Through the first month of the baseball season, Mark Buehrle had somehow morphed into the second coming of Roy Halladay.
Need a win, or at the very least a quality outing?
The soft-tossing 35-year-old lefty was the pitcher that manager John Gibbons could send out every five days and count on something good happening.
Buehrle, through his first four starts in 2014, was putting up numbers that even old Doc, during his salad days with the Blue Jays from 2002 through 2009, would have to envy.
He became the first pitcher in franchise history to win each of his first four starts to a season while allowing one or fewer runs per appearance.
It all amounted to a sparkling 0.64 earned-run-average, tops in Major League Baseball.
Buehrle had become about as dependable as a peanut-butter sandwich.
After back-to-back soul-sucking losses to the Baltimore Orioles, Gibbons and the Blue Jays were in desperate need of another premium shot of Buehrle Friday night with the Boston Red Sox invading Rogers Centre to begin a three-game set.
For the first time this season, Buehrle’s magic deserted him and the Blue Jays turned in an overall listless performance, being outclassed 8-1 by Boston before 29,411 underwhelmed fans.
Afterward, you got the sense that Gibbons had some stern words for his team in private after the less-than-enthralling performance against the Red Sox.
For public consumption, he levied some especially harsh comments towards Jose Bautista, the star righfielder, who was caught stealing third base in a 5-0 game in the fourth inning with one out and two runners on.
“I’ve got no idea,” Gibbons intoned when asked what Bautista must have been thinking at the time. “It’s not smart, winning baseball and I’m sure he won’t do it again.”
Bautista was not immediately available to comment after the game.
It was a season-first third straight loss for the Blue Jays (11-12) while Boston (11-13) won for the second time in their last five
The Red Sox, like the Blue Jays and others who reside in the American League East, generally regarded as baseball’s toughest neighborhood, are not exactly tearing things up one month into the regular season.
Tearing things asunder might be a more apt way of putting things, especially after Boston’s ham-handed 14-5 home loss to the New York Yankees on Thursday where the Red Sox committed five errors.
The Red Sox have not committed that many blunders in one game since April of 2001.
Not wanting to be outdone, the Blue Jays did their part, their suddenly suspect bullpen blowing up once again during an 11-4 setback to the Orioles on the same night.
Take a peek at the A.L. East standing as of Friday and you’d swear everybody is treading water.
Only the Yankees have been on a marginal tear, having won seven of their last 10.
Even with that surge, New York’s lead atop the standing was only 3 1/2-games better than the cellar-dwelling Red Sox, only the defending World Series champion.
While some will suggest the group hug in the standing is a sign that the East might be suffering from a bit of talent rot, Boston manager John Farrell sees things otherwise.
“The standings probably give you the picture in and of itself,” he said. “It’s a tightly bunched division. I don’t think anyone looked at any other team and said, ‘They can’t win, they can’t contend.’
“I think we fully expect it to be this close the entire season.”
For Buehrle, his struggles started early, in the second inning where he gave up four runs off four hits (two doubles) for a 4-0 Boston lead.
With the score 1-0 on a A.J. Pierzynski sacrifice fly, a soft liner by Will Middlebrooks into right field scored Xander Bogaerts from second base for the second Boston run.
That snapped an 0-for-23 streak that Buehrle had going when facing batters with runners in scoring position.
Boston tagged one more in the third when David Ortiz corked a home run to rightfield, a no-doubter that the big designated hitter took a bit of time to admire before departing around the bases.
Buehrle managed to gut things out until one out in the sixth inning and departed having been tagged for seven Boston runs (six earned) off 12 hits.
The Blue Jays clearly did not have their heads in this one, especially Bautista, whose baserunning gaffe clearly iced any momentum Toronto may have been building.
“I think they were a little bit hesitant after (Bautista) tried to steal third,” said Boston starter, Jake Peavy. “That was a shot in the arm for us. They need base runners, and one big swing of the bat.”
Peavy managed to get out of the inning without any damage done and would go on to record his first victory of the season, allowing the lone Toronto run off five hits over seven innings.