Playoff dreams take hit
Jays 7 1/2 games out in AL Wild Card race after getting blanked
BOSTON -- It's a little early to start likening the Blue Jays to last season's inspired Colorado Rockies club. That hasn't stopped some premature comparisons from trickling into discussions with Toronto manager Cito Gaston.
Sitting inside the visitors' dugout at Fenway Park early Friday evening, Gaston was asked if Toronto's recent run had the manager thinking at all about what Colorado accomplished last September. This was, of course, a few hours before the Blue Jays dropped a disheartening 7-0 decision to the Red Sox -- a serious hit to Toronto's postseason hopes.
This is the Boston team that Toronto is desperately trying to catch in the American League Wild Card standings, and the one that now leads the Jays by 7 1/2 games in that race. With just 15 games left on Toronto's regular-season slate, wins are now a must. Last year's Rockies made the task look simple, winning 14 of their final 15 to clinch a playoff berth.
"It just goes to show you that anything is possible," Gaston said. "Certainly, we'd have to have one of those runs to do that. Hopefully that will happen for us. If it doesn't -- we're going to be trying -- but if it doesn't happen, we're just letting people know that we're around."
The Blue Jays (79-68) have at least accomplished that much, claiming some late-season headlines by rattling off 11 wins over a 12-game stretch, entering this critical series in Boston. That included a 10-game winning streak -- Toronto's longest run since 1999 -- against teams that had records over the break-even mark.
Toronto wasn't able to maintain its furious pace in the opener of this rare four-game weekend set against Boston (86-60). The Blue Jays ran into a tough assignment in knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who appeared to have little problem pitching in the steady rain that pelted the Fens all evening.
Following a 41-minute rain delay on a night when six games around baseball were postponed due to inclement weather, Wakefield spun eight shutout innings and scattered just three hits. That netted a loss for Blue Jays rookie David Purcey, who turned in a respectable effort, but lacked the luxury of run support.
"It's hard to prepare for a knuckleball guy -- without a doubt," Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen said. "And he's one of the best there is. He threw the ball well. He was minimizing his pitches, obviously. He pitched very well."
As if the offensive woes weren't trouble enough for the Jays, Rolen -- a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner -- had some issues providing sound defense for Purcey. Rolen, who refused to use the wet playing conditions as an excuse, mishandled two sharply-hit grounders in the game for just the seventh multi-error showing in his 13 seasons.
The second proved costly, allowing Boston's Jason Bay to reach base to open the fourth inning. Three batters later, Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie collected a double against Purcey (3-6) to plate Bay, putting the Blue Jays behind, 2-0. That score held up through six innings, during which the Toronto lefty yielded just three hits.
"The conditions weren't great," Rolen said. "But there were a lot of ground balls hit, and I was the only one who couldn't handle them. It's hard to point fingers or feel sorry for yourself, but there were a lot of balls hit on the ground and everybody else did just fine. I booted a couple."
Boston put the game out of reach in the seventh inning, when Purcey's pitch count climbed to a career-high 120 tosses. The last offering thrown by Purcey was pulled down the right-field line by slugger David Ortiz, resulting in a two-run double that moved Boston ahead, 4-0. Kevin Cash added a three-run homer off Jays reliever Jason Frasor an inning later.
"Giving up a hit to David Ortiz to score two runs, that kind of broke it open a little bit," said Purcey, who allowed three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. "That's what I'm disappointed about. Besides that, I was happy with the way I came back from not throwing strikes early to hitting the zone a little bit more.
"I'm just trying to take the good out of it."
So are the Blue Jays.
The positive Toronto managed to scrape from its latest loss is the fact that it still has six games left against Boston on its schedule. That includes three more this weekend, beginning with a split doubleheader against the Red Sox on Saturday.
"We still have three more here and we have three more at home with those guys," Gaston said. "Hey, we're just going to turn the page and see what happens [on Saturday]. If it doesn't come out too good, then you might be thinking about, 'Do we have a chance to catch them?'"
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.