Jays sweep slumping Mariners
A.J. Burnett started September the way he finished August — and as a result, the Toronto Blue Jays continue to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Behind another solid pitching performance from Burnett and a pair of two-run home runs from Gregg Zaun and Matt Stairs of Fredericton, the Jays beat the freefalling Seattle Mariners 6-4 to complete a three-game sweep at Toronto's Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon.
"Whenever you play a team that struggles, that's a series you're always afraid of," Stairs said. "They can come in anytime and swing the bat extremely well or get some great pitching.
"It's nice to sweep a team that's in front of you."
With the win, Toronto (70-66) moved to four games above .500 for the first time this season and pulled to within5.5 games of the wild card-leading New York Yankees, who lost 8-2 to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Sunday afternoon.
"Everything is kind of clicking right now," Burnett said. "We're hitting, we're playing D and the pitching staff is doing a good job."
Burnett (8-7) continued the strong play he's shown since coming off a shoulder injury last month, pickingup his third win in five starts since Aug. 12. The flame-throwing right-hander scattered three runs on four hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings of work.
The Blue Jays put up five runs in the second and third innings to do their damage on offence, which resulted in Seattle starter Jeff Weaver (6-11) taking the loss.
Weaver put every leadoff hitter he faced on base and allowed five runs on eight hits in just three innings of work for the Mariners (73-62), who continued their recent tailspin with their ninth consecutive loss.
"We're still in good shape," Seattle manager John McLaren said. "It's amazing. We have the ability to streak the other way but we've hit a big bump in the road."
Aaron Hill's RBI single in the second inning allowed Stairs to score from second base to put Toronto up 1-0.
Zaun continued his recent power surge from the left side by following with a two-run shot to right that built the lead to 3-0.
Stairs struck again in the third, drilling a huge two-run, second-deck home run to right, his 18th home run of the season, to put the Jays comfortably ahead 5-0.
"Obviously home runs are hurting me right now," Weaver said. "They jumped on me early and it was too much damage. It seemed like every time I got in the stretch, they got more aggressive."
Mariners manufacture runs
Burnett continued to cruise along, striking out five of the first six batters he faced before the Mariners finally got to him in the fourth.
With Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen on base, Raul Ibanez hit a grounder up the third base line that Russ Adams misplayed, resulting in Seattle's first run.
Adrian Beltre then cut the lead to 5-2 after scoring Guillen on a groundout.
Seattle continued to claw away at the Blue Jays lead in the seventh as catcher Kenji Johjima hit a sacrifice fly by that reduced the lead to 5-3.
Burnett ended the threat in that inning by inducing a fly ball to centre from Yuniesky Betancourt to end his afternoon with the lead intact.
The Jays cushioned their lead in the bottom half of the second, as Hill stroked another RBI single to put his team up 6-3.
With Scott Downs pitching in relief of Burnett in the eighth, Ibanez pulled the Mariners back within two with a run-scoring single in the eighth before Brian Wolfeearned the remaining two outs to retire the side.
Casey Janssen pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn his fifth save of the season for the Blue Jays.
Toronto now moves onto a pivotal three-game set with the division-leading Boston Red Sox that could make or break the team's fortunes this season.
Jesse Litsch (5-6) will get the start at Fenway Park on Monday against Daisuke Matsuzaka(13-11).
With files from the Canadian Press