Mark Buehrle called it the “worst five-hitter stretch” of his career.
It may have seemed like five hitters, but it was only four. With the Angels ahead by a run entering the fifth inning, Mark Trumbo and Josh Hamilton hit back-to-back homers, followed by Chris Iannetta and Kole Calhoun with consecutive doubles. Six pitches, four extra-base hits, 12 total bases.
Watch: Angels beat Blue Jays 12-6
The onslaught finished Buehrle’s night and led ultimately to the silver lining in the Blue Jays 12-6 defeat to the Angels on Tuesday, the reappearance of Ricky Romero on a major-league mound. He worked the seventh and eighth innings, his first appearance as a reliever in the majors, allowing two hits and a run.
“For him to go out there, especially the way they were crushing the ball, that’s a confidence-builder he can hopefully take into his next outing and continue,” said Buehrle, a fellow lefty. “His velocity was up; he looked like the Ricky of old.”
Romero, deemed the fifth starter going into spring training despite a horrid second half in the 2012 season, was left behind in Dunedin to work out mechanical difficulties, then lasted a total of 4-1/3 innings in two starts. He’d spent the summer at Triple-A Buffalo, going 5-8 with an eyesore of an earned run average, 5.78.
Formerly the club’s ace, he’s trying to get back into the club’s plans for the 2014 season by demonstrating an ability to get hitters out this September. The Jays called him up on Sept. 3, and manager John Gibbons took advantage of the blowout loss to place him in a game.
“I was excited and I guess, a little nervous,” said Romero, adding he felt “like myself again.”
Trumbo collected four doubles and the homer, becoming the first Angels player to combine five hits and five runs in a game. Anthony Gose, a call-up who’s been trying to cut down his leg kick at the plate to handle offspeed pitches, hit the first grand slam of his life in the second inning to tie the game, after Buehrle gave up four runs in the first. The Angels scored again in the third for a 5-4 lead and battered Buehrle in the fifth for three more runs.
Buehrle (11-8) had won six consecutive decisions. The loss was his first since July 20.
“One of those nights,” said Buehrle. “First inning, everything was up [in the strike zone] and I was behind in the counts. … I feel like I’ve been pitching so good for so long, and I just hit a bump in the road.”
He allowed 12 hits, three homers and eight runs in four-plus innings, his worst outing of the season, statistically. The four innings raised his total this season to 189-1/3, with three potential starts remaining. He is seeking to become the second pitcher since Cy Young in 1909 to record 13 consecutive seasons of 200 innings and fewer than 61 walks, and to extend streak of 12 seasons with 10 wins, 30 starts and 200 innings pitched.
It’s a remarkable achievement in an age of specialist relievers and bullpen closers, a testament to his rubber-armed mechanics, ability to change speeds and move the ball around the strike zone, and his even professional demeanour.
“When you pitch a good game, don’t get too high; when you pitch a bad game, don’t get down on yourself,” he said. “Come back tomorrow and get ready for your next start.”
Dating from 2001, only Livan Hernandez has come close to Buehrle’s string of consecutive marathons, with seven seasons of 200 innings through 2007. Roy Halladay’s run of six straight seasons ended last year.
Buehrle has made 426 consecutive starts without once going on the disabled list during a hyper-sensitive era when contusions, forearm swelling, shoulder strains, ingrown nails, blisters and mental burnout routinely send pitchers to the sidelines. Only Buehrle and R.A. Dickey from Toronto’s Opening Day rotation have taken the ball for each of their scheduled starts this season. Coincidentally or not, they rank 2-1 in the league, respectively, for shortest amount of time between pitches, at 18.1 and 17.9 seconds.
While critics at the outset of the season questioned whether the career-long workload had taken the ultimate toll on his arm, Buehrle rebounded in early May and put together a strong second half, with three runs or fewer allowed in nine of his prior 11 starts.
Hurt by an unusual pace of home runs early in the season with 11 in nine starts, he held opponents without a homer in eight of 10 through an outing against Boston at the end of June. He recorded 20 scoreless consecutive innings until facing the same Angels in Anaheim on Aug. 4, and in Tuesday’s game he brought a 2.72 ERA at the Rogers Centre, a stadium that’s coughed up the most homers in baseball.