On Labor Day, a holiday that constitutes a national tribute to hardworking Americans, Rangers starting pitcher Tommy Hunter was put to the ultimate grind.
The right-hander surrendered three home runs -- two of which resulted in a five-run third inning -- and uncorked a wild pitch to put the Rangers into a deficit they couldn't overcome, dropping the contest 7-2 to the Blue Jays.
Hunter's tough day at the office started in the second frame. After allowing Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay to reach base, Hunter settled in to face catcher John Buck with two outs.
Getting ahead 0-2, Hunter attempted to send Buck to escape the jam with an outside curveball. The pitch was effective, inducing a check swing from Buck, but the ball skipped off catcher Taylor Teagarden's glove, bouncing nearly all the way to the backstop.
Acting quickly, Wells took off from third. Buck, by the same accord, made a heads-up play running to first on the called third strike. Amid the panic, Teagarden grabbed the ball and fired home to a covering Hunter, but was unable to come up with the out -- a bad omen, to say the least.
"The right play is at first base," an upset Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You've got Buck up there swinging and missing, ball is not too far away, can't run, third out, you take the easy one. You have to figure that's going to be tough trying to throw that ball to the pitcher and trying to catch the runner with a tag. You have to go for the easy out."
Although the run may have set a bad tone, the bulk of the damage came in the next inning.
Hunter, who has fallen victim to the long ball all season, got burned by an offense that entered the game with a Major League-leading 208 home runs. Adding to the total, Wells cranked a 2-1 offering deep into Toronto's bullpen to plate three runs. And not to be outdone, Aaron Hill laced his 23rd of the season to push two more across and cap off a five-run frame.
A disappointed Hunter said his cutter was the reason for his demise.
"A couple cutters that spun," the 24-year old said. "It was off and on. That's what I got beat with tonight -- when it spins, it goes far.
"It's an effective pitch when it's working good -- a very effective pitch. I just caught it when it was not good, I guess. [They] caught it pretty square."
The righty put his nose to the grindstone, working his way through three solid innings before surrendering a solo jack to shortstop Yunel Escobar in the seventh.
In their seven games against the Blue Jays this season, the Rangers have been tagged for a whopping 16 home runs, while being outscored, 48-24. With the loss, Texas lowered its record to 1-6 vs. Toronto on the year.
"The only way you're going to have a chance against these guys is [if] you keep the ball in the ballpark," Washington said. "They got seven [runs], and six came off the long ball. Got to keep them in the ballpark, and we didn't do that."
The Rangers also did not provide much run support. They went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10 men on base -- six at the hands of outfielder Nelson Cruz. In contrast, the Jays went 3-for-9 in clutch situations, leaving only four aboard.
"We weren't able to string together enough good at-bats," third baseman Michael Young said. "That's pretty much the story of us offensively. Tommy didn't pitch bad; three homers got to him. Three pitches. But he battled and got us through seven innings, fought his way through it."
The Rangers, who maintain a sizable lead atop the American League West, have dropped four straight and seven of their last 10 -- a trend Washington believes the team will play out of.
"I don't want a hiccup in September, period," Washington said. "But when it happens, you have to weather the storm. It's no quick fix. The quickest way you can fix it is to pitch, catch and put more runs on the board than the other team. That's how you fix it."
James Hall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.