Wells, Buck power Jays over Yankees
Perhaps one day the dividend from this season of pleasant surprise for the Toronto Blue Jays will be playing in games as meaningful as Monday's was for the New York Yankees.
For the time being they will have to settle for considerably more modest goals, like playing to secure a .500 season, something they accomplished with a 7-5 victory over the defending World Series champions.
The victory combined with Boston's 6-1 win at Chicago kept the Yankees from clinching their 15th trip to the post-season in the past 16 years, although that simply delayed the inevitable for at least one more day.
Either way, the Blue Jays (81-75) have plenty to feel proud about in 2010.
"That was a big game for us," said manager Cito Gaston. "No matter what happens the rest of the way out, this team has done a great job this year."
Few predicted they would finish anywhere near the break-even point after trading ace Roy Halladay last winter and embarking on a retooling of the franchise, yet there is good reason to believe there are better times ahead.
Marc Rzepczynski (3-4), one of their plethora of blossoming young arms, showed his ability to dominate, recording eight straight outs on strikes between the first and fourth innings. He also matched Ted Lilly's franchise record by striking out six straight batters.
"I felt like that was the best I've thrown the ball all year," said Rzepczynski. "I had slider, fastball, was getting ahead, and able to expand after that."
At the same time, Vernon Wells, with a three-run shot, and John Buck, with a solo blast, continued the Blue Jays' homer barrage, pushing the team total to 243, one short of the franchise mark established in 2000.
"It's obviously better than where we were last year," Wells said of the team's improvement from a 75-87 mark from 2009. "The thing around here is continuing to get better, continuing to learn how to win at this level and continuing to measure ourselves against some of the best in baseball.
"And we get a chance to do that plenty of times in this division."
Both home runs were mashed off former teammate A.J. Burnett (10-15), who opted out of his contract after the 2008 season to join the Yankees (93-64) and is 0-3 with a 9.61 earned-run average against the Blue Jays this season.
Burnett was clubbed for all seven runs in this one, an unsettling performance with the playoffs a week away. He's now 1-7 in his past 11 outings and is the first Yankees pitcher to lose 15 games since Melido Perez went 13-16 in 1992.
"I expect to start in the post-season," said Burnett. "I just want the ball."
But the crowd of 16,004 also saw how far the team still has to go, as the bullpen was handed a comfortable 7-2 lead and turned the game into an adventure.
Things started out innocently in the seventh when Derek Jeter beat Brian Tallet to the bag at first after Lyle Overbay made a diving stab on a grounder down the line, and Nick Swisher followed with a base hit. Tallet then served up a 1-0 changeup that Mark Teixeira clobbered over the wall in centre to make it a two-run game.
But Josh Roenicke, Jesse Carlson, Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg, pitching the ninth for his 36th save, were able to keep things there.
The Blue Jays opened the scoring in the first when Travis Snider doubled, moved to third on Yunel Escobar's groundout and scored on Jose Bautista's grounder to short.
After Buck's career-high 19th homer made it 2-0 in the second, Wells crushed his 31st in the third to make it 5-0. An RBI single by Buck and a sacrifice fly by Edwin Encarnacion extended the advantage to 7-0 later in the frame.
"It feels good," Buck said of his milestone homer. "Being on a team with the lineup we have, they have to be more aggressive with us, so hitting is contagious and we've seen this year the home runs are, too."
Rzepczynski, dominant through four, faded in the fifth. He gave up a two-run blast to Curtis Granderson and walked three in the inning before escaping more major damage to win his second straight start.
"They've hit me pretty well," Rzepczynski said of the Yankees. "I felt like I was throwing the ball great for the first four innings, I felt like I was going to get anybody out. Then I let the game too quick on me later on."