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Cito Gaston returns Friday night for his third stint as Toronto Blue Jays manager, replacing John Gibbons, who was fired. ((Mike Carlson/Associated Press))

It feels like Flashback Friday for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Cito Gaston, the man who took the now-struggling team to two World Series championships in the early 1990s, was named interim bench boss on Friday afternoon, replacing the beleaguered John Gibbons.

He'll take the reins Friday night in Pittsburgh.

Also fired were third base coach Marty Pevey, first base coach Ernie Whitt and hitting coach Gary Denbo.

Retained were bench coach Brian Butterfield, who will have other on-field duties, bullpen coach Bruce Walton and highly successful pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

The Jays had lost five games in a row, 13 of 17 and had fallen to last in the American League East at 35-39 heading for a weekend series in Pittsburgh.

Toronto is now 10½ games back of first place Boston and nine back of the Tampa Bay Rays, who currently hold the wild card playoff spot in the AL.

"We were struggling, and hopefully change is good," Gibbons said in an afternoon conference call. "I'm still a big fan of these guys and want to see them succeed and have a good year.

"We tried different things, different batting orders, to see if something clicked, and there just wasn't any real consistency," Gibbons said. "We had our ups and downs, the problem is it was more downs this year."

Gaston, 64, has had two previous stints with the club. Already the hitting coach since 1982, he took over the Jays in 1989 early in the season and took them to the playoffs, the first of four post-season appearances under his wing.

Came back as hitting coach

Included were World Series championships in 1992 over the Atlanta Braves and 1993 over the Philadelphia Phillies — a series that ended with Joe Carter's famous walk-off home run in the ninth inning of Game 6.

He stayed as manager until 1997, compiling a 681-635 record.

Three seasons later, Gaston came back to serve as hitting coach from 2000 to 2001.

He had been serving as the Blue Jays' club ambassador and special assistant to the president and CEO, Paul Godfrey.

"We have to see if we can start the season over tonight and get this club back where it should be," Gaston said at a news conference in Pittsburgh.

"We just want to get off to a good start and get a win tonight, and having Doc [starter Roy Halladay] on the mound is a good start," he added later.

Team general manager J.P. Ricciardi said going for Gaston instead of giving someone younger a try was the best option for the club.

"We have to have someone with a lot of experience behind him and a lot of credibility behind him," Ricciardi said. "I think going with the guy with Cito's experience was important to this club."

Offence struggling

Rance Mulliniks, who played for Gaston in the World Series years and is now a baseball commentator for CBC Sports, believes Godfrey had a lot of influence in the decision to bring the old manager  back.

"[Cito] brings instant credibility. He's won two World Series titles. And I know Cito will have a look at the Jays' batting philosophy."

Toronto has one of the worst offences in baseball this season and its inability to hit with runners in scoring position has been a major problem.

"He'll look at the count approach they have now and go back to being aggressive at the plate, hitting the fastball and hitting what's there," Mulliniks said. "And the club desperately needs that."

Added to Gaston's coaching roster will be some familiar faces.

Nick Leyva, 54, takes over as third base coach. He held that job from 1993-1997. Dwayne Murphy, who was the Blue Jays' roving minor league hitting instructor, is the first base coach.

And Gene Tenace, who coached with Gaston in Toronto for eight seasons, will be hitting and bench coach.

Gibbons had a mark of 305-305 as Jays manager, going back to Aug. 8, 2004, when he took over as interim manager from the fired Carlos Tosca.

'Had to make a decision'

His team had fallen into a serious funk after a good May record had made up for a lousy start in April.

"After the sweep in Milwaukee and the way they lost [Thursday's] game, I had the sense that if the decision wasn't already made that Gibbons was going to be let go after the weekend, [Thursday's loss] was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak," Mulliniks said.

"It definitely expedited the process. The Jays knew they had to make a decision."

Gibbons' best season was 2006 when his club went 87-75 and finished second in the American League East.

That was also the season, however, when Gibbons got into a clubhouse yelling match with infielder Shea Hillenbrand, who had written on the bulletin board that the "ship is sinking."

Hillenbrand was traded shortly after.

In August of that year, Gibbons had a run-in with lefty Ted Lilly on the mound that continued in the tunnel behind the dugout where it got physical.

Lilly left the club as a free agent for the Chicago Cubs when the season ended.

With files from the Canadian Press