TORONTO - Shaun Marcum battled one of baseball's traditional powerhouses for 103 pitches. He threw everything he had at the Boston Red Sox, searching for his first win in almost two years, but the starting pitcher was leashed to the dugout to watch four straight pitches waste his effort for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Reliever Kevin Gregg surrendered the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning, leading to Toronto's eventual 2-1 loss at home on Tuesday. The Blue Jays have lost four straight, dropping below .500 (10-11) for the first time since they lost their season opener in Texas.
Marcum pitched seven solid innings, but received a no decision for the fourth time in five starts since taking over as the team's ace in place of the departed Roy Halladay. After missing all of last season while recovering from elbow surgery, Marcum has not won a game since Sept. 11, 2008.
"It's still a team game," Marcum said.
He allowed only one run against the Red Sox, while striking out five over seven innings. His efforts were wasted in front of an announced crowd of 14,776 at Rogers Centre, which watched the team continue its fall back to earth after a quick start to the season.
"It's baseball," Marcum said. "It's life."
Marcum entered the game with the dubious distinction of having worked longer than any other winless pitcher in baseball. The 28-year-old was 0-1 through 27 innings, meaning his drought was longer than the ones that had engulfed winless peers such as Baltimore's Kevin Millwood (0-3 in 26 2-3 innings) and defending American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, who was 0-2 through 24 2-3 innings.
Three of Marcum's starts had ended in no decisions, including the Opening Day start in which he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Rangers. The Blue Jays lost that game 5-4, and had generally failed to generate enough run support to help lift him into the win column over the three appearances that followed.
Marcum retired the side in the first inning, but tripped in the second. He walked Boston's fading star, David Ortiz, and allowed him to score by surrendering back-to-back singles to Adrian Beltre and Jeremy Hermida.
Hermida had battled back from an 0-2 count to whack the run-scoring single on a full count, which raised the spectre of Monday night's pitching debacle. The Blue Jays and Red Sox had gone through a combined 13 pitchers in a four-hour marathon to open their series, ending in a 13-12 Toronto loss.
"Last night we're thinking about onside kicks and field goals," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "And tonight, there's just not much to show for it, except for a win."
Toronto had optioned reliever Jeremy Accardo to its triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas after the loss Monday, and also announced it had designated pitcher Merkin Valdez for assignment. Their replacements, relievers Josh Roenicke and Rommie Lewis, arrived from Las Vegas about an hour before Tuesday's first pitch.
Marcum settled back into a rhythm after the second inning, retiring 11 of the next 13 batters he faced. He dominated the Red Sox, but coasted into the latter frames without a lead because the team playing behind him was struggling to generate any offence.
Toronto had hit Boston starter Clay Buchholz (2-2) for a run in the first inning, when Vernon Wells doubled down the left-field line to score Fred Lewis, but stranded a pair of runners in the fourth and fifth innings to keep the scored tied at one run apiece.
That left Marcum to fend for himself. He surrendered a double and conceded a walk with one out in the seventh inning, but continued to battle, crossing the 100-pitch threshold as he escaped trouble with a strikeout and a deep fly ball to end the threat.
Scott Downs (0-3) appeared in relief the following inning, but offered none to either the fans or the starting pitcher. Downs conceded back-to-back singles with one out and loaded the bases with a walk to J.D. Drew before he was replaced with Gregg.
Gregg walked pinch-hitter Mike Lowell in four pitches, sending Dustin Pedroia home form third to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
"You've got to make him earn his way on the base right there," Gregg said.
It was the first walk he had issued all season.
"It's just a way you don't like to lose the game," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "You know, it's not like people are trying to walk people."
NOTES: Blue Jays starter Brian Tallet is "going to be a while" in returning from the sore forearm that landed him on the 15-day disabled list last week, according Gaston. Tallet, 32, underwent an MRI on the injured arm in Florida, and Gaston said the exam did not reveal anything serious. ... Starter Marc Rzepczynski (finger) is three weeks into a projected six-week rehabilitation stint from a fracture suffered when he was hit by a ball late in spring training. The 24-year-old has resumed throwing. ... Lewis, a career-minor league pitcher, said news he'd been promoted by the Blue Jays on Monday was "something I've been waiting for, working for, for nine or 10 years now."