ST. PETERSBURG -- A high number of walks is proving to be the Blue Jays' biggest weakness on the mound this season.
Toronto's inability to control the strike zone has been its undoing on multiple occasions and continues to be a problem that isn't going away. The club entered play against the Rays with a league high 172 walks and that number got a lot worse on Wednesday afternoon.
The Blue Jays issued 10 base on balls and hit two batters in a game that was settled in the 11th inning, when Darren Oliver surrendered a walk-off double to B.J. Upton to send Toronto to a 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.
"When we're in the strike zone, we're recording outs consistently," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Four runs on two hits, you're contributing to an inning where they can manufacture some runs. It's certainly not something we're designing to do, and yet we've got to continue to work and gain consistency in a couple of areas."
Oliver opened the 11th inning by hitting left fielder Rich Thompson with a 1-1 fastball. It was the sixth time the Blue Jays started an inning by either walking or hitting a Rays player, and this one came back to haunt them.
Two batters later, Oliver worked the count to 2-2 before Upton ripped a shot into the corner in left field. Eric Thames retrieved the ball, but his throw back into the infield was well late as Thompson easily crossed home with the game-winning run.
"It looked like a good pitch to hit, so I swung at it," said Upton, whose club is 2-1 in extra-innings games this season. "Oliver has been good for a very long time, so I knew it was going to be a grind of an at-bat. I got the pitch I wanted and I kept it fair."
The Blue Jays fell behind early thanks in part to an inconsistent afternoon on the mound by Ricky Romero. Toronto's lefty entered the game having walked at least four batters in each of his past three starts. The lack of control continued against the Rays as Romero often had difficulty hitting the target set up by catcher J.P. Arencibia and walked a career-high seven batters.
The problems began in the first and were only compounded by a relatively tight strike zone from home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher. Romero issued free passes to two of the first three batters he faced, which set the table for a two-run double off the bat of third baseman Drew Sutton.
Romero escaped a jam in the second, but his woes continued in the third. The native of East Los Angeles hit Carlos Pena to lead off the frame and then surrendered a double to Upton to put runners at second and third with nobody out. Both Pena and Upton would come around to score on a pair of grounders as Tampa Bay took a 4-1 lead.
"I can't explain it, I'm frustrated," said Romero, who was at a loss to explain the inconsistent location of his pitches. "I just have to keep working. The game takes a lot out of you -- mentally more than physically -- and it's gotten its toll on me, because I'm trying to fix things and it's just not going my way."
Toronto's No. 1 starter continued into the seventh inning before being pulled after another leadoff walk. Romero was charged with four runs on six hits while striking out seven and throwing 54 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
Romero has walked 21 batters over his past four starts and is averaging 5.1 per nine innings this season. He entered the year averaging 3.5 walks per nine for his career, and while Romero has recorded six quality starts in 10 outings this season, the walks are beginning to catch up to him.
"I've never gone through this in my career, ever," said Romero, who saw his ERA rise to 3.86. "I've never walked seven guys, six guys, in back-to-back-to-back outings. It's frustrating, it's really frustrating."
Jose Bautista gave the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning with a solo home run. His 12th of the season was his seventh over the past 13 games and went deep into the left-field seats. That also moved Bautista into a tie with Fred McGriff for eighth spot on the club's all-time home run list, with 125.
Toronto added another run in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by rookie Yan Gomes, but still trailed, 4-2, heading into the eighth. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion changed that with one swing of the bat as he sent a 2-1 curveball from reliever Joel Peralta into the seats in left for his 14th home run of the season.
The two-run shot tied the game at 4, but in the end, it wasn't enough as the Blue Jays missed an opportunity to win their first series at The Trop since April 2007. Toronto has lost 15 consecutive series to the Rays over that span at Tropicana Field and has lost 10 straight series overall to Tampa Bay.
"The team did a good job of battling back, but that's a tough Tampa team every time we play them, and it's just unfortunate to come up with the loss," Romero said.
"What'd they get, two hits [off me]? I beat myself -- again. They didn't beat me, I beat myself. That's kind of been the story of my season. I've beaten myself more than teams have beaten me."