Blue Jays go nowhere in loss to Mariners

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SEATTLE — The bigger the game, the higher the stakes, the greater the attention, the more a game seems made for Alek Manoah.

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And the more things happen with the pitching staff these days, the more the Blue Jays need their ace.

In these situations, it’s as if the intimidating right-hander is turning on his 6-foot-6, 285-pound, hoping to drag his team along with him.

But as good, bordering on exceptional, as Manoah was in a thrilling pitching duel at T-Mobile Park on Saturday night, the big man can’t do it all himself.

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The battling Jays haven’t been able to do much to support any of their starters over the past week. And faced with an all-too-familiar elite arm in the form of former Jay Robbie Ray, their final attempt to break a cold streak was always going to be a difficult task.

So when a nearly flawless effort from Manoah unraveled with a powerful shot from Carlos Santana of the Mariners in the seventh inning, it felt like the night was as good as over for a Jays offense that didn’t just can’t score.

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Santana’s two-run homer was the difference as the Mariners cruised to a 2-1 victory in front of a crowd of 41,210 spectators loaded with Canada West Jays fans.

The loss pushed the Jays’ freefall to eight losses in their last nine games and three straight losses here in the Pacific Northwest.

The Mariners, meanwhile, have won seven straight and moved just one game behind the Jays for third place wildcard in the American League.

A loss tomorrow by a Toronto team that is out of starting pitchers and will go with a bullpen day would wipe out what’s left of that margin.

Manoah’s brilliance — he allowed three hits and only those two runs while striking out seven over 7.1 innings — was essentially wasted when the bats couldn’t back him up.

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As tough as the mission is against Ray — who’s back in the Cy Young form he displayed last season (an 0.80 ERA in his previous five) — the benign approach to plate kills them.

Round five typified much of what has gone wrong with the Jays’ offense lately. They loaded the groundwork when Ray threw back-to-back walks at Alejandro Kirk and Teroscar Hernandez, then cleared a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. single.

A situation that insisted on getting at least one ended in failure when Matt Chapman struck out, Santiago Espinal obediently came out for the second out and Raimel Tapia hit a ground ball in a forced out.

The Jays attempted to mount a rally in the ninth inning when Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Kirk provided one-out singles. But after Teoscar Hernandez was knocked out first and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. intentionally walked, Chapman hit a ground ball in an out to stifle the rally.

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It’s been a frustrating run for the Jays, which just keeps falling apart.

« I’m not making excuses for my team, but it’s tough, » manager Charlie Montoyo said before the game. “Guys can smell. They are human beings.

« I don’t feel the frustration… No one is happy that we have a losing streak. »

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What’s worse is that no one can see when this might end either. The offense, designed to be a force, has managed just six points here in three games and 12 in its last five games.

The lone run came in the sixth inning from a solo homer off the bat from George Springer, who lined up a ray offering over the wall into right field.

The team tries everything to get by, including a players-only meeting that happened earlier in this road trip. The offense can’t be ignored, 10 strikes on Saturday, including six from the right hand of Ray, who went six innings and had just three hits.

Manoah was even better, doing his best, until Santana hit him for that deadly explosion.

Normally, two runs allowed would be something for this Jays team to collectively shrug, but not the way things have been going lately.

In the 15 hours before playing again, they will have to rally to avoid a sweep and do so with uncertainty on the mound.

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