Home-field victim? Blue Jays rally fizzles after young fans run on field

TORONTO — Facing a six-run deficit at the bottom of the sixth inning, the bottom of the Toronto Blue Jays lineup delivered three straight singles to stir the possibility of a big rally.

But once Raimel Tapia crossed on Tyler Heineman’s RBI single, two young fans ran onto the field. One was taken down by security in shallow right field, about 20 feet from the infield dirt. The other got to second base and stood on the bag beside Santiago Espinal before he was tackled to the ground.

Getting them off the field took several minutes, providing Houston Astros reliever Bryan Abreu and his triple-digit velocity a timely chance to reset while arresting the Blue Jays’ momentum. When playing resumed, Abreu struck out George Springer and Bo Bichette and induced a groundout from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who earlier hit a monster homer, to limit the damage.

Correlation isn’t necessarily causation, of course, but on a Friday night when even the seemingly deadened iteration of the official baseball was jumping at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays weren’t in position to give the Astros any breaks before a crowd of 35,066 .

Whether there might have been more on the table during that interrupted rally loomed larger when Matt Chapman rocked a two-run shot off the facing of the fifth deck in left field, narrowing the gap to three in what eventually finished as an 11-7 Astros victory.

The primary issue Friday for the Blue Jays was their pitching, of course, starting with Yusei Kikuchi, who lasted just 2.2 innings and threw 15 cutters among his 66 pitches, surrendering a home run, a double and an RBI single on the five times the offering was put in play.

His short and messy outing — he allowed four runs on four hits and three walks — dumped two-thirds of the game on the club’s depth relievers, a bad recipe against an Astros team that bangs.

Six relievers followed, including Tayler Saucedo — who left the outing with right hip discomfort — and Trevor Richards, whom the Blue Jays extended to a second inning of work in the sixth where he came undone, surrendering a three-run shot to Jeremy Pena and a two-run drive to Yordan Alvarez that opened up a 10-4 lead.

It was in the bottom half of the order that the Blue Jays tried to rally when the kids ran out on the field.

The Blue Jays had already erased the early 4-1 deficit Kikuchi left them in as Guerrero – who woke up Thursday morning with his right foot, the one he’d fouled a ball off the previous night, so swollen he could barely get a shoe on – pummelled a three-run shot an estimated 446 feet at 114.4 mph off the bat.

Trent Thornton gave the lead back the next inning on a Chas McCormick sacrifice fly and the Blue Jays didn’t get level again.

Kikuchi, a fixer-upper when the Blue Jays signed him for $36 million over three years out of the lockout, only has one outing of five innings in four starts and Friday was his shortest outing yet.

The Astros have been tough on him – he now has an ERA of 6.13 (42 earned runs in 61.2 innings) over 13 starts against them – but he also continues to rely on a cutter opponents are slugging at a .625 clip thus far. His velocity was down 2.4 mph from his season average of 91.2 on the pitch while his four-seamer, thrown 39 times, sat right at his season average of 95 and got up to 96.4, generating five whiffs.

Emphasizing the four-seamer high in the zone, with his change/split and slider complementing it at the bottom of the zone, is one of the approaches the club has been kicking around with him, but the talented lefty hasn’t found the right mix just yet.

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