First it was the batting helmet that was fired into the ground by Brett Lawrie, the disgruntled Toronto Blue Jays third baseman who had just been called out on strikes by home plate umpire Dan Bellino to end the third inning.
Lawrie’s petulance continued as he stalked down the third baseline, peeling off one batting glove and then another and tossing them aside like so much dirty laundry on the bedroom floor during Toronto’s game against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.
It was a baseball burlesque show and Lawrie’s stage was the Rogers Centre, but Bellino was not impressed by the performance.
First Bellino tossed Lawrie from the game and shortly thereafter John Gibbons, the Toronto manager, who rushed out in defence of his third baseman, who is known to exhibit frat boy behaviour from time to time.
Perhaps it was best that the two men made an early exit as the Blue Jays (20-28) were serving up a stinker, having surrendered three runs in each of the first three innings in what would result in a 10-6 decision for the Orioles (26-22) before a crowd of 25,104.
It was yet another in a long line of setbacks this season for the Blue Jays, who have been taking baby steps toward respectability after a disastrous start, winning seven of their previous 10 games heading into Friday’s contest.
Perhaps the outcome should not have been surprising, given that the pitching-strapped Jays were offering up Sean Nolin, who had advanced no higher than Double-A level with New Hampshire, as their fill-in starter.
It was a major-league debut that Nolin will remember, but for all the wrong reasons, as the 23-year-old lefty allowed hits to the first three Baltimore batters he faced, the third a three-run home run by J.J. Hardy that put the Orioles in flight.
Nolin was rocked for three more runs in the second before Gibbons took mercy and hooked his shell-shocked starter after he allowed six Baltimore runs off seven hits in 1 1/3 innings.
At least Lawrie was able to make some noise with his bat before his early departure, swatting a leadoff home run in the Jays’ two-run second inning that cut Baltimore’s lead to 6-3.
It was Lawrie’s fifth home run of the year and the Blue Jays dearly need him to heat up if they hold out any hope of making a run for the playoffs, and even then it will be a stretch. Coolstandings.com, which has simulated the rest of the season millions of times for each team, has calculated that the Blue Jays only had a 3.6-per-cent chance of making the playoffs following Thursday’s 12-1 win over the Orioles in the series opener.
Only the Houston Astros, with a 0.1-per-cent chance, are facing steeper postseason odds in the American League than the last-placed Jays.
An oblique injury that Lawrie suffered during spring training kept him out of the Toronto lineup until mid-April and his production at the plate has not been what the team was anticipating. His batting average remains a lowly 195.
So much for the argument that third base is usually occupied by a power bat who can hit for a solid average.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos remains confident that the Blue Jays can be successful, even if Lawrie’s bat doesn’t heat up some time soon.
“He brings other things, he brings great defence,” Anthopoulos said. “And he’s always got that home run potential. That’s what makes him valuable, the fact that he’s a two-way player. That allows you to be able to live with him struggling a little bit at the plate.
“And, let’s face it, I don’t think Brett is going to continue to hit the way he’s hitting the rest of the season.”
Melky Cabrera hit his first career leadoff home run for the Blue Jays before the Orioles roared back to take a 9-3 lead through three.
Toronto chipped away after that, and an Adam Lind home run in the seventh inning, his fourth of the year, cut the Baltimore lead to 10-6.
Lind has now reached base safely in 22 of his past 26 games.
Toronto outhit Baltimore 17-16 in the game, with Jose Bautista and Lind leading the way, each with three hits.
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