Blue Jays drop epic pitching duel to continue puzzling slide

A true pitcher’s duel tends to have an unjust result almost by definition.

Even though both starters dominate on the mound, one of them has to go home disappointed despite deserving the win. Thursday’s heavyweight bout between Chris Sale and Marco Estrada in Toronto was doubly disappointing as neither could earn the decision despite their superlative performances.

The pair combined for 14 innings of scoreless ball at Rogers Centre, leaving the fate of the game in the hands of the bullpens en route to a 4-1 win by the Boston Red Sox.

Mookie Betts struck the decisive blow on a three-run double against Jason Grilli in the 10th to win the contest and the series. The 40-year-old setup man loaded the bases on two walks and a single and watched the Red Sox star rip a line drive down the left-field line to put the game away.

Grilli was crestfallen post-game after relinquishing the winning runs and watching his team fall to 3-12 – good for a .200 winning percentage.

“Losing makes you appreciate winning,” he said. “There’s not much else to say. There are no words right now.”

Estrada was similarly at a loss to explain both the defeat and where the Blue Jays find themselves in the standings.

“It would be understandable if we were a different team with different names,” he said. “But you look at the names we have here and start thinking ‘how do this happen with a lineup like that and the staff we have?'”

The game-winning hit was made possible by a wild ninth where Roberto Osuna conceded back-to-back doubles to give the Red Sox the first lead of the game, and Craig Kimbrel allowed a home run to Kendrys Morales in the bottom half to tie it.

From there on it was a clean slate, but it was really what came before that made this matinee special – even if it didn’t determine the result.

Sale’s performance was bigger and more dramatic than the game itself. The menacing left-hander brought a 1.25 ERA into the game and improved it to 0.91 with eight scoreless innings where he struck out 13 against a single walk and four hits. He threw 32 of his first 36 pitches for strikes and didn’t let up as the game went on, striking out five of the final seven batters he faced. By the end of his day, he’d thrown 80 strikes to only 22 balls.

“Any time Sale is pitching he’s such a high strikeout guy,” manager John Gibbons said of the outing. “When he’s on there’s just not a whole lot you can do.”

Marco Estrada was outstanding on Thursday afternoon, but taking on Chris Sale was a tall task and the Toronto Blue Jays fell just short. (Fred Thornhill/CP)
Marco Estrada was outstanding on Thursday afternoon, but taking on Chris Sale was a tall task and the Toronto Blue Jays fell just short. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

At no point did the lanky lefty look remotely out of control on the mound. He bizarrely issued a four-pitch walk to Steve Pearce in the fourth, but followed with a groundout and a strikeout. He engaged in an 11-pitch duel with Devon Travis in the next frame, but the second baseman ultimately flied out harmlessly to left. Every time he took a step back, the southpaw seemed to take three forward. Sale rolled through his innings effortlessly making the Blue Jays look more like a minor impediment than a worthy foe.

On the other side of the mound Estrada was no slouch. The 33-year-old worked his typical quietly effective magic sedating a Red Sox lineup full of dangerous offensive threats. His changeup was virtually untouchable and he worked the top of the zone with his fastball effectively to keep Boston off the board over six innings. He allowed just three hits and two walks and punched out seven. The only strike against Estrada’s day was that he ran up a pitch count of 106 through six and was unable to go inning-for-inning with Sale.

“Those guys just put up good at-bats,” he said. “We didn’t give up too many hits today, but they wasted a lot of good pitches. It gets frustrating sometimes when you make a good pitch and they foul it off instead of popping it up or grounding out or whatever. They did a good job over there.”

This game just didn’t feel like it ought to be decided by Grilli, Osuna, or even Kimbrel. The relievers were just interlopers in a scrap meant for starters to shine. One of Sale or Estrada deserved the chance to beat the other outright. Unfortunately, in baseball – as in life – the correlation between what one deserves and one gets is tenuous at best.

Sitting at 3-12, the Blue Jays can’t exactly concern themselves with poetic justice when they need to screw their heads on straight and take a defibrillator to their flatlining bats. Up next is a long road trip out west to face the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim – and it’s pretty hard to spin the positives of West Coast travel – although Estrada gave it the old college try after the game.

“It’s a long trip to Anaheim, maybe, I don’t know, it’ll clear our minds,” he said. “But really none of that stuff matters.”

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