Now, Jays Must Avoid Let–Down

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Aug. 17) — With an entire generation of greenhorns sitting shiva for the Blue Jays after consecutive losses to the New York Yankees on the weekend, there is suddenly an afterlife. There reallyis.

No, our baseball heroes were not going to win their final 56 games; it just seemed that way until Friday night. By late–Saturday afternoon, the dream had ended. There would be no pennant chase here in the Big Smoke after all — Blue Jays having the temerity to cough up successive outings for the first time since late–July. And, with Drew Hutchison on the mound as a sweep–stopper Sunday afternoon… well, it was almost time to start fretting about the Leafs once again (save your energy).

Did you see what happened?

Amid the speculation that he’ll shuffle off to Triple–A Buffalo for a couple of weeks, Hutchison — as nice a kid as anyone in baseball, I am told — threw the game of his young career, three–hitting the Yankees over six–and–one–third innings of a 3–1 Toronto win that elevated the Jays to within one–half game of New York in the American League East. Which looks a lot better than what could have been a 2½–game deficit and four big rungs of territory in the all–important Loss column for the Yankees.

Instead, New York is 64–52; Toronto 65–54.

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HUTCH WAS CLUTCH: DREW HUTCHISON STYMIED THE NEW YORK YANKEES ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT ROGERS CENTRE. CRAIG ROBERTSON TORONTO SUN

With the Blue Jays now embarking on an eight–game, eleven–day road trip to Philadelphia, Anaheim and Arlington, Tex., there is opportunity for John Gibbons to go with a four–man rotation prior to the next home–stand against Detroit and Cleveland. Given the wide disparity of results between home and road outings for Hutchison (10–1, 2.57 ERA at Rogers Centre / 2–1, 9.00 ERA on foreign turf), the club’s No. 5 man might be optioned to Buffalo for a couple of minor league starts.

***UPDATE***Monday afternoon: Hutchison has been optioned to the Bisons and the Blue Jays will go with a four–man rotation at Philadelphia, Anaheim and Arlington. David Price will start Friday night against the Angels and a week Wednesday against the Texas Rangers.

You could see elation all over Hutchison’s face when he walked toward the home dugout in the seventh inning — another crowd in excess of 46,000 happily on its feet. The embattled hurler looked into the audience; pounded fist into glove and offered a wave, having earned every decibel of adulation. But, the Jays must quickly forget the peeks and valleys of the Yankee series — which drew more than 141,000 fans while generating baseball passion unseen in these parts for 22 years (the Bombers will be back at the Dome Sep. 21–23, so hold your horses).

On the immediate horizon is a two–game mini–series against the worst team in the Majors — the 46–72 Philadelphia Phillies — Tuesday and Wednesday night. We can assume the environment at Citizen’s Bank Park will be church–like compared to the tumult of Rogers Centre, yet the games are no–less important to the Blue Jays, who must avoid an emotional decline. After Philadelphia — and a six–hour flight west — will come perhaps the biggest non–Division series of the remaining schedule.

To break its 22–year playoff drought, Toronto must either win the A.L. East or qualify as one of two Wild Card teams. Right now, the Jays and Baltimore Orioles would meet in the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre — the club with the better record having home–field. This, after the defending East Division champs swept Oakland at Camden Yards over the weekend while the Los Angeles Angels were losing three in Kansas City. As such, the Angels have fallen one–half game behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card and Toronto — leading the Orioles by 3½ — would be best to keep the Halos down next weekend in Anaheim.

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JOSE BAUTISTA GOT PICKED OFF AT SECOND BASE EARLY IN YESTERDAY’S GAME BUT LATER HIT A TWO–RUN HOMER, HIS 28th OF THE SEASON. FRED THORNHILL THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Blue Jays trip concludes with a three–game series (Aug. 25–26–27) against Texas. The Rangers — having won four in a row — are now just one length behind the Orioles for the second Wild Card.

So, the races are heating up on both fronts.

Did I mention Baltimore?

After the Blue Jays swept the Yankees in New York last week, I got carried away and referred to the Orioles as being “on the periphery” in the A.L. East. Not so fast. Baltimore still has seven head–to–head meetings with Toronto, including four in the final week of the schedule at Camden Yards. And, six games against the Yankees. So, Buck’s boys are very much alive for the Division and Wild Card, though Toronto and New York knocking off one another in seven more tilts will make it tough on the Orioles. But, again, that’s why they play the games.

HONORING THE ’85 BLUE JAYS

Buck Martinez emceed a wonderful pre–game ceremony at Rogers Centre yesterday as the Blue Jays commemorated their first playoff team — the 1985 version — which won the American League East over the Yankees and crafted a 3–1 series lead against Kansas City in the ALCS before losing in seven games. Martinez and Ernie Whitt were the catchers on that team. Also on hand yesterday were outfieldersGeorge Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield; first–baseman Willie Upshaw; the third–base platoon of Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg(referred to as “Mullin–Orge” back in the day); shortstop Tony Fernandez (who returned to play on the 1993 World Series team); pitchers Dave Stieb and Tom Henke (both members of the 1992 World Series champion).

As a tribute to 1985, the Jays wore their original, white–paneled caps in yesterday’s game but they erred, in my view, by not wearing their all–white uniforms. There were no alternate jerseys 30 years ago. The Jays played in white at home and powder–blue on the road. So, why did they choose to wear blue tops yesterday? The answer escapes me.

The ’85 Blue Jays still hold the franchise–record of 99 wins in a season. They captured the American League East with a 5–1 romp over New York on a blustery Saturday afternoon at old Exhibition Stadium. I still have Toronto newspaper fronts from the next morning:

YESTERDAY…

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AND TODAY…

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THE 1985 BLUE JAYS OUTFIELD OF (LEFT–TO–RIGHT) GEORGE BELL, LLOYD MOSEBY AND JESSE BARFIELD IS GREETED AT ROGERS CENTRE SUNDAY AFTERNOON.

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GEORGE BELL, 55, HUGS JOSE BAUTISTA. CRAIG ROBERTSON TORONTO SUN

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