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Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Friday, Aug. 15. (PAUL BEATY/AP)
Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Friday, Aug. 15. (PAUL BEATY/AP)

Sliding Jays racing against time Add to ...

The first pitch in the bottom of the first inning sizzled in for a strike, a 94 mile-per-hour fastball.

Little did Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman realize it was something close to the high point of his evening.

The rookie got ahead on the first three batters he faced – all of them nevertheless reached base: double, hit batter, single, run.

Blink, four more runs have crossed.

“I look up, it was 5-1 and I was coming out of the game, it kind of happened quick. I felt like I made some good pitches, even the good pitches I made were hit for base hits,” he said a few hours later.

That would include a peach of a slider Stroman threw to Dayan Viciedo, which somehow ended up hugging the inside of the first base line for extra bases.

“One of those days, man, I don’t know,” he said ruefully. “You put it in the past, put your head down during the week and look forward to your next outing.”

The central challenge of major league baseball is the emotional grinder that is the schedule, it’s easy to forget that Stroman, so often brilliant this season, is still a first-year Jay learning the ropes.

The preternaturally confident New Yorker will surely have days like this again – his two-third of an inning before getting pulled were the shortest outing by a Toronto pitcher this season (Mike Redmond, the last guy to suffer the indignity, would later come on in relief and yield five more runs in less than an inning).

Problem is, the outing came against a team ostensibly ripe for the picking – the Chicago White Sox are fourth in the American League Central, their season dead in the water – at a time where Toronto’s players are anxiously looking for the signs of an incipient hot streak.

“I felt like it was a game that we needed too, that’s the most frustrating part,” Stroman said.

The simple truth is the Jays need most games these days – a sweep in Seattle has now been extended to a four-game slide, they are 3-10 in August.

There are still plenty of games left against Toronto's nearest division and wild card rivals - like Seattle, Baltimore and New York - so ground can be made up.

But the Jays are running out of time.

At least this one was out of hand earlyish – Melky Cabrera’s second-inning home run brought Toronto to within 5-4, but they would draw no closer – rather than a morale-sapping last-ditch collapse.

As far as silver linings go, it’s not all that shiny.

When Jays manager John Gibbons was asked after the game what the team needs to turn it around, he said “Win a ballgame. That’s all it takes. It’s not always that easy though.”

Toronto will have a chance to do just that on Saturday, when lefty Mark Buehrle pitches against his former team for the first time.

Buehrle, who has been a mentor of sorts to Stroman, is 4-3 since July 5, but will hope to recapture some of the magic that saw him start the season 10-1.

“I’m sure it’ll be different. I’m going to try not to make it too different for ns go out there and treat it as every other game. But I’m sure there’s going to be some emotions,” he said.

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