As storm clouds gathered over Camden Yards in the bottom of the fifth inning yesterday afternoon, manager Cito Gaston emerged from the Toronto Blue Jays' dugout to voice his displeasure over the decision to turn on the stadium lights.
The lights were not on during the Blue Jays' at-bat in the top of the inning, Gaston argued to home plate umpire Tim Timmons, why should the Baltimore Orioles get the benefit while they're hitting?
Gaston lost the argument and moments later the lights started to power up. Not that it matters much these days to the Blue Jays, who are still in the dark when it comes to swinging the bats.
The once high-rolling Toronto offence was grounded again yesterday on a damp and muggy Memorial Day U.S. holiday as Baltimore handed the Blue Jays their seventh consecutive setback, a 4-1 verdict before 24,904.
It was the first of a three-game series against the Orioles (19-26), who are in last place in the American League East.
The Blue Jays (27-21) banged out nine hits, but rarely did they occur in key situations as Toronto, which has just 11 runs during the seven-game slide, continued its habit of stranding base runners.
"Once again we get nine hits, we leave nine people on base," Gaston said. "We're just not hitting with runners in scoring position."
The Blue Jays went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position yesterday.
With victories by both the New York Yankees (11-1 over the Texas Rangers) and Boston Red Sox (6-5 over the Minnesota Twins) yesterday, the Blue Jays are in third place in the American League East.
"By now you guys should have your stories already written," Gaston said as reporters shuffled into his office. "It's the same story every day."
Vernon Wells, one of the worst culprits when it comes to stranding runners, signalled that he was ready to return to the land of the clutch hitters when he drove home Marco Scutaro with a single to left field in the first inning, giving the Jays a 1-0 lead.
The Toronto cleanup hitter had not driven in a run over the previous 17 games.
Then it was back to familiar territory.
With the score tied 1-1, Jose Bautista struck out looking for Toronto in the second inning, stranding Rod Barajas at second base.
Then Wells, proving that old habits die hard, grounded out to third base in the third with Aaron Hill on second.
The offensive inefficiencies torpedoed another solid starting pitching effort, this one by Brian Tallet, who gave up two of the Baltimore runs off seven hits over six innings.
Tallet took the loss, dropping his record to 2-3 since emerging from the bullpen to bolster a starting staff depleted by injury.
He was asked if he could detect anything that the Toronto hitters might be doing wrong.
"If I had to worry about our hitters, I'd be bald or grey because I'd be stressing about things I can't control," he replied.
The victory was picked up by Jeremy Guthrie (4-4), who stifled Toronto on one run off seven hits through seven innings.
Baltimore's go-ahead run came in the fourth off the bat of Gregg Zaun, the former Jays catcher, whose solid line-drive single carried over the glove of a leaping Scutaro at shortstop into left field.
That scored Aubrey Huff all the way from second.
"That was the difference in the game, believe it or not," Tallet said. "I started this slide in Boston and I was trying to do everything I could to stop it and I just wasn't able to."
Former Toronto closer B.J. Ryan surrendered the final two runs in the seventh off two hits in two-thirds of an inning.
In Ryan's last outing, in Atlanta on Saturday against the Braves, he allowed a one-out solo home run to Atlanta's Kelly Johnson in the seventh inning in a game that the Jays lost 4-3.
To be fair to Ryan, he did not get any help from his defence yesterday when the normally sure-handed Scott Rolen booted a soft grounder by Cesar Izturis.
By the time Rolen regrouped and made the throw to first, Izturis was safe. He scored the first of the two runs when Brian Roberts walloped a triple to the wall in centre.
NOTES Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill added to his major-league-leading hit total yesterday with his 72nd of the year, a single in the third inning. … Over the first six games of their current losing string, the Blue Jays hit .143 (7-for-49) with runners in scoring position. Over that same period, the Jays left 31 runners on base. Despite the slide, the Jays still rank third in the American League with a .288 (131-for-455) batting average with runners in scoring position. The Detroit Tigers, who lead the AL Central, lead the way at .298.
UP NEXT Tonight in Baltimore, against the Orioles, 7:05 p.m. EDT.
PROBABLE PITCHERS Jays LHP Ricky Romero (2-0, 1.71) v. Orioles RHP Jason Berken (major-league debut).
TV Rogers Sportsnet.
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