By Bob Elliott
St. PETERSBURG _ The plan was for Mark Buehrle to get six quick outs Sunday afternoon.
And then the lefty, with 200 innings on his personal record for a 15th consecutive year, would head to the mound at Tropicana Field for the third inning.
Before the first pitch, starters David Price, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada would emerge from the dugout, make the mound visit and the five starters would leave together. Like the way Russell Martin came to the Olympic Stadium mound to remove his son Russell the catcher in a Jays pre-season game.
Like many good plans conceived by well-meaning men it came undone.
Three pitches in Ryan Goins booted a lead-off grounder. “I felt bad booting that first one,” said Goins.
Four hitters later first baseman Edwin Encarnacion muffed a soft liner.
“We screwed up BIG TIME,” said Encarnacion his voice rising with every syllable.
With two out Buehrle walked in a run and walked off the mound following a 2-2 pitch plate ump Alfonso Marquez called a ball. The next pitch Joey Butler hit to straightaway centre for a grand slam. Upon further review Buehrle said it was a ball.
The Tampa Bay Rays scored nine in the first, eight unearned runs off Buehrle.
“Tough when you have to get six outs in an inning,” said Martin, who was catching.
Manager John Gibbons lifted his lefty with two out in the first, 45 pitches into his start on one day’s rest. Buehrle finished the season, which may or may not be his last, with 198 2/3 innings.
Gibbons patted Buehrle on the chest.
Buerhle patted Gibbons on the arm.
The Jays open the best-of-five, American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers Thursday at the Rogers Centre.
The Jays didn’t want to pitch either Stroman or Dickey on three days Sunday once they had clinched the American League East in the Wednesday doubleheader in Baltimore.
“I applaud what Gibbons is doing, it’s all about winning but the game is about history,” said former big league slugger Orestes Destrade of FOX-TV before the game. “Toronto is in. You will never see this again: 15 years straight at 200 innings.”
James Shields has the next longest active streak at nine years.
“I am a big fan of Big Game James, he pitched here and I love him, but I don’t think he has six more 200 inning seasons in him.”
Buehrle, 36, is at 14 consecutive, as he was on opening day. He was trying to join Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry (1966-1980) who reeled off 15 consecutive 200-inning seasons. Cy Young had 19 in a row (1891-1909) and Warren Spahn 17 (1947-63).
Destrade told of running into Buehrle in the parking lot and congratulating him on his Friday night win as Rays outfielder Brandon Guyer came along. Buehrle had hit Guyer with three pitches on Friday.
“Mark said ‘why don’t you move on those inside pitches?’ and I told Brandon he could have caught them with his bare hand -- it wouldn’t have hurt.”
Jays fans Joanne Melanson and Scott Bringloe held a sign before the game which read:
“200 IP X 15 YRS
They are from Moncton, N.B. but moved to Toronto, now live on Front Street and are Rogers Centre regulars.
“I made the sign up last night,” said Bringloe, “I didn’t know he was starting.”
Assistant general manager Dave Yoakum in his 24th year with the Chicago White Sox was part of the champagne celebration when Buehrle and the White Sox won the 2005 World Series.
“I’ve seen him throw 84 mph and break five or six bats, that was an unfortunate first,” Yoakum said. “He should have been out of the inning.”
With Mark Redmond demoted to triple-A Buffalo, Buehrle’s best friend in the clubhouse is catcher Josh Thole, who stays with him in his Toronto condo when the lefty’s family is not in town.
“All this guy has given to the game, all he has done for the game, I expected something different,” said Thole. “It was sad watching the inning unfold. You can never figure this game out. If someone had asked me for 10 scenarios before the game, what happened might have been No. 10.
Stroman watched the man he affectionately calls “Papa Buehrle” from the dugout.
“It was tough,” Stroman said. “Everyone wanted him to get to 200 innings so bad.”
Stroman was told that fans were restless in Toronto: the Jays dropped four of five after clinching and didn’t hold onto home field advantage.
“We’re not in a panic, I don’t see anyone in here in a panic,” said Stroman. “We’re playing on Thursday.”
For the first time in 22 years.