OAKLAND -- For the first time in six weeks, the Blue Jays don't have sole possession of first place in the American League East.
Toronto's lead has been slowly evaporating over the past couple of weeks as the rest of the division chipped away at the deficit. The lead is now officially gone as Baltimore evened the standing with a victory over Texas coupled with a disappointing Thursday night for the Blue Jays.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey had his best start in over a month, but the offense struggled and there were several lapses on defense in Toronto's 4-1 loss to the AL West-leading A's at O.co Coliseum.
"They outplayed us, pure and simple," a succinct and clearly frustrated Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said following the loss.
The high point of the Blue Jays' season came on June 6 when they pushed their lead in the AL East to six games. The club was a season-high 14 games over .500 but has since gone 9-16 to see its comfortable cushion completely erode.
Injuries certainly haven't helped with left-hander Brett Cecil and infielder Brett Lawrie on the disabled list. To make matters worse, Jose Bautista missed a week because of a strained hamstring and is currently limited to being the designated hitter.
The health concerns have led to some Blue Jays playing out of position. Edwin Encarnacion has started the past two games in left field, which shifted Melky Cabrera to right, and the club has become increasingly reliant on infielders Juan Francisco and Munenori Kawasaki.
The Blue Jays' normally reliable defense has suffered because of all of the changes. That point was extremely evident Thursday night as Encarnacion misread a fly ball to left, Cabrera got a bad jump on a shallow fly to right and Kawasaki made a throwing error.
"Everybody's doing their best," said Dickey, who allowed four runs but only two earned. "We're in a situation where we're nursing some injuries in some places and guys are called upon to do above and beyond what they normally do.
"They're doing the best that they can and that's just part of being on a team and trying to pick each other up. It just comes with the territory, but I felt like I pitched well enough to keep us in it and that team over there can really pitch."
Toronto's lineup was the best in baseball during May, but struggled through a large portion of June. Some signs of life were displayed in the first two games of July with a combined 11 runs, but with one of the league's best pitchers in Sonny Gray on the mound for Oakland, the issues resurfaced.
The only time the Blue Jays put together any type of sustained rally came in the second when they loaded the bases with one out. Left fielder Anthony Gose hit a grounder to first base and Nate Freiman fielded it cleanly before appearing to apply a tag on the baserunner Kawasaki.
First-base umpire Vic Carapazza felt that Kawasaki avoided the tag and made the safe sign. Oakland believed the force play was still in order and threw home to get the out. Gibbons then decided to challenge the play, and after a lengthy review, Kawasaki was ruled out and the run from third was allowed to score because a tag was not applied.
"I had a bad feeling that they were gonna count the run, because I saw Nate tag him," Gray said. "But at the same time I also saw the umpire say safe, so I knew [catcher Stephen] Vogt saw the umpire say safe too, so it was still a force at home.
"It's just a tough play all around. Without the replay, the guy's out at home. It's just one of those tough plays, because he tagged him, yes, but if the umpire called him safe, it changes the complexion of the whole play."
The Blue Jays put at least one runner on base during each of the next three innings, but each time they came away empty handed. Gray was charged with the one run on four hits and three walks while striking out five over seven strong innings.
Dickey allowed two runs in the second inning, but he wasn't helped by the fact that Encarnacion misplayed a fly ball to left that went for a double. Freiman later added an RBI double and the second run came around to score on a passed ball charged to catcher Josh Thole.
The score remained 2-1 until the eighth when Dickey encountered more problems. Craig Gentry led off with a single and then came around to score on an RBI double by John Jaso. The final run scored on a sacrifice fly while Dickey earned his first complete game of the season. He allowed four runs, but only two were earned on six hits and three walks.
"He pitched a great game," Gibbons said. "We just didn't get anything going offensively. Gray was really, really good too. We'll show up tomorrow."