Late drama ends up with Grilli on losing end

Blue Jays reliever unable to protect one-run lead in eighth inning

Late drama ends up with Grilli on losing end

NEW YORK -- Reliever Jason Grilli has been almost automatic during his time with the Blue Jays, but the way things went on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium during a 7-6 loss, even the safest bets were anything but in a game that felt like it should be taking place in October.

Toronto and New York saw the lead change hands three times over the final three innings. One minute the Blue Jays were ahead, the next they weren't, and on and on it went in a topsy turvy-like fashion that had everyone on the field experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.

The dust did not settle until Justin Smoak hit a bases-loaded fly ball in the ninth inning that came within a foot of leaving the park but instead went into the glove of a leaping Brett Gardner. That meant Grilli was on the hook for a loss after a rare misstep during an inning in which he entered trying to protect a one-run lead and walked off with his club trailing by three.

"Leadoff walks never help, but he's been tremendous," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Grilli, who was charged with four runs on two hits and a pair of walks. "That's part of big league baseball. Nobody is going to be perfect every time they go out there. He'll bounce back."

The eighth inning began with the Blue Jays trailing by one, but then Kevin Pillar stepped up by hitting a two-run double off the wall in left. The timely hit came just a few minutes after starter Aaron Sanchez saw his outing unravel on one pitch as Tyler Austin hit a two-run shot to right for New York's first lead of the game.

Grilli had a 1.87 ERA over 33 2/3 frames and had yet to record a blown save during any of his previous 35 appearances with the Blue Jays. He has been described as a savior of Toronto's previously maligned 'pen, but it became evident early on that he didn't have it.

The 14-year veteran righty walked Jacoby Ellsbury, and things quickly went downhill from there. Didi Gregorius tied the game with a deep fly ball to the gap in left-center field that Pillar appeared to misread off the bat and then came up just short in his headfirst diving attempt. After the triple, a sacrifice fly put the Yankees in front before Chase Headley delivered what turned out to be the final blow with a two-run homer to right field.

"It was a wild one, you know?" Gibbons said. "It was a battle back and forth. ... A lot of lost opportunities along the way, no doubt about that. But they play great defense -- Headley down at third base robbing us a couple of times, and Gardner, he's known to do that, too. That's the difference in the game. You win with defense."

In the ninth, that defense was there for New York when Smoak hit his deep soaring fly ball to left. With the wind blowing in, the ball started to die at the warning track but stayed up just long enough for Gardner to make a highlight-reel catch at the wall.

"I was running and I was definitely watching at the same time," Smoak said. "You've got to give him credit, he made a heck of a catch right there."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.