TORONTO -- Darren Oliver and the Blue Jays were undone by some late-inning heroics in front of 45,312 at Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon.
Oliver came into the game in the eighth inning, and he gave up a pair of two-out base hits that led to the winning runs as Toronto fell, 6-4, to the Athletics. The 42-year-old left-hander entered with the game knotted at 3, replacing starter R.A. Dickey.
With two runners on and one away, Oliver struck out Brandon Moss. Then, he had Alberto Callaspo in a 2-2 count, but Callaspo turned on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, sending the 88-mph fastball to deep left field. It went off the glove of a leaping Emilio Bonifacio up against the wall, scoring both runners.
"They just ended up getting a lucky one with two outs there at the end," Brett Lawrie said. "That kind of stung us a little bit. They went up two, and there wasn't enough room left to kind of come back."
The A's chipped in for one more in the inning on a single by Chris Young, providing themselves with a three-run cushion that proved to be enough.
Toronto, however, would wage a rally of their own in a 27-minute bottom of the ninth. Oakland brought in closer Grant Balfour to finish out the game, but like A's starter A.J. Griffin, he had trouble locating the zone.
Balfour took his time for all 37 of his pitches, and he surrendered three walks, an earned run and a hit.
"I don't think it's the pitches. I think it was the time in between pitches," said Lawrie, who drove in Edwin Encarnacion in the ninth. "He was walking around the mound. He was on the rubber, but he wasn't in. You're just sitting there waiting. It's a long time to be sitting there waiting. You start to get uncomfortable, and the ball starts to look different on you."
After Lawrie's double, Balfour walked a pair of batters to face Jose Reyes with the tying run at second, the bases loaded and the game on the line. Reyes grounded out to second on a 1-2 fastball for the final out.
"It was one of those days. I was fighting it, I'm not gonna lie," Balfour said. "I was struggling. You almost got to be happy you only gave up one run and saved the game right there, but I didn't throw the ball well at all. I'll admit that. I felt way better than that."
"You've got the tying run on second and Jose Reyes at the plate. It's a situation the Blue Jays want to be in, and not us," A's catcher Stephen Vogt said. "You have to bear down to get a good hitter like that, and that's big for us."
Reyes' ninth inning at-bat was a microcosm of the Blue Jays' night. Toronto went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and left the bases loaded without scoring a run three times.
"They got the big hit and we didn't," manager John Gibbons said. "We put some pressure on them early, a couple of times with the bases loaded and then of course there late. We just couldn't get that big decisive hit."
That would end up costing Dickey a chance for a decision, despite tossing a third consecutive quality start. Dickey cruised through five innings. After escaping unscathed in the fifth with men on the corners and none out, the knuckleballer found himself in trouble again the following frame. Dickey had Yoenis Cespedes on third with none out after a double and a wild pitch, and proceeded to strike out the hot-hitting Josh Reddick.
Unlike the fifth, however, the 38-year-old gave up a sharp single to Josh Donaldson, scoring Cespedes and tying the game at 1. Two pitches later, Moss homered to straightaway center field, giving the A's a two-run lead.
"I can almost take the home run to Moss. It wasn't a bad pitch, actually," Dickey said. "It was down in the zone. He just went down and got it and hit it out to center. It was the double, a 2-0 knuckleball that was kind of a get-me-over knuckleball to Cespedes. I didn't think he would be swinging, and he handled it pretty good. …That's the one that hurt more than the home run for me."
Dickey allowed just those three runs in seven innings on six hits and two walks, posting six strikeouts.
"I felt like I gave us a chance. That's what I always [try] to do," Dickey said. "Every time out, I try to throw a quality start. I did that today. [But] obviously, I'm not satisfied with the outcome of the game."