MINNEAPOLIS – Three Blue Jays relievers combined to set a dubious franchise record in one of the ugliest and strangest late-game meltdowns you'll see on a baseball field.
Steve Delabar, Sergio Santos and J.A. Happ walked eight Twins in a six-run bottom of the eighth which saw Minnesota turn a 5-3 deficit into a 9-5 lead, the score by which the home side would win to sweep Thursday's doubleheader.
In scoring their six runs in the eighth, the Twins needed only one hit. Santos, tagged with the blown save and the loss, walked the only three hitters he faced and threw three wild pitches, each of which resulted in runs.
Manager John Gibbons, stunned after the game, had never seen anything like it.
"No, I sure can't remember," said Gibbons. "We just couldn't throw strikes. We didn't pitch good all series. It's cold, okay, but you know what, it's cold for both sides. If you're ever going to get to September, October in the playoffs, it's going to be cold. We didn't pitch very well. We were in position to win that one and we coughed it up. It's a crappy ending to a crappy day, I'll tell you that."
Asked to clarify whether he'd heard any of his pitchers or position players griping about the frigid conditions at Target Field, Gibbons wasn't spilling.
"No, no complaints about that," he said.
The previous franchise record for walks in an inning was seven, set in the first inning of a 13-1 loss to the Red Sox on June 21, 1994. Somebody named Brad Cornett started that game and walked three. Scott Brow picked him up in relief and was responsible for the next four bases on balls.
Truly historic and truly vexing for a bullpen that hadn't blown a lead all season; a bullpen that hadn't allowed an inherited run to score, for goodness sakes, until Todd Redmond allowed two of R.A. Dickey's runners to cross in the opening game of the twin bill, a 7-0 defeat.
You'll watch the next 38 years of Blue Jays baseball and you'll probably never see six runs scored on eight walks, three wild pitches and just one hit, again.
"I'm obviously one of the main guys to blame there," said Delabar, who walked the first two hitters and then was lifted for Santos after a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners. "I put them in a bad situation there behind me. The hitters didn't deserve what we did that inning. That was brutal."
Gibbons went to Santos looking for the strikeout but the closer was wild, bouncing slider after slider, giving catcher Dioner Navarro a workout. Three of those spiked breaking pitches got by his catcher, each resulted in a run and suddenly the Twins were ahead.
His three walks compounded the issue.
"Coming into that situation, I had to be perfect," said Santos. "Looking back now I was trying to be too perfect there. Tough, obviously, when you see your guys, the position players, they go out and play in this cold weather and so many innings. You know, it's just a long day and those are just games that you'd like."
The inning was bizarre enough and long enough to facilitate each of the five stages of grief. First there was denial; could this be happening? Based on the reaction on Twitter, rarely an appropriate gauge of rationality but it'll do for the moment, fans were angry. Bargaining followed, with pleas for Santos to throw a strike or to induce an inning-ending double play. Fans sunk into depression once the Twins had taken the lead and by the time it was 9-5 and all hope was lost, they came to accept the result.
An ugly night at the office, to be sure, but context is important. This is still a top notch bullpen. It had, to borrow an appropriate adjective from Gibbons, a crappy evening. It's blown only one lead all season and it happened to do so in historic and spectacular fashion.
The Blue Jays can't get it back.
It's off to Cleveland, 3-3 on the road trip and 8-8 on the season.
The relievers likely will have to contribute significantly if the Jays are to knock off the Indians, a playoff wild card team last season.
Such is the beauty of baseball. With games almost everyday, there's no time to dwell on the ugly performances.