08/21/08 11:57 PM ET
Jays back Halladay's gem in big way
Toronto erupts for 21 hits to support ace's seven strong frames
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
On Thursday night, the Blue Jays never let up in a 14-3 rout of the Yankees to close out a three-game set at Rogers Centre against their division rival. The victory, which helped Toronto ace Roy Halladay to his 15th win of the season, pulled the Jays within seven games of the top spot in the American League Wild Card standings.
That's still a considerable gap between Toronto and Wild Card-leading Boston, but the Blue Jays' remaining slate provides an opportunity to climb the standings. Among Toronto's final 35 games, the team has 29 contests against teams higher up in the rankings, adding importance to every game the rest of the way.
"Really, it comes down to numbers -- how many games you win the rest of the year," Halladay said. "I think we keep that in mind. Obviously, these are big series for us. To be able to play well the last three series that we've had is important for us. Hopefully, we continue. Regardless of who we're playing, we need those wins.
Over their past nine games, the surging Blue Jays (66-61) have posted a 7-2 record, including four wins against the Red Sox and Yankees. The latest drubbing pulled the Jays within one game of the third-place Yankees (67-60) in the AL East, with six games left on the schedule against the Bronx Bombers.
Toronto also has 10 games remaining against Boston and six against AL East-leading Tampa Bay. The Blue Jays even host the Twins -- currently second in the AL Wild Card race -- three times, and visit the White Sox, who hold the top spot in the AL Central, for four games in September.
It's a similar situation to the one the Blue Jays faced last season, when the club trailed in the Wild Card race by 6 1/2 games when the final month rolled around. Toronto's hopes quickly sputtered with a five-game losing streak early last September. The Blue Jays are hoping to stave off that kind of slump this time.
"In a matter of a week, we kind of fell apart," said Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, recalling last season's decisive slide. "The nice thing here is we control our own destiny. The teams that are in front of us, we can play them."
If Toronto enjoys any offensive outbursts similar to the one they had against New York, the wins should come in a hurry.
By the fifth inning, the Yankees had cycled through three pitchers and the Jays had established a 13-0 lead, hanging seven runs on starter Sidney Ponson in just two-plus innings. For Halladay, who averaged just 3.8 runs of support before this evening, the flood of run support was a welcome change.
"The offense was huge today," Halladay said. "It was early, we added on and it's fun pitching in games like that, especially against good teams. It's nice to have those runs. You can go out and be aggressive. It was a great job by our hitters, not only getting runs, but continuing to add on."
The victory wasn't quite as overwhelming as the Jays' 15-4 romp that included 12 extra-base hits against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday, but it certainly got the job done. The Jays churned out 21 hits, including at least one from eight different players, allowing Halladay to slip into cruise control.
Joe Inglett and Marco Scutaro sparked the top of Toronto's order with four hits apiece, with Scutaro collecting three of his four RBIs on a fifth-inning homer. Seven players scored at least one run for the Jays, who had six starters chip in at least one RBI. Along the way, Toronto piled on six extra-base hits, including a three-run double from Matt Stairs and a two-run double by Alex Rios.
"They came alive tonight," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "You hope that you can do just half of that the rest of the season -- that'd be great."
Halladay (15-9) sliced his way through New York's lineup for six shutout innings to open the game before finally flinching in the seventh -- the ace's final frame of the night. The Yankees avoided being blanked when Hideki Matsui launched a 2-2 pitch from Halladay deep to right field for a three-run homer.
Beyond that blemish, Halladay was spectacular, scattering five hits and finishing with nine strikeouts. The pile of runs helped Halladay relax, though his simply being on the mound seems to create confidence for Toronto's hitters. He hasn't had much run support, but on many nights, Halladay doesn't require much help.
"It's nice to know that you have one of the best pitchers in the American League, or all of baseball, going," Inglett said. "That itself is enough, but it was nice to get things going -- being the tablesetter. We just kept on going and going, scoring runs, which is what we need to do."
Otherwise, Toronto's playoff hopes may begin to fade.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.