TORONTO — Through four innings Sunday, Taijuan Walker had a no-hitter, and the Seattle Mariners could envision a three-game weekend sweep over Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
Then everything changed.
Walker served up a pair of two-run homers in the fifth inning, and any thoughts of a comeback pretty much ended when Toronto jumped relievers Danny Farquhar and Joe Beimel for four runs in the seventh inning.
The result was an 8-2 loss that forced the Mariners to settle for winning the series. They are 3-3 on a nine-game trip that concludes with three upcoming games at Tampa Bay.
Walker (1-5) was in top form early. (VIDEO LINK) He didn’t allow a hit until Kevin Pillar led off the fifth inning with a bloop single into right field. Two pitches later, Walker served up a homer to Ryan Goins (VIDEO LINK) on a 93-mph fastball.
“He was making all his pitches,” Goins said. “The first pitch was a pitchout, so I hit the first pitch I saw. Pillar’s hit put him in the stretch.”
And Toronto had a 2-1 lead.
“I probably should have thrown off-speed,” Walker said, “because they were pretty aggressive all day…I missed my location, and it hurt.”
It quickly got worse.
Russell Martin’s two-out drive to center turned into a double when it turf-hopped over Dustin Ackley’s head.
“Everybody knows that it’s going to bounce,” Ackley said. “It’s just one of those things. Some of those balls, you don’t want to give up on them too early. You don’t want to let something just fall in front of you.
“By the time I realized I couldn’t get it, I was in that no-man’s land.”
Walker then worked the count full on Edwin Encarnacion after failing to get a couple of borderline calls from umpire Tony Randazzo. With a base open, Walker muscled up with a 96-mph fastball.
It was supposed to go inside, but it didn’t — and Encarnacion put a 416-foot charge into it. When the ball soared over the left-field wall, the Blue Jays led 4-1.
“If I get that (pitch) in more,” Walker said, “I’ve got a free base, so it’s a walk or an out. I was trying to get it in there because I was trying to be aggressive. I figured he knew a fastball was coming.”
And that quickly, an encouraging and dominant outing slipped away. His final line showed four runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.
“I thought he competed well against the team that scores the most runs in the American League, in fact all of baseball,” McClendon said. “I thought he did a nice job. He made a couple of mistakes, and it cost him the ballgame.”
Walker finished the inning and got two quick outs in the sixth before giving up a walk and single. In came Farquhar, who stranded both runners by striking out Josh Donaldson.
The Mariners got one run back in the seventh on Welington Castillo’s sacrifice fly before Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez excited after Ackley’s two-out single. Roberto Osuna ended the inning.
Toronto answered, and put the game away, by batting around in a four-run seventh that included an RBI single by old friend Justin Smoak.
The Blue Jays also scored a run when the Mariners didn’t cover first base on Ezequiel Carrera’s bunt single and another one when Beimel walked Goins with the bases loaded.
It was a bad inning.
Sanchez (4-4) got the victory when Toronto’s leaky bullpen closed out the game. He gave up two runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. Walker’s final line showed four runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.
While Walker pitched well in the opening innings, the Mariners missed a chance to build a bigger lead, in part, because Robinson Cano remains mired in a suffocating funk.
Brad Miller opened the game with a walk, and Seth Smith following with a single, but Cano grounded into a double play.
The Mariners appeared to score a run when Nelson Cruz hit the grounder to short for an RBI single when umpire Will Little ruled Goins’ throw from shortstop pulled Smoak off first base.
A replay challenge overturned the call.
The Mariners still grabbed the lead an inning later when Kyle Seager drove a 1-2 curve (VIDEO LINK) into the right-field seats for a leadoff homer. It was his seventh of the season and his second of the weekend.
But Cano’s slump deepened when he killed another first-and-second threat in the third inning by again grounding into a double play. Cano went hitless in four at-bats, and his average is down to .247.
So it was just 1-0 when Walker entered the fifth inning.