He's given up lots of hits and he's scuffling right now.
"Hopefully it's just a minor adjustment ... They all go through struggles like that so it's probably just a little minor thing to get him back on track."
One of Toronto's best chances to score came in the bottom of the fifth. Navarro reached on a lead-off single and moved to third on a one-out double down the first-base line from Francisco. After a ground out from Kawasaki, Reyes flied out to centre field to end the inning.
NOTES: Attendance was announced at 38,869. ... Toronto optioned RHP Kyle Drabek to triple-A before the game to make room on the roster for Santos. ... The Blue Jays continue their homestand with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox starting Monday night. LHP J.A. Happ (8-8, 4.39 earned-run average) gets the start for Toronto while RHP Clay Buchholz (5-8, 5.94 ERA) starts for the Red Sox.
Follow @ThrowinSmoke on Twitter