The Toronto Blue Jays dug themselves a massive hole, then almost managed to climb out Saturday against the Boston Red Sox.
But when it was all over they had wasted another lead, seen another pitcher flame out on the mound and lost their fourth straight at home.
After roughing up Clay Buchholz for three runs in the first inning, Toronto (11-13) found itself behind 6-3 after three innings as starter Brandon Morrow literally lost control. A late comeback by the Jays fell short as Boston (12-13) hung on for a 7-6 win.
Morrow (1-2) walked a career-high eight of the 14 batters he faced before being pulled after 2 2/3 shocking innings before an announced crowd of 40,322 under the roof at the Rogers Centre.
"It's not a good feeling when you can take the blame for the game and put it squarely on your shoulders," said Morrow, who made no excuses as he threw himself on his sword. "I came in with one goal and that was to pitch late in the game and keep us in it. I let down the team in a big way today."
Twice he was rescued by double plays before the bottom fell out in a six-run Boston third that saw Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker ejected for back-chat to home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg.
"It's embarrassing to not be able to command your fastball," said Morrow, who said physically he was fine. "I had decent command of the other stuff."
The first walk of the afternoon, to Red Sox leadoff batter Dustin Pedroia, was the 100th Jays' free pass this season. Toronto pitchers issued nine walks on the day, with David Ortiz the recipient of three.
"We've been walking way too many guys all year," said manager John Gibbons. "That's unlike us. We've got some strike-throwers."
A.J. Pierzynski hit his eighth career grand slam to power the Red Sox offence before Toronto staged a nail-biting late comeback. The Jays sent eight men to the plate and scored twice in the eighth before leaving the bases loaded. Jose Bautista, facing closer Koji Uehara, then opened the ninth with his seventh homer of the year — and 175th as a Jay — to cut the lead to 7-6.
Dioner Navarro and Brett Lawrie singled, around a Colby Rasmus strikeout, to keep the drive alive. But Edwin Encarnacion flied out to end the rally and give Uehara his fifth save.
"All year long those guys have been battling," said Gibbons. "That's all you can ask for as a manager, that they don't pack it in."
Over the last four losses, Toronto has given up 36 runs on 47 hits and 22 walks. The Jays allowed their opponents off the hook in three of those games, with the Orioles staging comebacks Wednesday and Thursday.
Buchholz (1-2) survived a three-run first to help Boston to its seventh win in 11 games. He gave up three runs in seven innings on six hits, three strikeouts and two walks. Buchholz threw 105 pitches, 67 for strikes.
Juan Francisco homered for Toronto, his second blast in as many days, to greet Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Encarnacion then singled home Navarro to make it 7-5 as Tazawa gave up his first runs of the season.
Chris Capuano came on with men on first and third and one out. He struck out Jonathan Diaz but walked Jose Reyes after a 10-pitch showdown to load the bases.
Uehara then induced Cabrera to pop up to shallow left field.
On a strange day Toronto outhit Boston 13-5, left 11 men on base to the Red Sox's four, and lost.
"We've been struggling in certain areas, it's no secret," said Gibbons, refusing to point the finger at one element of his team. "But we're going to get better."
Morrow has failed to last six innings in four of his five starts this season, as well as nine of his last 14 dating back to last season. His descent into the pitching mire was swift Saturday.
Only five of Morrow's 14 pitches in the first were strikes. He was 11-for-31 after two innings and 25-for-66 when he was removed in favour of Chad Jenkins in the third.
Morrow would've been living only marginally more dangerously if he was juggling chainsaws on the mound.
With two out in the third Morrow walked four straight and was removed, with the Jays somewhat amazingly still leading 3-1.
Two balls later, Pierzynski slammed the grand slam homer off the newly recalled Jenkins, who promptly gave up a solo shot to Will Middlebrooks for a 6-3 Boston lead. It was the second homer of the season for both.
"We took advantage of a high number of walks," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "One of the things we do well is not expand the strike zone and that was the case again today."
Morrow's outing marked the 11th time a Jays pitcher has given up eight or more walks in a game. The club record is nine, by four different pitchers (Pat Hentgen, Jim Clancy, Chris Carpenter and Jesse Jefferson).
Consecutive doubles by Mike Carp and Grady Sizemore in the fifth extended the Boston lead to 7-3 and chased Jenkins in favour of Aaron Loup.
Buchholz also had trouble finding the strike zone in the first and paid for it after issuing a leadoff walk to Reyes. The Jays shortstop was running on Cabrera's single and came home on Bautista's deep single to left-centre. Cabrera scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0 with no outs. Bautista, who extended his on-base streak 24 games, came home on Navarro's deep single to right to make it 3-0.
The Red Sox starter threw 26 pitches in the first, with just 13 for strikes. He faced just three batters in the second but needed a successful challenge to remove Reyes, who had been called safe on an infield hit.
Buchholz walked two with two out in the third but escaped damage and ended up blanking the Jays for six straight innings.
He had gone winless in his first four starts for the first time of his career. But, despite the rocky opening the trip to Toronto proved to be a tonic for the 29-year-old right-hander.
Buchholz arrived with a 9-5 career mark and 2.44 earned-run average against Toronto and was 7-2 with a 1.09 ERA in 10 starts at the Rogers Centre.
Toronto used six pitchers, with Loup, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Sergio Santos helping douse the fire set by Morrow and Jenkins.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, on his bobblehead day, is scheduled to pitch Sunday against Boston left-hander Jon Lester in the series finale.