Jays lose tension-filled game to Yanks
Third-inning dustup overshadows sterling defensive effort
TORONTO -- The only person Josh Towers was upset with after Tuesday night's dustup with the Yankees was himself. An errant pitch from the Blue Jays starter sparked two bench-clearing episodes at Rogers Centre, where memories of a prior incident this season were appearently still fresh in the minds of the two teams.
Towers hit New York's Alex Rodriguez with a pitch in the third inning, leading to plenty of words after the players from both clubs promptly departed the benches and bullpens during a brief on-field confrontation. It was what took place after the altercation that miffed Towers, who wasn't able to take advantage of a stellar showing by Toronto's defense in a tension-filled 9-2 loss.
"I'm disappointed in myself," Towers said. "These guys, they were energized and ready to play, and I let them down."
In what could potentially be his last start for the Blue Jays (56-56), Towers was charged with five runs on nine hits over five-plus innings. The line was ugly, and the turning point in the right-hander's evening arrived with the offering that Rodriguez took off his left leg in the third inning. That pitch caused tempers to flare and in turn, ignited a rally for the surging Yankees (63-50).
"I was just trying to pitch inside," said Towers, denying that he hit Rodriguez intentionally. "That was a key situation. Obviously, he's a power hitter. You've go to pitch those guys inside and it just got away a little bit."
Rodriguez stormed toward the mound, barking at Towers while the pitcher pointed toward first base. A-Rod's mostly likely felt the pitch was intentional due to an incident that took place in Toronto on May 30. In that game, Rodriguez yelled and distracted Toronto infielders during a critical ninth-inning pop up.
More than two months later, New York's third baseman didn't take his base after being hit, and players and coaches from both sides swiftly circled around Rodriguez and Towers between the mound and home plate. After a few minutes passed with no punches thrown, Rodriguez took his spot on first.
The benches then cleared a second time, when Towers (5-9) exchanged words with Yankees first-base coach Tony Pena. The entire altercation, in which no one was ejected by the umpires, delayed the game for nearly 15 minutes. When it resumed, New York catcher Jorge Posada stepped into the batter's box and let his bat do the talking.
"I had an opportunity after all that blew over to get Jorge Posada out," Towers said. "I didn't do it and that led to two more runs."
With two outs and runners on first and third, Posada sliced a pitch from Towers into left field for a double, scoring a pair of runs and putting Toronto behind, 3-0. The Yankees added another run in the fourth inning, and piled on three more in the sixth. When it was all said and done, New York had churned out nine runs on 14 hits to back a dominating outing from Roger Clemens (4-5).
Clemens turned in six-plus innings for the Yankees, who have defeated the Blue Jays in six of the their last seven meetings. The right-hander recorded six strikeouts and allowed just one run on two hits. During one stretch between the second and sixth innings, the 45-year-old pitcher retired 13 consecutive batters.
The aging ace might've lasted deeper into the game had it not been for a bit of apparent retaliation in the seventh inning. Clemens hit Toronto right fielder Alex Rios between the numbers on his back to lead off the frame, and home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez wasted no time in ejecting both the pitcher and Yankees manager Joe Torre.
"He's a warrior," said Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun, referring to Clemens. "He's not going to stand by and let guys take shots at his players. I certainly understand the way they felt about that situation and I would expect nothing less from him. He's going to protect his players."
New York then turned to reliever Jim Brower, who walked Vernon Wells to put two runners aboard for Toronto. Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas followed with a two-run double, but that was the extent of Toronto's brief rally. The loss marked the first time since June 17-19 that the Jays dropped consecutive games at home.
"It was a pretty wild game today," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "The bottom line is they took it to us all the way around. Clemens was outstanding -- he really was. What was lost in it, we took our lumps pretty good today, but we played some great defense out there, too. We don't have anything to show for that."
Toronto had a number of highlight-reel plays turned in by its defenders. Posada was thrown out twice -- once each by left fielder Reed Johnson and Rios -- attempting to stretch a base hit into a double. Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald recorded a pair of impressive outs in the fifth inning with pinpoint throws following sliding grabs in the hole to his right.
"These guys were energized," Towers said. "You saw the effort, man. Johnny Mac and the rest of my defense -- Reed. These guys were playing unbelievable today, throwing guys out, diving and making unbelievable plays. I'm disappointed in myself for letting them down."
Towers' performance also comes at a point where his job is on the line. Toronto starter A.J. Burnett is scheduled to be activated from the disabled list this coming weekend, and either Towers or rookie Jesse Litsch will need to be removed from the rotation.
With everything else that took place, Towers said his situation was the furthest thing from his mind.
"I haven't even thought about it, to be honest with you," Towers said. "I was just worried about today. Tomorrow, we'll start over. He's got to fit back in the rotation. He's one of our big dogs. Whatever happens, happens."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.