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Kendrys Morales of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a double in St. Petersburgh,Fla., against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Kendrys Morales of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a double in St. Petersburgh,Fla., against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Liriano has nightmare outing as Toronto Blue Jays lose to Tampa Bay Rays Add to ...

Francisco Liriano is the wildcard of the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitching staff.

If the veteran lefthander can return to the form that he displayed over the second half of the season with the Blue Jays last year Toronto’s chances of a third straight playoff berth will be greatly enhanced.

If not, the starting pitching-thin American League club could be in for a trying year.

Not even a week into the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season is far too early to be passing any definitive judgements.

But the deep thinkers who operate the Blue Jays have to be squirming in their skivvies after witnessing Liriano’s undressing here Friday night at Tropicana Field.

The 33-year-old had trouble locating the ball, and when he did manage to put one near the vicinity of the plate the Rays were able to make short work of the pitch.

It all amounted to one very messy and very brief appearance which was somehow fitting for this marathon disguised as baseball game. The flurry of offence was about the only redeeming factor in a game that sadly lacked in both substance and style.

The Rays would eventually earn bragging rights, clinging to a 10-8 triumph in game that surpassed the three-hour mark – before the start of the seventh inning.

“You just kind of chalk that one up and move on,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said after this three-hour, 53-minute agony had ended.

Tampa trailed 7-6 heading into the sixth where the Rays scored three times off four hits and two walks to take the lead for good.

The big blow was provided by Steven Souza Jr., who poked a bases-loaded double to the wall in right-centre off Toronto reliever J.P. Howell that potted the first two runs that shifted the Rays back in front, 8-7.

It was a quirky game all around, littered with curious little twists and turns and walks, lots of walks – 12 in total, seven by the Blue Jays. That equaled the number of pitchers who came and went – mostly went.

The tone was set even before the first pitch with the late arrival of the umpires.

Driving in from nearby Tampa, the crew got snarled in a huge traffic jam as firefighters battled a serious brush fire just off the interstate on the outskirts of town.

But the umpires struck back, calling for a police escort that got them to the Tropicana in time for first pitch.

Things looked bright for the Blue Jays early on when Troy Tulowitzki finally got off the snide of a 0-13 hitting slump, his worst start to a season in his career, poking a double in the top of the first that provided Toronto with a 2-0 lead.

Tulowitzki would also stroke a home run in the game, in the fourth inning, knocking in four of the Toronto runs Josh Donaldson added another in the eighth.

The early Toronto lead was shortlived thanks to Liriano, who could only manage to get one out in the first inning, where the Rays pounded him for five runs off three hits in his first start of the season.

Did we forget to mention the wild pitch that Liriano also served up, or the four walks?

Liriano said it was a night where he just could not execute any of his pitchers. “It was just one of those games, you just go out there and you don’t even know what you’re doing,” he said.

The unravelling began with a two-run home run shot off the bat of Evan Longoria that knotted the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the first.

A couple walks then followed before Brad Miller chipped in with a double that scored two more and put Tampa Bay in front.

Another walk, followed by a single by Daniel Robertson, and the pitcher’s night was mercifully over. One-third of an inning worked marked the shortest appearance in his 12 years in the majors.

Enter reliever Dominic Leone for his first appearance as a Blue Jay and a ground-out struck by Peter Bourjos scored Tampa Bay’s fifth marker of what was a 42-minute inning.

With the Rays leading 6-3 heading into the Toronto fifth, Jose Bautista lifted a fly ball to right field with Donaldson stationed at third base.

It should have been the easy first out of the inning for Souza Jr. but instead the ball clanked out of his glove for the error and Donaldson was able to scurry home on what was scored a sacrifice fly.

Smoak would then double home Bautista from second and Tampa’s lead was pared to 6-5.

The four-game series will continue here on Saturday when Aaron Sanchez will make his season debut against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer. In Sunday’s finale, Toronto’s Marco Estrada will make his second outing against Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi.

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