Game of inches goes against Jays
McGowan ends up with no-decision in eye-opening debut
TORONTO -- It was a matter of inches and a matter of opinion.
A controversial play at the plate was the difference in Saturday's game, which turned out to be a 3-2 win for the Rangers over the Blue Jays. Kevin Mench, the road team's right fielder, slid home with the go-ahead run in the sixth inning of a tight game. That slide -- disputed or not -- gave the Rangers six straight wins over Toronto and a 2-0 edge in the current series.
"I thought he was out. I thought he was wide," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "It was big, but we didn't mount much offense today. That's what it came down to."
The key play came in the top of the sixth inning, with two outs and Mench on first base. Gary Matthews Jr. chopped a ball off the plate for Texas (53-50), and Toronto reliever Jason Frasor had to wait for it to come down. When it did, he had to hurry a throw, which went inside the baseline and off the back of the Matthews' helmet.
"I knew he was flying. I know he's fast," said Frasor, who took the loss. "I had a bad grip. I threw it anyway, but it took off on me."
The ball bounced into foul territory, and Matthews, running full-out, plowed into Shea Hillenbrand before falling to the turf in obvious pain. Hillenbrand also fell down before giving chase to the ball, and both players talked about the impact after the game.
"The throw hit me in the back of the helmet and it flicked over in front of my face," said Matthews. "I couldn't see until I was two inches in front of his shoulder. It felt like a punch in the face. I was a little woozy, a little sleepy."
"It was such a huge collision. I don't know what hit me or where," said Hillenbrand of the play at first base.
Toronto's first baseman recovered and went after the ball, but Mench was busy steaming his way around the bases. Finally, Hillenbrand gathered and made a strong throw to the plate, but the runner arrived at roughly the same time.
It was close, but the home-plate umpire was in perfect position and signaled safe for the go-ahead run. Gibbons and Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun argued to no avail, and neither team was able to score for the rest of the game.
"I put my glove right in front of the plate and his hand came right into it. There wasn't really anywhere for him to go," said Zaun. "I didn't think there was any question about it. He slid wide and he tried to reach back with his hand, but my glove was sitting right in front of the plate with plenty of time. Another one of those calls cost us the ballgame."
Despite a no-decision, Toronto starter Dustin McGowan pitched well in his Major League debut. The rookie walked the first two batters he faced, but settled down shortly thereafter. The right-hander worked five innings and allowed just two hits, striking out six batters against three walks. The only run he allowed came on a sacrifice fly in the second inning.
"He had a little trouble with his fastball -- getting it over -- but the breaking ball and the changeup were there for him," said Zaun. "That says a lot about the kid's makeup. Hopefully, we'll be able to use that mid-90's fastball a little bit more the next time."
The Jays (52-51) gained an early lead, thanks to a wild play in the first. With no outs and the bases loaded, Alfonso Soriano fielded a ball and tried to tag a runner, but he would up having to throw to first for the fielder's choice. The first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, then threw wildly into left field, allowing both runs to score.
Five innings later, there was redemption by long ball. After Frasor got two quick outs in the sixth, Gonzalez reached him for a solo homer over the right-field fence. That tied the game at 2, and two plays later, Mench slid home with the go-ahead run.
"That was the only place he was going to hurt me -- down-and-in," said Frasor about the home run. "That's right where he likes it. It was supposed to be a cutter in, but it came out more like a curveball and hung up over the plate."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.