Blue Jays rally late to beat Mariners
Score two in seventh, three in eighth in final home game
TORONTO -- The fans inside Rogers Centre could have used the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon as a time to vent frustration one last time. In the final home game for the Blue Jays in a disappointing season, the team headed up the steps up the dugout to offer waves of appreciation to the crowd.
Rather than mixing a chorus of boos within the cheers, the Blue Jays faithful answered with a loud standing ovation. Toronto responded with its last comeback of 2009 in front of the home audience, rallying for three runs in the eighth to claim a 5-4 victory over the Mariners.
"We took care of the home crowd," Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas said. "When you come out to watch the last couple series of the year, that's how you want to see your team play. It was great for us. It was fun. Hopefully, we can build on this going into the next series and next year."
The win wrapped up a 6-1 showing for the Blue Jays over their final homstand, which included a three-game sweep over the Orioles and three wins in a four-game set against the Mariners. Overall, Toronto ended its home schedule with a 44-37 ledger, though that positive record did little to stop the Jays' slide to fourth place in the American League East this year.
With six games remaining on the regular-season slate, the Blue Jays (72-84) head into the offseason with a pile of questions. Last winter, the team saw its payroll decrease and Toronto entered this season knowing a tough road awaited. With an injury-riddled pitching staff, the Jays would have to rely on a handful of young, inexperienced starters.
Early on, the Blue Jays overcame such obstacles by storming out of the gates with a 27-14 record. That was before the nine-game losing streak, before the team began to field offers for ace Roy Halladay and before the struggles of Vernon Wells. Toronto eventually released laboring former closer B.J. Ryan and let Alex Rios go to the White Sox in a waiver claim.
Along the way, the Jays set a Rogers Centre low in attendance with 11,159 on Sept. 9. The club also experienced its first decrease in season attendance since 2002, averaging 23,162 per game this year. On Sunday, the announced crowd of 39,052 for the final home game represented the largest at Toronto's stadium since May 12.
"To be honest, our attendance has been down of late and we hadn't played the greatest ball," said Jays left-hander Brian Tallet. "To finish out strong at home gives the fans something to remember and hopefully [they'll] show back up next year in big bunches."
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said on Sunday that he did not let the team's hot start distract him from the fact that Toronto was expected to experience some growing pains this season.
"No, I always know where the cream's at," Gaston said. "If you know your team at all, once people started to go down and you're bringing kids in to pitch, it tells you even more. As it happened, some of them pitched well and some of them didn't pitch so well. I think we were lacking."
The 2009 season did include some bright spots for the Blue Jays, though.
Second baseman Aaron Hill -- one season after suffering a serious concussion -- started for the American League in the All-Star Game and has set club records at his position with 34 home runs and 103 RBIs. Designated hitter Adam Lind, who bats one spot behind Hill, has hit .302 with 32 homers and 110 RBIs.
In the eighth inning on Sunday, Hill drew a walk against Mariners left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith after Jose Bautista trimmed Toronto's deficit to 4-3 with an RBI single. With two outs later in the frame, Gaston turned to Lind as a pinch-hitter and he drilled a pitch from Miguel Batista to center to pull the game into tie at 4.
Barajas followed with an RBI double to score Hill, putting Toronto ahead for good, 5-4.
"[Lind] and Aaron, to me, they're your Most Valuable Players on this team," Gaston said. "They do share those things."
On the mound, Halladay has fashioned another spectacular season and rookie Ricky Romero gave the Jays a surprising AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Toronto's depleted rotation -- missing Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch due to injuries -- also received unanticipated help from Tallet, who shifted out of the bullpen early in the year.
Making his 25th start of the season, Tallet held the Mariners (80-76) to three runs -- all on fifth-inning solo home runs from Kenji Johjima, Matt Tuiasosopo and Franklin Gutierrez -- over seven innings. Seattle's Mike Sweeney added a solo shot off reliever Brian Wolfe in the eighth, but Toronto's late comeback allowed Tallet to escape with a no-decision.
It was the type of result the Jays lacked throughout the year.
"We just haven't been able to all season come up with those big hits," Tallet said, "or the big shut-down inning to propel us to victory. In the last couple days, we've been able to do that. It shows a good resiliency from our ballcub."
The question will be how the Blue Jays respond next year.
General manager J.P. Ricciardi is on the hot seat, the Blue Jays are currently searching for a permanent replacement for interim president and CEO Paul Beeston and the club might still entertain the idea of trading Halladay over the offseason. Under the current circumstances, Gaston said it might be wise to continue to see what offers exist for the ace.
According to Gaston, it depends on what direction the team goes this winter.
"If we don't add anybody, or go get somebody that can help out, I doubt if we keep him," Gaston said. "That's just my opinion. I don't know that. Would it make any sense? Probably not."
Inside the clubhouse, the players are hoping for more addition than subtraction.
"They know we need to go out and get some big names," Hill said. "Whatever it may be -- a big bat or an arm -- to stay competitive. We really like our team. We like the foundation we've got, but I think they know that we've got to go out and do some things."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.