Sports Baseball

LONGLEY

Blue Jays, Sanchez give Red Sox easy victory

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

Toronto Blue Jays players watch Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Ben Taylor deliver during the ninth inning of an MLB game at Fenway Park in Boston on July 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Toronto Blue Jays players watch Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Ben Taylor deliver during the ninth inning of an MLB game at Fenway Park in Boston on July 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON — Until Wednesday night, there wasn’t much about historic Fenway Park that intimidated Aaron Sanchez.

Not the vaunted Green Monster that dominates left field. Not the good-hitting team he usually faces here. And not the prospect of playing in a contest with added meaning.

Past successes here tumbled quickly from memory in the young pitcher’s latest trip to the mound as Sanchez’s command must have been left behind in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse.

The result was a disarmingly easy 5-1 Boston victory allowing the Sox to take a 2-1 lead in this four-game series between the first- and last-place teams in the American League East.

It certainly was another demoralizing result for a Jays team unable to find any traction both on offence or from its starting rotation.

And even worse, Sanchez suffered a recurrence of the blister problem that has sent him to the disabled list three times already this season.

“Hopefully we got it in time,” Jays manager John Gibbons said of the blister that popped up on the same spot of the same finger that has plagued him all season.

Sanchez struggled from the opening batter and especially through the first two innings in which no less than eight Red Sox runners reached and four crossed the plate.

Sensing the struggles from Sanchez, the Boston batters were barely swinging, forcing the recovering righty to throw 49 pitches through two innings.

It was certainly an ominous development for a team already weary from the loss in 15 innings the previous night. With such a slow start and an offence that is essentially dormant, it was clear early that this was going to be a beat down by the Sox.

The disheartening outing for Sanchez was in sharp contrast to his previous visits to Boston. In fact, in six career starts at Fenway he had never lost (3-0) and had a dominating 2.05 ERA.

And it certainly was a dramatically different outcome than his most recent outing here. Sanchez was on the mound last Oct. 2 for a 2-1 Jays win on the day the team clinched a wild-card berth, a contest that ended in celebration and champagne.

With losses the past two days, the Jays are once again distancing themselves from the possibility of such jubilation at the end of the 2017 season. They are now a prohibitive 10 games behind the Red Sox in the division and 5.5 out of a wildcard spot.

Sanchez, who was making just his eighth start of the season thanks to three stints on the DL, settled down some after the first two innings.

But with the blister — which was popped post-game — the Jays weren’t going to take any chances and brought in reliever Cesar Valdez.

NOW WHAT?

From Gibbons to pitching coach Pete Walker to general manager Ross Atkins, the Jays were hoping for much more from Sanchez on Wednesday.

The expectation was that in his third start back from his latest medical leave, he would return to the form that earned him the ERA title last season. With that not happening, beyond Marcus Stroman and perhaps J.A. Happ, the Jays starting rotation is in rough shape.

As Walker mused earlier in the week, the team desperately needs a nice clean run through the starting five. Hard to imagine that happening based on recent efforts.

The team is confident they caught the latest blister issue early enough, but as we’ve seen in this season-long saga, that’s no guarantee, either.

“We’ve tried a lot of things that have and haven’t worked out to this point,” Sanchez said. “You have to just manage what you’ve got and see where it takes you.”

GAME ON

So typical of the quirks of Fenway, the Jays opened the third with sharp hits off the left-field wall from Miguel Montero and Darwin Barney. Unfortunately, they were held to a pair of singles. What followed was so typical of the impotence this team has shown on offence. A Jose Bautista strikeout was followed by a Steve Pearce ground out into a double-play and that was that. “We really couldn’t get anything going all night,” Gibbons said of the offensive woes. “We’ll move on and show up tomorrow.” … With the loss, the Jays are now 2-4 on this 10-game road trip … Typical of the offensive struggles — the Jays did not record an extra-base hit for the eighth time this season … The Jays got their only run in the fifth when a Bautista fly ball to right field scored backup catcher Montero from third … With danger in the Jays offence at a minimum now, Boston starter Drew Pomeranz didn’t have to do too much to record his 10th win of the season. The Sox have won nine of Pomeranz’s last 11 starts … Now at 29-17 at Fenway, the Sox have the best home record in the AL … Noted Jays killer Dustin Pedroia was at his lethal best driving in three Boston runs on a pair of hits.

MORE SCORE

Beyond the obvious, there’s one other rather large reason why the Jays aren’t competitive in the AL East race. Their record vs. divisional opponents is now 16-27 … Also, the Jays have now lost seven of nine vs. the Red Sox this season, including a Boston sweep at the Rogers Centre. The Jays were outscored 29-6 in that series … Valdez, called up from Buffalo earlier in the day to take Mike Bolsinger’s spot on the roster, took over for Sanchez in the fifth. The Jays had hoped for Sanchez to go much deeper and now must wish the same for Francisco Liriano in the Thursday matinee to conclude what is shaping up as a disastrous series. With his workload on Wednesday, Valdez won’t be available for long relief.

QUICK HITS

Montero got the call at catcher for Wednesday’s game, a day earlier than originally planned. Gibbons said he wanted to give Russell Martin’s legs a break after 15 innings of up-and-down the night before. As for the right hand that took a foul ball on Tuesday, Gibbons said it wasn’t an issue … What was an issue was Montero’s ability to gun down a runner. The Red Sox tested him early and Montero responded with a throw in the dirt and an easy stolen base for Jackie Bradley Jr. … With a 16-inning game on Saturday and a 15-inning affair on Tuesday, it’s the first time in the last 100 years that the Sox have played multiple games of 15 plus innings in a single home stand.