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The Strike Zone

Blue Jays break open pitchers' duel with nine-run inning off Cliff Lee

In just one inning, the Blue Jays scored three or four starts-worth of runs for Cliff Lee (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) In one inning, the Blue Jays scored three or four starts-worth of runs off Cliff Lee (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

On Wednesday night in Toronto, the Blue Jays erupted for nine runs in the seventh inning at the expense of the Phillies. Even more surprising was that the biggest single-inning outburst of the season broke open what had been a tight 1-0 pitchers' duel between Mark Buehrle and Cliff Lee.

For the first six innings at the Rogers Centre, you could barely have squeezed a dime between the performances of the two lefties. Both had thrown 84 pitches, struck out six, and allowed two hits; Buehrle had 55 strikes, Lee 54. The difference in the game to that point came down to a third-inning sacrifice fly by Toronto's Jose Reyes on the heels of the Jays' two hits, a Colby Rasmus single and a Steve Tolleson ground-rule double. That Lee was on the short end brought back memories of his 1-0 loss to the Braves' Julio Teheran on April 16.

Buehrle held the Phillies scoreless in the top of the seventh, but all hell broke loose in the bottom of the frame, as Lee imploded. It began when Edwin Encarnacion smoked a leadoff triple over the head of centerfielder Ben Revere, who badly misplayed the carom off the wall, and wasn't helped by the turf. Once the play ended, he drew an icy glare from his pitcher:

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It's fair to wonder whether Lee lost his focus at that point, because over the course of his next five five pitches, he yielded three hits, two homers — one fewer than he had allowed in his previous seven starts combined — and four runs. His first pitch after the Encarnacion triple was a belt-high 90 mph fastball that caught way too much of the plate, which Eric Kratz crushed for a two-run homer to leftfield. After falling behind Dioner Navarro 2-0, he yielded a single, and after ball one to Juan Francisco, he left an 85 mph cutter in the middle of the plate; Francisco swatted it to rightfield for another two-run shot. Lee retired Rasmus on a groundout, but got the hook from manager Ryne Sandberg after serving up another double to Tolleson.

At that point, the score was 5-0. Rookie Mario Hollands came on to face Jose Reyes, walking him, but only after uncorking a wild pitch to send Tolleson to third. Reyes stole second, and while Hollands struck out Melky Cabrera, he reached first anyway via a wild pitch, with Tolleson scoring and Reyes taking third. Veteran Shawn Camp turned up with a fresh can of gasoline to pour on the fire; he yielded an RBI single to Jose Bautista, then a three-run homer to Encarnacion, his second extra-base hit of the inning, running the score to 10-0. At that point, there was still only one out. Kratz singled, but then Navarro mercifully grounded into a double play. So perfunctory were the rest of the proceedings that the game clocked in at just two hours and 23 minutes.

The nine-run onslaught was the majors’ largest of the year, surpassing a pair of eight-run innings that both occurred on May 3; the Mariners put up a snowman against the Astros, and the Rockies did so against the Mets. It was the Blue Jays' biggest inning since they scored 10 in the sixth inning against the Rays on August 31, 2010.

The win was Toronto's fourth in a row and third straight over Philadelphia, leveling their record at 17-17 and pushing their run differential to an AL East-high +14; Buehrle's seven shutout innings lowered his ERA to 1.91. The loss dropped the Phillies to 15-17; their −25 run differential is the division's worst and the league's third-worst. Lee was charged with six runs, the second time this year he's allowed more than five, something he didn't do at all last year.

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