TORONTO – David Eckstein was forced into the trainer’s room just before the fifth inning started and midway through the sixth John McDonald, his replacement in the field, joined him.
The two shortstops sat side-by-side getting treatment for their injuries as the Toronto Blue Jays were dropping a 5-4 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays, their status up in the air and the prospect of being exposed at a key defensive position a worry for their club.
“It was really weird,” said Eckstein, who hurt his right hip flexor diving for a ball in the third inning. “You feel bad that you had to come out because on an injury and then another guy goes out. You don’t really like doing that in the first place and then to see that happen to John, I definitely feel bad for that.”
There was hope after the game that McDonald’s gruesome-looking injury – he was carted off the field after rolling his right ankle under his body as he slid to field a grounder – may not be as bad as it initially looked.
He and Eckstein are both day-to-day for now and will be re-evaluated Wednesday, although one of them will likely have to go on the disabled list.
In the interim, super sub Marco Scutaro, who finished the game at short, will handle the duties there. Jorge Velandia, a journeyman signed just before the season started, is a likely candidate for recall from triple-A Syracuse.
“I’ve got to believe you do (need to call someone up),” said manager John Gibbons. “You can’t go naked out there.”
The injuries only added to a tough night for the Blue Jays (16-18), whose five-game winning streak and run of 10 straight quality starts both came to an end.
They had been seeking to win six straight games for the first time since May 4-10, 2004 but instead continued to struggle against the Rays (17-15), who have won all four meetings between the teams this season.
A.J. Burnett (3-3) had a mixed bag kind of outing, electrifying a crowd of 30,397 with 10 strikeouts but surrendering as many runs – five in six innings – as the entire staff did during the winning streak.
“There are some days you’re going to get away with some mistakes,” he said. “But every mistake I threw tonight they hit well and hit hard.”
The offence did some damage against Andy Sonnanstine (5-1) but couldn’t dig out of the hole Burnett left the team in. After falling behind 3-0 in the third, the first time they had trailed in 48 innings, the Blue Jays got an RBI double from Eckstein and a sacrifice fly from Scott Rolen in the bottom of the inning to pull within one, and tied things in the fourth when Lyle Overbay’s fly ball brought home Vernon Wells, who had tripled.
Burnett, however, gave Tampa Bay the lead back right away, surrendering a an RBI double to Akinori Iwamura in the fifth. The Rays added on in the sixth when Eric Hinske, the former Jay booed at every chance by the crowd, crushed a solo shot to dead centre.
“We take pride in shut-down innings and I didn’t have one,” lamented Burnett.
The Blue Jays nearly tied it again in the bottom half of the frame when Wells singled and Overbay followed with a huge blast to centre that looked to be gone. Only it hit off the top of the wall, bounced back into play and the first baseman was stranded at third when Scutaro later hit into a double play to end the inning.
“I didn’t expect it to go so far,” said Overbay. “When it did I was like,’Why couldn’t it go a few more inches?”‘
The Rays bullpen shut things down from there, with Dan Wheeler throwing two scoreless innings before Troy Percival wrapped things up in the ninth for his seventh save.
Eckstein’s injury came when he dove awkwardly in a failed attempt to snare Dioner Navarro’s bloop single. Gabe Gross then walked on four pitches and an out later, Akinori Iwamura ripped an RBI single to open the scoring. Carl Crawford’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0 and B.J. Upton added a run-scoring single before Burnett escaped the inning.
Eckstein began labouring after that and decided after the fourth he was done.
“It’s not even close to where I need to be to be out there,” he said. “You don’t want to come out but you don’t want to be stupid and make things worse.”
McDonald’s injury came in the sixth when his right ankle twisted under his body as he slid to snare Gabe Gross’s grounder. He fell to the ground in pain, writhing in agony.
After several minutes, he was helped onto a cart and sat up as he was driven off. He was getting treated and was unavailable for comment.
“When Eckstein goes down, you’re like ‘OK, we still got Johnny Mac, you’re not going to lose anything on defence,”‘ said Overbay. “But when you put Scutaro there, nothing against Scutaro, but he’s not playing there consistently. That’s a key spot, there and centre-field, you need to have experience out there.”
Scutaro has played 216 games at shortstop over his career, so he’s no stranger to the position.
“I played a lot of short the last four years in Oakland,” he said. “You start playing, you get comfortable.”
Earlier in the day Eckstein reacted with his trademark professionalism to the team’s decision to use McDonald as a defensive replacement at shortstop late in close games.
“Everyone knows that feelings don’t really matter in this scenario,” he told reporters. “The only thing that matters is going out there and winning games.”
After initially resisting the move, Gibbons employed the strategy in the ninth inning of Monday’s 1-0 win over Chicago and said it would become a regular occurrence.
“Eck’s the ultimate winner – a team guy,” Gibbons said of his talk with Eckstein. “He understands that we have a shortstop that’s arguably the best defensive player in the game out there. You’re not going to have any problems with Eck.”
Those plans are on hold now.
Notes: The 10-strikeout game was the 17th of Burnett’s career. … Brian Tallet made his first appearance since throwing 2-3 of an inning April 24. … The 500 level was much calmer in the first $2 Tuesday promotion night since April 8, when several fights broke out in the stands. The team decided to stop alcohol sales on that level because of the melees. … A sign in the stands read: “We need a bad case of the runs.”