Wells blasts Jays past Yankees
The Toronto Blue Jays brushed aside a big clubhouse distraction and the allure of the New York Yankees to win in spectacular fashion Thursday night at Rogers Centre.
Vernon Wells hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning to beat the Yankees 5-4 in a thrilling game that had the 42,336 home fans on their feet through most of the night.
Wells smashed his 24th homer off New York's closer Mariano Rivera immediately after catcher Jorge Posada threw out Frank Catalanotto at second on a steal attempt.
It was the first home run surrendered by Rivera this season.
"This is a game we needed no matter what happened in the past," said Wells. "We've got to win, we've got to win now, we've got to win as many as we can against these guys."
Reliever Brian Tallet (3-0) pitched a perfect 11th to earn the victory.
The win puts the Jays (53-42) within three games of the Yankees (55-38) for second in the AL East. Toronto remains 5Â½ back of the division-leading Boston Red Sox (58-36), who were 6-4 winners over the Texas Rangers.
"It worked out pretty good for us," Catalanotto said. "It was just total relief."
The win could give the Blue Jays, who are still recovering from the Shea Hillenbrand fiasco and two straight disheartening defeats to the Rangers, a big lift.
Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi designated Hillenbrand for assignment Wednesday night after the six-year veteran criticized the team in an anger-filled tirade during the pre-game workout.
Hillenbrand then had a clubhouse confrontation with manager John Gibbons.
"It's been a long, tiring few days, then you tack on that weekend on top of that and it makes it even longer," said Gibbons. "The guys are tired, yeah, we needed that. It was a good way to finish today."
This all happened while the Jays were set to begin a crucial four-game series against the Yankees.
"The thing about this team is we're made up of a bunch of professionals," said Wells. "Whatever happens off the field happens. Once we step on that field in game time, we have to be able to separate that kind of stuff and play the game. If we're not able to do that then we don't deserve to be in this race."
Jays deliver key hits
However, Toronto earned the first win with key hits and a strong performance by ace pitcher Roy Halladay.
The right-hander threw 7 2-3 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits.
"We're a good team," said Wells. "We're going to get through that stuff and hopefully have a few more victories like that."
Halladay (12-2) deserved a better fate, but closer B.J. Ryan blew an eighth-inning lead.
Halladay left the game with the bases empty and a 4-3 lead. However, Ryan allowed two hits and a walk that resulted in Posada's broken bat single, which scored Bubba Crosby to tie the game.
"Stuff is going to happen over the course of the season, you can never control that," Halladay said. "I think it's important that guys were prepared to come out and play today."
Although he didn't figure in the win, Halladay proved once again that he savours every start against the Yankees. The 29-year-old veteran has eight wins versus New York since 2002, the most of any starter in the majors.
Yankees ace Mike Mussina was stellar Thursday night for the first five innings, but a four-run sixth ruined an otherwise terrific outing.
The Jays finally got to Mussina in that inning, and it all started with an error by Alex Rodriguez.
With Aaron Hill at third, Reed Johnson grounded a ball to Rodriguez, but the Yankee third baseman's throw to home sailed over the head of Posada.
The error allowed Hill to score and Johnson to advance to second.
Johnson then scored on a single by Frank Catalanotto, cutting the New York lead to 3-2.
The Jays took a 4-3 lead later in the inning when Troy Glaus doubled home both Catalanotto and Vernon Wells.
Mussina (11-3)allowed four runs and six hits over seven innings.
"It's disappointing," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "It's a tough one to swallow."
New York had early edge
It appeared New York would run away with the game after building a 3-0 advantage.
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third as outfielder Johnny Damon doubled home shortstop Miguel Cairo.
Bernie Williams then put New York up by two in the fourth when his grounder to first scored Rodriquez.
Cairo increased New York's lead to 3-0 in the following inning after his sacrifice fly scored left-fielder Melky Cabrera.
The run occurred after catcher Bengie Molina's throwing error allowed Cabrera, who was stealing second, to advance to third.
With files from the Canadian Press