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Blue Jays miss chance to go back over .500, fall 3-1 to Angels

TORONTO - The only answer for Alex Rios, according to Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, is for the all-star outfielder to swing his way out of a lengthy slump.


TORONTO - The only answer for Alex Rios, according to Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, is for the all-star outfielder to swing his way out of a lengthy slump.

That's exactly what didn't happen Tuesday night, when Rios took a 3-2 fastball from closer Francisco Rodriguez with the bases loaded for the final out of a 3-1 Los Angeles Angels victory.

"I thought he was going to go away for some reason and he didn't. I got caught up on that pitch," said a frustrated Rios, who was ahead 3-0 in the count before letting K-Rod off the hook. "It's been a little rough for me. I know I'm going (get) through it, it's just a matter of time."

Rios was far from the only culprit on this night for the Blue Jays (23-24), who were in position to move back over .500 for the first time in a month after a surprisingly successful 6-4 road trip but came up short against a team they usually dominate.

But as one of the team's most important hitters, Rios' dreadful 13-for-79 rut is particularly glaring with centre-fielder Vernon Wells on the disabled list with a fractured wrist. Rios has just two RBIs, three runs and four extra-base hits with 23 strikeouts over that span, a production level a lineup already lacking thunder can ill-afford.

"He's got to stay aggressive, swing his way out of it," said Gibbons. "But he will, he's always hit and this is probably the first time he's struggled like this since he's been here. All you can do is keep working on it.

"He's always been tough on himself. He expects a lot out of himself. In a lot of ways, that's a good thing."

The Rios strikeout laid to waste the second of two glorious chances the Blue Jays squandered before a crowd of 31,487.

In the eighth inning, they loaded the bases with none out against reliever Scot Shields but came up empty as Matt Stairs of Fredericton struck out before Shannon Stewart hit into a double play.

In the ninth, they loaded the bases with one out against Rodriguez, who got Aaron Hill on a popper and then Rios looking for his 18th save. The Angels (27-20) improved to just 3-14 at Toronto since 2003 and 14-25 overall against the Jays during that span.

"It's not the pitching, it's us," said Hill. "We're just not getting the guys in. We can talk until we're blue in the face about we feel good, we just got to get the job done."

Of particular disappointment was that the Blue Jays returned home playing some of their best baseball of the season, winning six of their last seven after an 0-3 start to their road trip. But the clutch hitting that underpinned that stretch was absent, with Brad Wilkerson's solo shot leading off the first the only offence they could muster.

Dustin McGowan (2-4) did a decent job of giving his team a chance on a night he had trouble finding the zone until halfway through his outing. Helped by shortstop Marco Scutaro's error, the Angels loaded the bases in the first and pushed a run across when Garret Anderson hit into a double play to open the scoring.

After Wilkerson's home run tied things up, the Angels reclaimed the lead in the third on back-to-back doubles by Torii Hunter and Casey Kotchman, and went up 3-1 in the seventh when Gary Matthews Jr. tripled off McGowan and Vladimir Guerrero brought him home with a sacrifice fly off Jason Frasor.

That was just enough for John Lackey (1-0), who flirted with trouble in his second start since opening the season on the DL with a strained right triceps, but got key outs when he needed them over his seven innings.

"We were fortunate in some spots," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "They hit a couple of balls hard right at guys that we turned double plays on late in the game."

The blown chances to score in this one didn't belong to the Blue Jays alone.

The Angels loaded the bases with none out in the first but McGowan allowed just the one unearned run, while he escaped a sacks-full, one-out jam in the second unharmed.

The right-hander, pushed into duty after the Blue Jays were forced to juggle their rotation because Roy Halladay pitched in Sunday's 6-5 win over Philadelphia, went 6 1-3 innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits and four walks.

"It could have got ugly fast," said McGowan. "That was big for us in the first two innings. If you give up four or five, the team has to really battle to get back into it.

Lackey was a bit more slippery, giving up seven hits and three walks but just the one run.

Notes: Angels shortstop Erick Aybar left the game in the first inning with a dislocated right pinky finger. X-rays were negative and the team said Aybar would visit a hand specialist Wednesday. ... The Blue Jays rotation shuffle means Shaun Marcum, who went one inning Sunday, will start Wednesday, followed by A.J. Burnett, Halladay and Jesse Litsch. ... Jays SS David Eckstein (hip flexor) is on track to come off the DL on Thursday. Fellow SS John McDonald (right ankle) isn't recovering as quickly and there's no firm timetable for his return.

 
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