07/21/09 11:40 PM ET
Jays can't close out Cecil's strong start
Downs allows go-ahead runs in ninth after rookie's gem
By Erika Gilbert / MLB.com
A costly error by first baseman Lyle Overbay in the ninth inning and an intentional walk loaded the bases for Cleveland for the third time in the game. Then a decisive two-run double by Victor Martinez sent the Jays to a 2-1 loss on Tuesday at Rogers Centre. Closer Scott Downs was charged with his second blown save of the season and took the loss, although only one of the two runs he gave up was earned.
With the Jays (46-48) clinging to a 1-0 lead after a strong showing by starters Brett Cecil and Cliff Lee, Downs came out in the top of the ninth to record the final three outs. The leadoff man, pinch-hitter Ryan Garko, reached base on an infield single, bringing center fielder Grady Sizemore to the plate.
What happened next was something neither team had planned. Sizemore dropped a bunt down the first-base line, intending to sacrifice himself to advance pinch-runner Luis Valbuena to second.
Overbay picked up the ball and saw that he had time to get the lead runner, so instead of taking the easy out at first, Overbay threw to second. But the usually sure-handed first baseman was unable to find the outstretched glove of shortstop Marco Scutaro, sending the ball sailing over Scutaro's head and into center field.
Sizemore expected to be thrown out at first, but instead found himself safe at second, with Valbuena standing on third. After Downs (1-1) intentionally walked Asdrubal Cabrera, Martinez smacked a two-run double just inside the third-base line, turning the Jays' one-run lead into a one-run deficit.
Though Overbay's error was costly, the decision to throw to second was the right one, according to Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.
"I think he had a shot at second base," Gaston said. "He normally makes a good throw there, it's just that throw that got away from him. You play long enough, it'll probably happen again."
The loss wasted seven scoreless innings by Cecil. But given the number of opportunities Cleveland came up with against the rookie, it's a wonder the Indians (37-57) were kept off the scoreboard for so long.
Cecil got himself into trouble numerous times, pitching just well enough to prevent the Tribe from doing serious damage.
"It was a tough-fought game the whole way through, especially for me," Cecil said. "[My] fastball wasn't located very well in the first couple of innings."
In the first two frames, Cecil left runners on the corners. The Indians loaded the bases against Cecil with two outs in the third, but the lefty struck out Ben Francisco to leave the bags full.
Cleveland filled the bases again in the fourth, this time with one out, but Cecil induced a double-play ball off the bat of right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to end the threat.
At that point, reliever Jesse Carlson was already warming up in the bullpen. But Cecil settled down in the next couple of innings, keeping the Indians off the basepaths in the fifth and sixth before allowing another pair of baserunners in the seventh.
"He had a lot of pitches early in the game, and then he went out and got through a few innings pretty quick, so that kind of saved him there," Gaston said
While Cecil struggled to keep the Indians' bats at bay, Lee had little trouble with the Jays, scattering seven hits in a complete-game effort while walking none. With the exception of one hiccup -- a solo home run by third baseman Scott Rolen deep to center field in the seventh inning -- Toronto didn't have much of a chance against Lee (6-9), the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
While the loss was certainly a tough one for the Jays to take, Cecil's ability to pitch himself out of trouble was a good sign for the 23-year-old lefty, who has struggled in starts where his command is not at its best.
"You learn from every start -- this being one of the best starts to learn from," Cecil said. "I was riding the bike and [reliever Jeremy] Accardo came in after throwing. ... He said, 'You should remember how you can get out of those innings without getting any damage done,' and I definitely learned a lot."
The rookie struck out a career-high nine batters and gave up seven hits and four walks, but he did not allow a run en route to his second consecutive shutout performance.
Cecil added that, as he gets more and more Major League starts under his belt, he's learning to have confidence in his pitches.
"It's as simple as that -- you've got to trust your stuff and throw it with authority," Cecil said. "Whether it's a breaking ball or it's a changeup or it's a fastball, you've got to throw it with authority. If you don't, that's when you start leaving balls over the plate.
"From my last start and this start, it's definitely taught me a lot. No matter what pitch you're throwing, you've got to be aggressive with it.
While Cecil's memory of Tuesday's game is one he hopes to take with him into his next start, Overbay's recollection of the night will linger in a more troublesome way.
"I don't like making mistakes defensive-wise," Overbay said. "Hitting-wise, you're going to fail, [but] the defensive part ... it's going to bother me.
"It was an easy play that wasn't executed. It cost us the game."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.