MINNEAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays bullpen has been a major strength for more than a year, but on Thursday night in Minnesota, it went through a collapse of epic proportions.
Toronto's bullpen completely fell apart in the eighth inning as three relievers combined to walk eight batters, throw three wild pitches and allow six runs to score. Within a matter of several painful minutes, the Blue Jays went from being on the verge of another series victory to hanging their heads in utter disbelief.
Steve Delabar, Sergio Santos and J.A. Happ combined to set a franchise record by walking eight batters in an inning as the Blue Jays blew a two-run lead in a heartbreaking 9-5 loss to the Twins. Not all losses are made equal, and this one is going to sting for a while.
"We just couldn't throw strikes, we didn't pitch very good all series," manager John Gibbons said after the game. "It's cold, OK, but you know what? It's cold for both sides, and if you're ever going to get to October in the playoffs, it's going to be cold. We didn't pitch very well. We were in a position to win that one and we coughed it up."
The Blue Jays carried a 5-3 lead into the eighth inning and had their sights set on a third consecutive series win when Gibbons handed the ball to setup man Delabar. The hard-throwing righty couldn't find the strike zone and walked the first two batters he faced before leaving after a sacrifice bunt.
Blue Jays closer Santos entered with the tying run on second, and the control issues went from bad to worse. Santos walked pinch-hitter Trevor Plouffe to load the bases and threw a pair of wild pitches with Kurt Suzuki at the plate to even the score at five.
If that wasn't bad enough, the woes continued when Santos threw another wild pitch to the next batter, Brian Dozier. That allowed Pedro Florimon to trot home from third with what ended up as the game-winning run. Santos was mercifully pulled but not before walking all three batters he faced and becoming the first reliever in franchise history to throw three wild pitches in an inning.
"Coming into that situation, I had to be perfect and I felt, looking back now, I was trying to be too perfect there," said Santos, who threw just four of his 16 pitches for strikes. "Tough, obviously, when you see the position players go out and play in this cold weather, so many innings, it was just a long day."
The nightmare didn't stop there, though, as Happ entered and proceeded to walk the first two batters he faced as well. By that point, the Twins didn't even have a hit in the inning but had scored four runs on seven walks. When the eighth was all said and done, the Twins scored six runs on eight walks and just one hit.
The eight walks set a franchise record for the most in one inning. The previous mark was set on June 21, 1994, and it was also the most in the Major Leagues since the Orioles walked eight on April 19, 1996.
"I'm obviously one of the main guys to blame there," Delabar said. "I put them in a bad situation there behind me, and the hitters didn't deserve what we did that inning. That was brutal."
The Blue Jays' bullpen woes overshadowed some control problems by the Twins' pitchers and a series of defensive miscues that almost handed Toronto a win. The Blue Jays opened the scoring with two runs in the first inning on an RBI single by Edwin Encarnacion and a sacrifice fly by Dioner Navarro. The rest of the damage came in the fifth, when Toronto took advantage of an erratic Mike Pelfrey and several big mistakes on defense.
Jose Bautista got the rally started with a solo shot to left field that went just above the facing of the second deck. Encarnacion walked and Navarro singled as Pelfrey was removed from the game with runners on the corners after 95 pitches.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie then hit a blooper to right field that initially appeared as though it would hang in the air long enough to be caught. Twins right fielder Chris Herrmann got a late break on the ball and had it bounce off his glove when he attempted to make a feet-first sliding catch.
The Blue Jays had another run essentially handed to them when second baseman Ryan Goins hit a little dribbler in front of home plate. Reliever Samuel Deduno made an ill-advised attempt to field the ball with his glove and flick it to the catcher without the use of his throwing hand. The ball instead rolled to the right of Suzuki, who was unable to come up with it to record the forceout.
"I was bad again," said Pelfrey, who has allowed nine earned runs in his past 9 1/3 innings. "In the first inning you can't give up a single and two runs. That's terrible. I obviously haven't been very good, and this isn't how I envisioned it starting. But I'm going to be better."
That was only enough run support until the fateful eighth inning. The core components of the bullpen -- Santos, Delabar, Aaron Loup, Brett Cecil and Neil Wagner -- entered the frame having allowed just seven runs in 30 innings this season. But on this night, the track record of past success didn't mean a thing.
"It was just one of those days where it didn't seem like anything was coming out the way I wanted it too," said Santos, who blew his first save in five opportunities. "But you have those days, you move on and hopefully I get an opportunity tomorrow."