Henderson Alvarez has been the hard-luck starter for the Toronto Blue Jays this season.
Things did not exactly fall in place once again for the young right-hander Thursday night at Rogers Centre but this time Alvarez was as much to blame for his team’s downfall as anybody else.
With the retractable roof open for the first time this season, Alvarez stumbled in the cool spring evening and the Rays (7-6) seemed to capitalize on each mistake, rolling to a 9-4 victory over the Blue Jays (6-6).
The Rays have established early season superiority over their American League East rival, winning their first series of the year against Toronto two games to one.
Alvarez lasted 6 1/3 innings and surrendered a career-high six earned runs off six hits, including home runs by Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria in the decisive three-run Tampa fifth.
The hard-throwing 22-year-old Alvarez went into the game having already recorded consecutive quality starts in his first two outings of the year. But Alvarez emerged with little to show for it after the bullpen coughed up late-inning leads on each occasion.
It stood to reason that Alvarez was due a break from the baseball lords but not on this night, when his command was askew and the Rays bats were ready.
It was a game of missed chances for the Blue Jays, who twice loaded the bases only to come up empty handed each time – the second time in the sixth inning when a line drive down first base line was snared by Carlos Pena to end the threat.
“They had bases loaded a couple times and they definitely didn’t let it go when they had the opportunities,” Arencibia said. “It was just one of those games where we didn’t have the timely hitting and they did.”
With the score tied 1-1, Alvarez nicked Matt Joyce with a pitch leading off the second inning and the Rays’ runner advanced to second on an infield out.
With two out, Sean Rodriquez drove a hit into right field and Joyce decided to test the arm of Jose Bautista.
Bautista’s throw came in low and fast and on target, a one hopper that catcher J.P. Arencibia should have been able to handle.
Not only did the ball bound past Arencibia as Joyce slid safely home, but it kicked up and struck Alvarez in the chest area in behind home plate, where he was covering up on the play.
Alvarez lay on the ground for a few moments as he was attended to but he was able to remain in the game.
Rodriguez took second on the throw and advanced to third on tough throwing error that was scored against Bautista.
Jennings, the next Tampa batter, then lashed a single up the middle that scored Rodriguez from third base to lift the Rays in front 3-1.
Arencibia redeemed himself in the fourth, when his double to right scored Colby Rasmus, who bunted his way on board, all the way from first.
Another error allowed Toronto to pull even in the same inning after Rodriguez sailed a throw over the head of Tampa first baseman Carlos Pena after fielding a grounder struck by Yunel Escobar.
That allowed Arencibia to scamper home, which tied the game 3-3.
It didn’t last long as Alvarez could not produce a shut-down inning, allowing Jennings to rocket the first pitch he saw into the seats in left field to restore the Rays with a 4-3 advantage.
After a walk to Ben Zobrist, Alvarez dug himself an even deeper hole when Evan Longoria socked a two-run shot to centre that brought the score to 6-3 Tampa.
The Rays tagged on three more against Toronto reliever Jason Frasor in the ninth, one of the runs scoring off a single by Longoria, who was 3-for-4 with a walk in the game with four RBI.
Tampa received a solid start from Jeremy Hellickson (2-0), who pitched himself in and out of trouble. Hellickson lasted 5 2/3 innings, allowing three Toronto runs off six hits.
Arencibia, who went into the game batting an unsightly .063, went 2-for-4 on the night.