ST. PETERSBURG -- Brandon Morrow was no match for a patient Rays lineup which came into Saturday night's game with a clearly defined game plan to combat one of the more powerful pitchers in the American League.
Toronto's right-hander couldn't get the Rays to swing at anything outside of the strike zone, and whenever his pitches leaked into the middle of the plate they made him pay. The end result was one of Morrow's worst starts this season despite feeling relatively strong on the mound.
Morrow surrendered five runs in just four innings while the Blue Jays' late-season swoon continued with an 11-5 lopsided loss to Tampa Bay in front of 15,699 fans at Tropicana Field.
"I think they just had a really good approach tonight," Morrow said of the Rays. "Obviously, the four walks hurt, but I can't remember a pitch out of the zone that they swung at and I think they only swung at four off-speed pitches total.
"It was just that good approach that they really zoned in on the fastball. I think I only missed with two over the plate and they hit them out both times."
Morrow entered the game with a 3.31 ERA in 15 career appearances against the Rays. In the past, he has completely dominated them as evidenced by coming within one out of a no-hitter late in the 2010 campaign.
This year has been somewhat of a different story, though, as Morrow has a 7.59 ERA in four starts vs. Tampa Bay. The Rays have found a way to remain patient at the plate when Morrow is on the mound while consistently laying off his secondary pitches.
The slider has become Morrow's main out pitch and when teams aren't giving in, then it forces him to rely more exclusively on his fastball, which batters can then sit on and prepare to attack.
"The first couple I threw, I thought were pretty borderline and went the other way on me," Morrow said. "Then, they were laying off of it when I needed a swing and miss or a strikeout. They were doing a good job of laying off those ones that were just a little bit down. That's pretty much the approach they had all game and it worked for them."
The woes began in the first inning as Morrow allowed one run on one hit and three walks. Morrow limited the overall damage, but was forced to throw 38 pitches to get out of the frame. It was more of the same in the second as Morrow threw an additional 31 pitches and surrendered a three-run homer to Evan Longoria.
Morrow retired three in a row during the third inning, but then surrendered an additional run in the fourth on a solo shot by Desmond Jennings. He escaped the inning, but didn't come back out for the fifth because of a high pitch count.
Toronto's hard-thrower was charged with five runs on five hits while tying a season high with four walks. With the exception of an injury- shortened start on June 11, the outing was the shortest of Morrow's season and also the second-fewest amount of strikeouts (2) he's had in a game.
The pitching line was ugly, but for the most part Blue Jays manager John Farrell was actually impressed with what he saw.
"I saw powerful stuff, maybe the best overall stuff that he's had since coming back from the injury," Farrell said. "They did an outstanding job of not expanding the strike zone on the slider.
"They laid off a number of them to force him to throw them for a strike and unfortunately he wasn't able to throw his breaking ball for a strike until the third inning, and by that time, they had put a number of good swings on some pitches and really ran up the pitch count."
Right-hander Brad Lincoln entered in the fifth inning and a one-run deficit suddenly turned into a seven-run albatross. The 27-year-old proceeded to allow six runs on six hits while walking two and surrendering a pair of home runs to Jose Molina and B.J. Upton. Lincoln has now surrendered nine runs on eight hits and three walks in his past 1 2/3 innings.
The performances of Morrow and Lincoln overshadowed what was a strong start to the game by the Blue Jays' offense. Toronto scored a pair of runs in the first on an RBI single by Edwin Encarnacion and a sacrifice fly by Adam Lind. The club even managed to chase lefty Matt Moore from the game after just 2 2/3 innings.
"He didn't have it tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Moore. "During the beginning of the season you can be a little bit more patient, but you can't be as patient right now. It did not seem like he was fixing himself tonight and the bullpen was fresh."
With Moore gone, Lind later delivered a two-run triple in the fifth inning as his liner to left snuck under the glove of a diving Jennings. That momentarily cut the lead to one run, only to see the game blown wide open in the bottom half of the frame.
The Blue Jays have now lost five consecutive games and nine of their past 11. Over the past three games, they've been outscored 33-14 and now possess a run differential of -80 since July 30. The Rays, meanwhile, moved to within 3 1/2 games of Oakland for the final Wild Card spot.