With major-league scouts analyzing each of his 112 pitches, A.J. Burnett stood on the mound and nearly watched a seven-run lead evaporate before his eyes.
But thanks to some strong work by the Blue Jays bullpen and the arm of outfielder Alex Rios, the Toronto pitcher recorded his ninth win of the season Wednesday night as trade rumours continue to swirl around him.
"I'm not reading nothing, not listening to nothing, not talking to nobody. I'm here, these guys know I'm here, I'm proud to be here," Burnett, who had a root canal late Tuesday night, said of the trade rumours. "The way I look at it is who'd want that performance right there?
"If it happens, it happens. Like I said, I'm a Blue Jay here."
Jesse Carlson and Scott Downs combined for 2 2/3 shutout innings before closer B.J. Ryan survived a Nick Markakis solo home run with two out in the ninth inning to nail down a 9-8 decision over the visiting Baltimore Orioles.
Rios, who entered the game riding a five-game hitting streak, delivered the defensive play of the game with two out in the top of the seventh.
Having shifted to centre field from right after Vernon Wells left the game in the sixth with a suspected left leg cramp, Rios one-hopped a throw to catcher Rod Barajas who tagged Aubrey Huff to end the threat with the Jays leading 9-7.
At the plate, Rios extended his hitting streak with two singles and was one of eight Toronto starters with at least one hit.
The Blue Jays had five hits in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a night after going 5-for-13 in the same situation in a 7-6 victory in the opener of the three-game series.
"We're still preaching the plan [to the hitters]," said manager Cito Gaston. "You hope they're taking that out there and the way it seems the last couple days, they might be getting that."
Gaston opted to start eight right-handed hitters against Orioles lefty Garrett Olson and looked like a genius early on when his players answered Baltimore's single run in the fourth inning with a season-high seven runs in the bottom of the frame.
Leadoff hitter David Eckstein keyed the outburst with a two-out, two-run double off Olson (6-4) while Rios also plated two on a single. Toronto added a run in the fifth to make it 8-1.
It seemed like a comfortable lead for Burnett, who retired 12 of the first 15 batters he faced, including 10 in a row to start the game and five by strikeout.
But the right-hander, who could be dealt prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline with the Blue Jays nine-and-a-half games behind Boston in the American League wild card race, unravelled in the sixth inning.
The Orioles cut the lead in half on four singles and a walk. After a visit by Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, Burnett (9-8) served up a three-run home run to Adam Jones and was promptly lifted for Carlson with Toronto clinging to an 8-7 advantage.
"I was dominant early and it got quite embarrassing," said Burnett, who saw his earned-run average rise to 5.23.
Burnett could opt out in fall
Speculation about Burnett's future has hung around the team all season thanks to the opt-out clause in his contract that he can exercise this fall. By doing that, Burnett would give up the final two years and $24 million US of the $55 million, five-year deal he signed after the 2005 season.
Many are convinced Burnett plans to opt out, leaving the Blue Jays with the choice of trying to move him for prospects this month, or letting him walk away for compensatory draft picks in the fall.
"That's a long time away," Burnett said. "I've got this year to worry about."
Wells hurt himself stealing third in the bottom of the sixth inning but hung around long enough to score on Scott Rolen's base hit to make it a 9-7 game.
"Right now we just think it's a cramp," said Gaston. "But we don't know; he's kind of sore."
Ryan fanned Jay Payton to open the ninth and then Roberts before Markakis took him over the fence in left-centre field for his 14th dinger of the season.
After Aubrey Huff walked, Ryan got Kevin Millar to line out to centre for his 17th save of the season as Toronto improved its record to 44-47.
Baltimore, which slipped to 44-45, has dropped four in a row for the first time since May 28-June 1.
On the injury front, the Blue Jays will be without starting pitcher Dustin McGowan for at least four weeks after a MRI exam Wednesday revealed a tear in his right shoulder.