Pair of blasts bite Marcum, Blue Jays
Righty solid despite homers; Toronto can't produce clutch hit
TORONTO -- Devising a game plan for facing Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero is no easy task, especially for a finesse pitcher like Shaun Marcum. The Blue Jays starter relies on control and deception -- traits that Guerrero can render useless.
Guerrero hardly restricts his swings to the limits of the strike zone, earning a reputation over the years as one of baseball's best bad-ball hitters. The veteran proved that once again on Wednesday night, when he needed only two swings to send the Blue Jays to a 4-3 loss at Rogers Centre.
Both of the violent hacks in question led to towering home runs for Guerrero -- a solo shot in the first inning and a decisive three-run blast in the third. Marcum was the victim behind each homer, which both came on pitches that would've surely been called balls had they not met up with Guerrero's bat.
That fact left Marcum in a perplexed state after the loss for the Jays (23-25), whose season has lacked the type of power display put on by Guerrero. Prior to taking the mound, Marcum was similarly stymied about how to approach Guerrero -- given his ability to turn any kind of pitch into a hit.
"I'm still kind of in shock that he hit them both out," Marcum said. "He's a hard guy to pitch to. It seems like when we go over our hit zones and everything, all of his boxes are bright red -- not white or blue. It seems like everything is a hot zone for him."
That being the case, steering clear of the strike zone would seem like an advisable plan of attack. With two outs in the first inning, Marcum released a 2-2 curveball that was headed well below the strike zone. Guerrero reached down and yanked the pitch to deep left-center field, where it crashed over the wall to put Toronto behind, 1-0.
In the third inning, Marcum (4-3) issued two straight walks with one out -- a sequence that wound up haunting the pitcher. Next up was Guerrero, who received a sinker in on his hands to open the at-bat. Marcum turned to watch that offering land a few rows deep in the second deck in left for a three-run shot that put the Angels (28-20) on top, 4-1.
"They were both decent pitches," Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said. "The curveball was a foot off the ground. That's a pitch that he's probably the only guy in either league who can hit that ball out. Then, the sinker in was a foot off the corner, but that's what he does.
"He's been doing it his whole career. He's a notorious free swinger. He's a great bad-ball hitter."
By turning each of those "bad balls" into home runs, Guerrero practically sent the Jays to their second loss in a row singlehandedly. Toronto touched L.A.'s Jon Garland for three runs over his six innings of work, managed to out-hit the Angels by a count of 11-4 and drew four walks on the night.
The problem -- much like it's been all season -- was an inability to drive those many baserunners home. The Jays grounded into three double plays, giving them six in the past two games and a Major League-leading 58. Toronto also stranded 10 runners, including seven over the final five innings.
One of Toronto's double plays provided a discouraging conclusion to the seventh inning, when it appeared as though the Jays were on their way to at least knotting the score. With Aaron Hill on second base and Alex Rios on first with no outs, and the Jays down, 4-3, Angels catcher Mike Napoli misplayed a pitch for a passed ball.
After a slight hesitation, Hill bolted for third base and reached safely. On the other side of the diamond, Rios retreated for first, leaving runners on the corners. Angels reliever Jose Arredondo recovered by striking out Scott Rolen and inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of Matt Stairs to escape the threat.
"They both need to advance on that ball," said Jays manager John Gibbons, referring to the passed ball. "You take a gamble there. Both of them have to move up on that play."
Another issue for the Jays has been a lack of power. Entering Wednesday, Toronto ranked 10th in the American League with 30 home runs and 11th with a .367 slugging percentage. The Jays also ranked dead last in the Majors with 110 extra-base hits and, true to that trend, 10 of Toronto's 11 hits against the Angels were singles.
"We're getting our singles and we're pecking away," Zaun said. "But we haven't been able to get that big blast from anybody to really put a game out of reach, or get us back into a ballgame. But it's coming. I know it is."
The power outage has been an especially frustrating aspect of Toronto's laboring lineup.
"Homers are big in this game, because it means instant runs," Gibbons said. "We strung together some hits -- we were just one run short. We put on some good at-bats and we out-hit them, but the home runs were the difference."
The pair of blasts by Guerrero were all the damage needed to spoil an otherwise solid effort for Marcum, who retired 12 in a row during one stretch and finished with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
One of those strikeouts came against Guerrero in the fifth inning. Go figure that it came on a fastball right over the heart of the plate.
"It seems like he swings at everything and he finds a way to hit it on the barrel," Marcum said. "The only other way to get him out, I guess, is throw it down the middle, which is what I did on the strikeout.
"I'm surprised he didn't hit that one off the Jumbotron."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.