Ryan's blown save sends Jays to loss
All-Star closer wild, surrenders four runs in ninth inning
TORONTO -- Everything was going according to plan for the Blue Jays. With heavy metal blaring from the speakers and flames flashing on the scoreboards, Toronto closer B.J. Ryan began his sprint from the bullpen to the mound inside Rogers Centre.
The only flawed aspect of the routine turned out to be Ryan, who unraveled in the ninth inning to send Toronto reeling to a 10-7 loss to Detroit on Saturday afternoon. The left-hander struggled with his command, issuing a rare three walks to help the Tigers scramble for four late runs to seal the see-saw affair.
"You give that man the ball tomorrow and he'll get it done," Blue Jays starter A.J. Burnett said. "Things happen and he's here for a reason. You don't see too much of that."
The blown save was Ryan's second of the season, but just his 11th since the onset of the 2005 season, when he first became a full-time closer with Baltimore. Over that same span, the 6-foot-5 Ryan has amassed 77 saves and has been named to the American League All-Star team twice.
Toronto (6-5) signed Ryan to a five-year deal worth $47 million following the '05 season. Last year, Ryan finished with 38 saves in his first campaign with the Blue Jays, who have only had one other closer in club history notch more saves in one season.
So, Burnett was dead on in describing Ryan's latest ill-fated performance as a rarity. Saturday marked the first time since July 4, 2005, that Ryan walked three batters in a single outing. Against Detroit, Toronto's closer also threw a season-high 37 pitches, which were the most since he threw 45 in that same outing two seasons ago against the Yankees.
Ryan's latest lapse is reminiscent of a similar stretch last July, when the southpaw had three blown saves in four chances. Including Saturday's debacle, Ryan has two blown saves in his last four trips to the mound -- the last coming on April 6 on the road against Tampa Bay.
"He'll bounce back," Toronto manager John Gibbons said matter-of-factly. "He had that one game in [St. Petersburg], but other than that he's looked fine. It's rare that he walks guys."
Gibbons also shook off any questions about Ryan's health. The lefty struggled with a back injury for much of Spring Training, but Toronto's manager said that problem was no longer an issue.
The downward spiral against the Tigers (7-4) began with one out in the top of the ninth, when Toronto led, 7-6. After designated hitter Gary Sheffield fouled off three straight pitches from Ryan (0-2), the veteran slugger walked to set Detroit's rally in motion.
Including the last two pitches to Sheffield, Ryan threw 10 balls over a 14-pitch span. That led to back-to-back walks to right fielder Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, loading the bases for pinch-hitter Marcus Thames.
"There's no excuse for that," Ryan said. "I was just missing a lot, throwing the ball up in the [strike] zone and not being able to command the ball down. It's tough when you run up against those guys in that lineup when you're pitching from behind."
Ryan shattered Thames' bat with the third pitch of the encounter, but that equaled a soft, looping fly ball that dropped into shallow left field for a double. That allowed both Sheffield and Ordonez to score, putting the Tigers ahead, 8-7.
Those two runs effectively erased the solo home run that Toronto's Lyle Overbay's belted off reliever Wilfredo Ledezma (2-0) a half-inning earlier to set up the save chance for Ryan. The Jays also received one home run each from Vernon Wells and Alex Rios during the losing effort.
"The big blow was that jam shot," said Gibbons, referring to Thames' double. "They're a good ballclub. They don't let up. They can strike so fast and so quick with that lineup. That happens. That's baseball. We win some games on those kinds of hits, too."
Detroit touched up Ryan for two more runs before Gibbons reached back into his bullpen with two outs. Tigers left fielder Craig Monroe drove in Guillen with a groundout to third base, where Jays infielder Jason Smith had no play except to first base.
Then, Toronto shortstop Royce Clayton bobbled a grounder off the bat of Brandon Inge, paving the way for Detroit's final run. Tigers closer Todd Jones followed by quickly setting down the Blue Jays in the bottom of the ninth en route to his sixth save of the year.
"When you're playing the top teams in baseball, you never feel comfortable," Gibbons said. "We were in a position to win. It just didn't happen. It's tough. We competed all night long."
Burnett felt some responsibility for the loss, considering he was only able to last 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander had an inconsistent outing, in which he allowed four runs on seven hits, including a two run homer by Inge in the fourth, with five strikeouts.
"I felt good right out of the gate," Burnett said. "I just left some pitches over. Some sinkers didn't sink -- they stayed over the middle of the plate. You can't do that with any lineup. I didn't execute."
Neither did Ryan, and the fact that it's still so early in the season didn't make it any easier for the closer to take.
"They all count the same," Ryan said. "So, when you get out there and let your team down, you've just got to try to get them tomorrow."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.