Jays lose heartbreaker to Rays in 11th
Blown save and walk-off homer spoil McGowan's solid start
ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Blue Jays and Devil Rays exchanged lineup cards on Monday night, Toronto received a welcomed gift: Carl Crawford's name was absent. A sore right wrist kept Tampa Bay's potent outfielder on the bench.
"He's always worn us out," Toronto manager John Gibbons. "That's why you liked this game. He wasn't even in it tonight at the start."
Crawford was certainly present at the finish. The Blue Jays were cruising toward a victory until Crawford entered the contest in the ninth inning and began tormenting Toronto, stealing a critical base and dragging the game into extra innings in the process.
The final blow came in the 11th inning, when Blue Jays reliever Brian Wolfe turned and watched helplessly as one of his pitches sailed off Crawford's bat and over the center-field wall for a walk-off home run. Crawford's work was done: He sent Toronto to a 5-4 loss at Tropicana Field.
"He kills us. He kills us," Gibbons repeated. "He's one of the best players in the league for a reason. He's a guy you'd love to have, because he can beat you in so many ways. He's one of the most dangerous players in the league."
The meltdown by Toronto's bullpen, which spoiled another solid start by Dustin McGowan, began in the eighth inning. Setup man Casey Janssen yielded a solo homer to B.J. Upton, tightening the Blue Jays' lead to 4-3. Crawford came into play an inning later, when closer Jeremy Accardo aimed for a save for Toronto (52-53)
Accardo's evening began to unravel with one out in the ninth. The right-hander was understandably being cautious to Devil Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes, who had launched a 465-foot homer off McGowan in the fifth. The result was a walk that led Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon to turn to Crawford as a pinch-runner.
"In my head it was, 'Challenge him, but miss down and don't get beat by the long ball,'" said Accardo, recalling his approach to Gomes. "I threw a couple good pitches early, and then I just missed down with that last pitch and that ended up being the deciding factor."
It became a critical mistake when Crawford bolted for second base to easily move into scoring position for Tampa Bay (40-65). That marked the seventh stolen base Crawford has swiped in 10 games against Toronto this season, and the 38th in his career against the Jays.
"He's one of the fastest guys in the league," said Accardo, who has four blown saves this year. "More often than not, he's going to steal second. That's what he did and that kind of puts my back against the wall to make pitches."
Crawford then advanced to third base when Accardo induced a deep flyout to right field off the bat of Greg Norton. One batter later, pinch-hitter Josh Wilson chopped a pitch from Toronto's closer up the middle, allowing Crawford to jog across home plate to knot the score, 4-4. That canceled out the performance from McGowan, who limited the Rays to two runs on four hits over six innings.
The Blue Jays had two ample scoring chances in the 10th and 11th innings, but weren't able to come through with a single run. Lyle Overbay led off the 10th with a double, but was stranded when the next three hitters were set down in order. The Jays loaded the bases with one out in the 11th, but came up dry again.
"We had some chances," said Gibbons, whose club stranded 10 runners in the loss. " We just left some guys on base. That made the difference."
It also set up Wolfe's 11th-inning confrontation with Crawford, who has hit at a .357 clip with four of his seven home runs against the Blue Jays this season. In his career, Crawford has posted a .309 batting average with 12 long balls in 88 games against Toronto. Prior to Monday, he hadn't homered since taking Jays ace Roy Halladay deep on June 5.
"He's an All-Star," Gibbons said. "There's certain guys that have great success against certain teams and he's one that has against us."
Still, the Blue Jays knew that Crawford was nursing a sore wrist. At the onset of his at-bat against Wolfe, Crawford mimicked a bunt before pulling his bat back -- a move that caught the attention of Toronto's reliever.
"We were aware of [his wrist injury] going in," Wolfe said. "That's why the first pitch, I saw him square to bunt and I figured that was going to be his approach. Then, after that, he looked like he got comfortable at the plate."
Crawford worked into a 3-1 count before fouling a pitch off. After the swing, the outfielder appeared to flinch in pain. The next pitch from Wolfe -- an ill-fated cutter -- leaked over the heart of the plate, where Crawford's bat connected with the offering and sent it arcing toward the gap in left-center field.
"I left the ball out over the plate where he can use his power to hit it out," Wolfe said. "He's a professional hitter. He's going to go up there whether he's in pain or not, and do his job."
As a pack, Tampa Bay's players surrounded Crawford as he crossed home plate; the only ones hurting were the Blue Jays.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.