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Relievers falter as Blue Jays blow lead again in 8-6 loss to Pirates

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Not even a four-run lead is enough to save the Toronto Blue Jays from their bullpen woes.

Aaron Loup gave up three runs in the seventh inning and Todd Redmond served up the game-winning hit in the eighth as Toronto lost 8-6 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night.

One day after losing a 5-3, ninth-inning lead in a 6-5 loss, Toronto led 5-0 in the fourth and 6-2 in the seventh.

"We're a little bit shell-shocked right now," manager John Gibbons said.

Loup relieved R.A. Dickey after Clint Barmes' leadoff double in the seventh, and the Pirates tied the score on Josh Harrison's RBI double, Pedro Alvarez's run-scoring groundout and pinch-hitter Jordy Mercer's two-run double.

One inning later, Ike Davis reached on a one-out infield single against Redmond (0-3), Harrison singled and Neil Walker hit a drive off the top of the wall in centre field, scoring two runs to propel the Pirates to victory. The Pirates could have boosted their lead, but Starling Marte lined out to first against Chad Jenkins with the bases loaded.

"It's tough because it can really spiral on you," Dickey said. "That here-we-go-again syndrome can start to set in if you're not careful."

Before the game Saturday, Gibbons removed Sergio Santos from his role as interim closer after he blew three of his past four save opportunities. He said Toronto will use a closer-by-committee approach until Casey Janssen (oblique) returns from the disabled list. But Gibbons said Loup would feature prominently in that mix.

With Davis, a lefty, at the plate after Barmes' double, Gibbons turned to Loup for the favourable matchup.

"We hoped to get two innings out of him and see where we were at in the ninth inning if we still had the lead," Gibbons said.

Even if Loup gave up a couple of runs, Gibbons said, Toronto would be in good shape to finish the game.

"You don't expect him to implode like that," he said.

Bryan Morris (3-0) pitched a perfect eighth, and Mark Melancon earned his first save of the season in place of injured closer Jason Grilli, retiring Colby Ramus on a game-ending groundout with two on.

Pittsburgh, which overcame four errors, won consecutive games for the first time since beating St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs on April 6 and 8.

"Tonight was one of the nights we didn't play real great defence, we didn't pitch real well, but somehow we found a way to win in the end," Walker said. "It doesn't have to be pretty."

Toronto's Jose Bautista hit his ninth homer of the year and extended his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games. He set a Blue Jays record by reaching base in a 30th consecutive game.

"Every loss is frustrating," Bautista said. "I don't think that we're going to start pointing fingers at anybody just because we've lost a couple games in a particular fashion."

Dickey allowed three runs, five hits and four walks, lowering his ERA to 5.01.

"He's a quality pitcher, an All-Star, he's won 20 games in the big leagues and he was on tonight," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "So as soon as he's out, it's just better. It's no knock against anybody else, it's just going to be different."

Pirates starter Francisco Liriano gave up five runs — four earned — six hits and three walks in 3 2-3 innings, the second straight start he failed to reach the fourth.

Toronto built its early lead on Jose Reyes' RBI double in the third and a four-run fourth that included Brett Lawrie's run-scoring double off Marte in left, Rasmus' RBI single, Steve Tolleson's run-scoring, double-play grounder and a bases-loaded walk to Melky Cabrera.

Pittsburgh's comeback began in the fourth when Dickey threw a run-scoring wild pitch, and Barmes hit an RBI groundout.

NOTES: The Blue Jays are planning to select RHP Marcus Stroman from Triple-A Buffalo on Sunday. Stroman will take the 40-man roster spot of injured pitcher Brandon Morrow, though the Blue Jays will have to make a corresponding move on the 25-man roster Sunday. ... Toronto RHP Dustin McGowan (1-1, 5.87) is scheduled to pitch Sunday against Pittsburgh RHP Edinson Volquez (1-2, 3.21).

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