SEATTLE – Eric Wedge decided to stick with the roles that are already being established in Seattle's bullpen.
It had worked for the previous 17 innings of relief pitching — all of which were scoreless. That plan melted down on Wednesday afternoon.
Chris Ray was at the heart of the bullpen blowup. The veteran righty was tagged for five hits and five earned runs in the eighth inning as Toronto rallied for an 8-3 win over the Mariners, denying Seattle a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays.
The biggest blow was Jose Bautista's three-run homer when the Toronto slugger turned on a hanging slider and deposited it into the visitors' bullpen — where Blue Jays' reliever Jon Rauch caught it while warming up. That turned a 2-1 Seattle lead into a 4-2 deficit and the Blue Jays went on to score six runs in the inning and send 11 batters to the plate.
"I ended up hanging a 2-1 slider. It was a bad pitch," Ray said. "I threw a good one to him 1-1 and just missed. I came back and it just hung. He's known for his power and he got it."
The struggles by Seattle's bullpen ruined a strong effort from starter Jason Vargas, who bounced back well from being knocked around last Friday for seven earned runs in the Mariners' home opener against Cleveland.
Going to Ray (1-1) so quickly was a bit of a surprise after Jamey Wright had struck out Jose Molina for the final out of the seventh inning, throwing just five pitches. But Wright was on the bench and Ray on the mound to start the eighth.
"We've done a good job in the bullpen. The guys have been set up and we've had them in roles," Wedge said. "Jamey came in and did his job and Chris just didn't have it today."
Trouble began almost immediately.
The eighth started innocently enough with a broken-bat single up the middle by Yunel Escobar, but Corey Patterson followed with a bunt single. Bautista, who struck out twice earlier and fouled out down the left-field line in a key spot in the fifth, then deposited Ray's pitch.
The Jays weren't done as Jayson Nix doubled and later scored on Edwin Encarnacion's two-out double. Ray was finally pulled, leaving to a smattering of boos from the tiny afternoon crowd on a chilly and damp day.
Ray, who made the club out of spring training after going to camp on a minor-league deal, has allowed 11 hits, eight earned runs and two homers in 4 2-3 innings so far this season.
Josh Lueke took over and didn't fare much better. He walked John McDonald, then gave up a two-run double to Molina, his third hit and second double of the afternoon, and a single to Escobar before finally getting a strikeout of Patterson to end the inning.
Toronto reliever Mark Rzepczynski (1-0) got the win in relief of rookie Kyle Drabek. Rzepczynski threw two innings of hitless relief, striking out a pair. His biggest out was his first, when he got Ichiro Suzuki on strikes to end the sixth inning with runners on first and third.
Seattle was poised for the sweep with the way Vargas was pitching and after Justin Smoak led off the sixth inning with an opposite-field homer to left that snapped a 1-all tie.
Batting from the left side, where Smoak entered Wednesday hitting just .188, the young first baseman took a 3-2 pitch from Drabek and drove it into the Toronto bullpen in left field. It was Smoak's first homer of the season, and his first at Safeco Field after his trade from Texas last summer.
Vargas threw 6 2-3 innings, allowing just five hits and striking out seven. The only run he allowed came on consecutive doubles by Molina and Escobar in the third.
"I wasn't worried about making some type of comeback. I've gone out there enough and proved I can pitch," Vargas said. "I don't think I have to worry about my previous outing."
NOTES: For the second time in three games, the Mariners set a new record low for attendance at Safeco Field on Wednesday: 12,407. The previous low was set on Monday night at 13,056. ... Toronto optioned reliever Brad Mills back to Triple-A Las Vegas after the game. A corresponding roster move is expected before Friday's game in Boston. ... Seattle CF Franklin Gutierrez is expected to go on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma this weekend. Wedge says after three games at Tacoma, Gutierrez will be re-evaluated. Seattle opens a seven-game homestand next Monday.