TORONTO -- Carlos Santana was faced with a couple of problems as he sprinted toward home plate in the eighth inning on Tuesday night. Never mind that Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole was moving in front of the plate, there was a bat on the ground in Santana's path.
The relay throw from left fielder Melky Cabrera forced Thole to shift to his left, Santana ran by the bat and attempted to slide to the inside of the plate and the Indians were denied a critical run in a 5-4 loss to Toronto at Rogers Centre. Thole received the throw and applied the tag just in time, ending what could have been a game-changing inning for the Tribe.
"It was a great throw," Santana said. "I don't know if he tried to block the plate. I tried to be safe. It was a great moment, a great situation. I tried. Melky made a great throw and the bat was in the middle."
It was a crucial moment that ultimately pushed Cleveland into the loss column, but the Indians tried to claw their way out of the hole dug by starter Justin Masterson. The Tribe simply waited too long to begin its push against Toronto knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, and the result was a defeat in the opener of this three-game set north of the border.
Cleveland (18-21) has dropped just four of its past 11 games.
Prior to Tuesday's game, Indians manager Terry Francona praised the efforts of Major League Baseball to try to better define the rules for plays at the plate. This season, MLB introduced new guidelines for both catchers and baserunners in an effort to cut down on the number of collisions and injuries on such plays.
Francona has been clear about his belief that a gray area still exists when it comes to where a catcher is allowed to be positioned prior to receiving the ball. With Toronto clinging to a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Yan Gomes delivered a two-out single to left field off Brett Cecil, and Thole appeared to move in front of Santana before catching the relay throw from Cabrera.
Francona was asked if he felt that particular play was questionable.
"I was watching the throw," Francona said. "I actually thought the ball was going to hit Carlos. I think Carlos was more happy to dodge the bat than anything. I think the throw kind of took Thole towards it there."
After Santana was ruled out to an eruption of cheers from the home crowd, Francona jogged onto the field to talk things over with home-plate umpire Jordan Baker. The manager could have challenged the out call -- not Thole's positioning -- but he did not receive the go-ahead from Cleveland's replay coordinator.
The play went unchallenged and the Blue Jays held on for the win.
"That was possibly the game right there," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "I have a hard time believing they're going to overturn big plays like that on the fact of where the catcher is. I couldn't even tell you where Josh was, to be honest with you. I think wherever he ended up, the throw took him there. So, when that happens, there's really no issue."
More important for Cleveland was what led up to that moment.
Masterson (2-2) breezed through the first three innings, facing the minimum, before flinching and then falling apart. Facing the big sinkerballer, Jose Reyes tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly from Cabrera in the fourth, Juan Francisco launched a towering solo home run in the fifth and Toronto pushed across three runs in the sixth.
The sixth-inning runs by the Blue Jays (20-20) were initiated when Masterson issued a leadoff walk to Cabrera. Two batters later, Adam Lind sliced a pitch into the left-center-field gap for a two-run double. Francisco later delivered an RBI double of his own, pushing Cleveland into a 5-1 hole.
"I just didn't mix it up as well," said Masterson, who was charged with five runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings. "That was the biggest thing. We still had some balls down for the most part, but it was just a lot of sinkers. They made a good adjustment to stay with the ball. I just didn't combat the adjustment by mixing it up."
Cleveland did what it could to come back.
After limiting the Indians to one RBI single by Nick Swisher in the first six innings, Dickey's command wavered in the seventh. The knuckeballer hit Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run with no outs, convincing Gibbons to turn to lefty Aaron Loup. The reliever gave up a run-scoring single to Michael Bourn and a sacrifice fly to Swisher, trimming Toronto's lead to 5-4.
That set the stage for Michael Brantley, who worked into a favorable 2-1 count before drilling a pitch to a perfectly-positioned Reyes up the middle to abruptly end the push. Brantley, who was barely out of the batter's box when the ball rocketed into the shortstop's glove, raised his bat high in the air and slammed it to the turf in disgust.
"We got our runs," Francona said, "we just couldn't get one bit hit."
Gomes tried to deliver one, but Santana found himself in a tough situation on his sprint to the plate.
"It was a very close play," Santana said.