A frightening thought, a laughable thought, just a month ago was the idea that the Texas Rangers could hand a one-run lead to their bullpen and watch the relievers preserve the win.
That bullpen is now a team strength thanks to two additions at the July 31 trade deadline, but all along Shawn Tolleson had been Mr. Reliable. The Rangers knew that if they could get to the ninth inning with a lead, they were likely going to win the game.
They even felt comfortable Tuesday night as Tolleson uncharacteristically struggled with his control but got within a strike of another save.
Tolleson, though, gave up the lead with a two-out single to Troy Tulowitzki, and Adrian Beltre gave away the go-ahead run with an uncharacteristic throwing error as the Blue Jays rallied to stun the Rangers 6-5.
Amid all the 20-20 hindsight afterward — the offense wasted chances late, and starter Derek Holland allowed three home runs — Tolleson and Beltre were accountable for their part in a loss that dropped the Rangers 4 1/2 games out in the American League West and shaved their lead for the second wild-card berth to a half-game over the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins.
“It stinks, man,” Tolleson said. “It’s not fun to lose, and it’s not fun to lose like that.”
“This one is on me,” Beltre said. “I lost this game today.”
Tolleson (5-3) had converted 12 straight save opportunities and had never walked two batters unintentionally in one inning in two seasons with the Rangers. It was his first blown save since July 11, when the bullpen was at its worst, and just his second blown save of the season.
He said that he was just missing up and away, with no real explanation for it. It was nothing mechanically that he could immediately point to and it wasn’t too much adrenaline for the normally steady right-hander.
Maybe he was rushing his delivery, he said.
“I just threw too many balls,” Tolleson said.
Tolleson entered after the Rangers left the bases loaded with two outs in the eighth, after Mitch Moreland had been held at third on a single by Bobby Wilson, and issued a walk to Russell Martin to start the ninth.
Kevin Pillar followed with a groundout to short, but it was slow enough to allow pinch runner Ezequiel Carrera to move to second. Tolleson walked Ben Revere on four pitches, but pinch hitter Justin Smoak popped the first pitch to shallow center.
That brought up Tulowitzki, who thought he had walked on four pitches and then fouled of a 3-1 pitch. Tolleson, who had trouble all inning locating his fastball on the outer half, went inside and Tulowitzki fought it into left field to tie the score and send the speedy Revere to third.
“I got the pitch exactly where I wanted to,” Tolleson said. “But he got his hands to it.”
MVP candidate Josh Donaldson then sent a chopper to Beltre, whose throw pulled Moreland off first base and allowed Revere to score the go-ahead run.
“I wasn’t rushing or anything. I just pulled the ball,” Beltre said. “He was out easy and I had a good target.”
All four Blue Jays runs against Holland came on homers, starting with Chris Colabello’s opposite-field shot in the second to forge a 1-1 tie.
Jose Bautista unloaded for a two-run homer in the third, erasing a 2-1 Rangers lead, and Edwin Encarnacion started the sixth by reaching for a fastball above the strike zone and yanking it out to left field.
That shot made it 5-4, and the Rangers couldn’t tack on any insurance runs despite threatening in their final two at-bats. The bullpen, though, got the ball to Tolleson with a lead.
Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson, the deadline acquisitions, combined on a scoreless seventh inning, with Dyson getting Tulowitzki and Donaldson, and Keone Kela got Bautista and Encarnacion to start his 1-2-3 eighth.
The offense had done enough against Mark Buehrle, the soft-tossing veteran who was bidding for his 14th win. The Rangers got to him quickly, as Beltre plated a first-inning run with a two-out triple and Rougned Odor homered with one out in the second.
Delino DeShields started the third with a homer, his second of the season. Elvis Andrus and Odor started the fourth with consecutive doubles, and Odor scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Strausborger.