Blue Jays fall in season finale
Toronto's injury-filled 2007 campaign comes to an end
TORONTO -- By the time Sunday's game had come to an end, most of the Blue Jays already had their bags packed. They exchanged handshakes and shared a couple of jokes, but for the most part, it was a somber atmosphere -- and understandably so. The season that started with so many expectations came to an end with the team missing the playoffs for the 14th straight season.
"It was an up-and-down year for us," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "It was a tough year in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways, too, some very good things happened with some young guys establishing themselves. We didn't get to where we wanted, but I tip my hat to that group. They could have folded at any time, and they didn't do that."
One of the first players to leave was right-hander A.J. Burnett. The 30-year-old entered the game as one of Toronto's most dominating starters down the stretch. He looked that way for the first five innings against Tampa Bay, too, before a five-run sixth inning sent the Jays to an 8-5 loss.
Burnett (10-8) had been on cruise control, surrendering just three hits while striking out six batters over the first five frames. His afternoon unraveled one inning later, though, as Tampa Bay's first four batters reached base. The biggest blow came off the bat of Rays third baseman Joel Guzman, who delivered an RBI triple to the gap in right-center field.
Burnett remained in the game for one more batter before Gibbons replaced him. When it was all said and done, the Toronto right-hander faced eight batters and surrendered a total of five runs during the sixth inning alone.
It was a sour end to an otherwise strong finish for Burnett, who entered Sunday's action 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA over his past 12 outings.
"We were right in it, [but] they just took it to us in that one inning," Gibbons said.
With the game not having any impact on the American League standings, Gibbons used the opportunity to give his younger players a chance to get into the lineup. Only two position players from Toronto's Opening Day starting lineup saw time in the field -- outfielders Reed Johnson and Alex Rios. The other six were players who spent the majority of their seasons in the Minor Leagues.
Infielder Joe Inglett made the most of his opportunity. The 29-year-old went 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs. Meanwhile, left fielder Adam Lind continued to make his case to be included in the team's plans next season by adding two RBIs of his own. Lind finished the month of September hitting .273 with three home runs and 16 RBIs.
Five runs were all Toronto could muster against a combination of six Tampa Bay pitchers. Rays starter Jason Hammel picked up his third win of the season after surrendering four of those runs while striking out six over five innings.
And so ends a frustrating season for the Blue Jays -- one that included major injuries to five of their Opening Day position players, their top two starting pitchers and one of the game's best closers.
While the Jays didn't accomplish what they set out to at the start of the season, second baseman Aaron Hill said his team can take solace in the fact it essentially will bring back the same players next year.
"We want a shot at this," Hill said. "We know we have the guys to do it. We've been saying that all year long, but the bottom line is you've got to stay healthy. It'll be fun to see where this team ends up when we have a full year."
Although there were plenty of lows, there also were a lot of bright spots that will be carried over to next season. The most important of those is the performance of the pitching staff. Toronto's hurlers ranked second in the Major Leagues with a 3.60 ERA after the All-Star break.
One of the main reasons for that was the breakthrough seasons by some of Toronto's young arms, like starters Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch, and relievers Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo.
"They're all grounded now," Gibbons said. "They've had some success, and they should feel like they belong. There were some question marks going into this year at the tail end of our rotation. It's been that way for a couple of years. [Next] year we don't have that."
With the loss, the Jays finished September with a 15-13 record. According to Gibbons, that's not bad, considering the amount of games they had to play against teams who were gearing up for the playoffs.
"Sometimes September is a tough month to play," Gibbons said. "We played very good baseball, and that's what you always want. You always want to go out playing some good ball. Today was a tough one, but the guys should hold their heads high."
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.