TORONTO — James Shields and the White Sox appeared to have everything under control on Sunday afternoon.
Then Toronto Blue Jays finally arrived.
Shields pitched well into the sixth inning in his first start in two months, but an offensive explosion helped the Blue Jays avoid a series sweep. Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales both homered late as Toronto sent the White Sox to a 7-3 loss in front of 46,599 at the Rogers Centre.
“One through nine you can’t take anything off,” Shields said. “They’ve got a good lineup over there. Just trying to mix up my pitches, my location, trying to get first-pitch outs. For the most part I was doing that. The last inning I needed to bear down right there but pretty good overall.”
Ironic that after he allowed a fair amount of loud outs in the previous two innings that it was a dinker that sent Shields to a no decision. Shields was efficient and stayed out of trouble for much of his first start since April 16. He worked off the outside edge to many of Toronto’s right-handed hitters, which allowed him to avoid trouble much of the way. Shields stranded a pair in the first inning and two more in the fourth after he allowed a pair of deep fly balls outs to Jose Bautista and Morales.
Toronto nearly broke through in the fifth with a bunch of hard contact, including an RBI single by Kevin Pillar to cut the White Sox lead to 3-1. But Yolmer Sanchez made a nice stop up the middle to take a hit away from Bautista and end the inning.
Shields then quickly retired the first two men in the sixth inning before Troy Tulowitzki reached base with a dribbler up the third-base line that somehow stayed fair long enough to hit the base. Shields worked away to Martin but he got enough of a 1-1 cut-fastball to sneak it over the center-field fence for a game-tying, two-run homer.
“I didn’t think it was going to get out,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “I thought Willy (Garcia) had a nice read on it. It looked like it hit the top of the wall. (Shields) gave us a nice outing. …
“He did a very, very good job of keeping us there.”
Shields had hoped to go deeper into the game for a starting staff that is starved for length. White Sox pitchers have produced only five quality starts in the team’s last 26 games. But aside from that, Shields said he felt good in taking the mound after the first disabled list-stint of his career.
“In between innings I was telling the umpire at second base I need to slow myself down a little bit,” Shields said. “Being in the league as long as I have, I still got excited out there. So I was trying to be real methodical with my rhythm. It felt good to be out there.
“I wanted to go deeper in the game. Obviously, 3-1 ballgame, you’ve got to get that out. I got two outs quick in the sixth right there. I’ve got to bear down and get the out.”
The White Sox bullpen struggled to record outs.
Ryan Goins’ two-out RBI triple off Anthony Swarzak put the Blue Jays ahead 4-3 in the sixth. They tacked on three more runs in the seventh inning, including a massive, 460-foot, two-run homer by Morales off Dan Jennings.
The White Sox finally broke through against J.A. Happ in the fifth inning. Sanchez had the third of three consecutive singles to make it 1-0. Jose Abreu’s two-out, two-run single past Tulowitzki gave them a three-run lead. But Happ avoided further damage with a strikeout of Avisail Garcia, one of nine K’s on the day for the veteran left-hander.
“We kept trying to grind. Shieldsy was containing them good up to the homer,” Renteria said. “We were battling when Swarzy came in and we didn't get the result we wanted. I don't think you can put your head down, we won a series.”