Blue Jays keep playoff hopes alive
Marcum, six-run eighth inning send Toronto past Chicago
CHICAGO -- The dormant Blue Jays bats awoke from their slumber in a big way during the eighth inning on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
After mustering just three hits against White Sox starter Gavin Floyd through seven innings, the Blue Jays blasted seven hits and put a six-spot on the scoreboard in the eighth en route to a 6-4 win. For those keeping score at home, Toronto's winning streak stands at one.
But it perhaps was the biggest game of the season so far for the Blue Jays, and the most important winning streak to possess. Toronto gained a half-game on Boston to move to 6 1/2 games back in the American League Wild Card standings. The teams will meet for a four-game series at Fenway Park this weekend.
"It's very important to get back on the winning road and also to win that ballgame out there," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "We had a six-run lead, and [Shaun] Marcum pitched a great game. Both of those guys did. We'll just take it onto Boston and see what we can do there."
Marcum and Floyd took turns putting zeros onto the scoreboard. Neither team had plated a run until the Jays' six-run outburst in the eighth.
Travis Snider got things going with a leadoff double, and he scored on Marco Scutaro's single to right field. It was Scutaro's third hit of the game, and the one that broke the scoreless stalemate.
"We didn't have too many opportunities to score, and I was just trying to get a good pitch. And I got a good one, and I hit it good," said Scutaro, who was 8-for-12 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs in the series.
His RBI single was only the beginning, though. Alex Rios and Vernon Wells singled to load the bases and bounce Floyd (15-7) from the game.
Matt Thornton came in, and Lyle Overbay delivered a two-out, two-run single. Ehren Wassermann came on to relieve Thornton, and Rod Barajas greeted him with an RBI single and Scott Rolen hit a two-run single.
"Guys stepped up tonight," Gaston said. "It was a team game and a team win for us tonight. The whole team won tonight."
The White Sox put together a comeback effort in the bottom half of the inning. Marcum gave up back-to-back singles and was replaced by Scott Downs. Both runners scored on a two-run double by Jermaine Dye. Two more runs came in on a homer from Jim Thome, bringing the Sox within two.
B.J. Ryan recorded three strikeouts in the ninth to close out the game.
"You never know with that team over there and the way that we've been swinging," Gaston said. "Truly, anything can happen. But I would have rather us win a 1-0 ballgame."
Marcum (9-6), who has been hit-and-miss over the last two months, spent time with Triple-A Syracuse to sort out some command issues. However, his 7 1/3 innings on Thursday were nothing short of stellar.
"Marcum was certainly throwing a lot more pitches [previously]," Gaston said. "He would have almost 100 pitches in five innings. Today he was just about to the eighth or ninth inning with 100 pitches. He has to have control to be effective."
"I'm trying to push us into the playoffs," Marcum added. "So I got to go up there and leave everything out on the field to show what we can do and make a run at this."
The Blue Jays wish they could spend more time in Chicago, as they finished with a 7-1 record against the White Sox this season. The South Siders are all too glad to be rid of them.
"We knew coming in they have excellent pitching, both starting and their bullpen," Thome said. "They have a nice club. Just be glad to move on. They have a real good pitching staff, and we didn't have a very good series."
Whether or not the Blue Jays manage to reach the postseason, their run of success over the past three weeks might provide a taste of what's to come in 2009.
Owners of the best ERA in baseball and the third-best run differential, all signs point to a successful Blue Jays campaign next season.
"We've played well since the All-Star break," Gaston said. "Even against our division we played pretty well. You look back, and there were some games we should have won and some we should have lost. Overall, the guys have just come out and played hard every day, and I think they're enjoying it and having a great time."
David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.