How low can they go?
With the games dwindling down - thankfully - to a precious few in the 2009 regular season, that is the one pertinent question surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays these days.
You get the sense the end can't come fast enough for this beat-up squad, which entered last night's game against the Baltimore Orioles in fourth place in the American League East, a whopping 281/2 games back of the division-leading New York Yankees.
That margin is the most the Blue Jays have trailed a division leader since the end of the 2004 season, when they finished 33 1/2 games in arrears of the Yankees. Playing at a .383 (23-37) clip since the all-star break will do that.
Last night, at least, there was a reprieve as the Blue Jays (67-83) prevailed 9-2 in the first of a three-game set, snapping a four-game losing string.
The Orioles (60-90) have now lost five in a row.
The series against Baltimore is Toronto's second last at home this season.
After that, the Seattle Mariners move in for a four-game set and then the Blue Jays conclude their sorry act on the road against the Boston Red Sox and these same Orioles at Camden Yards.
Certainly the fans have already tuned this team out.
Last night's puny announced attendance was 11,598, which is about the norm at Rogers Centre of late.
When Ace, the Blue Jays mascot, got up on top of the Toronto dugout and tried to exhort the gathering to yell out "Lets Play Ball" before the start of the game, the silence was embarrassingly deafening.
One of the biggest cheers was reserved when the roof began to open early in the contest.
In Toronto's previous home series against the Minnesota Twins this month, the Jays averaged 12,315 over the course of the four-game set.
That includes one game that attracted just 11,159, the lowest for a Jays game in the history of the domed stadium.
This season the Jays are averaging 23,433, down considerably from 29,664 last season.
For Toronto manager Cito Gaston, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to rectify matters for next season.
Just win, baby.
"The fans were coming out when we were winning," Gaston noted. "They were supporting us. And I think that's what we have to do. We have to put a winning club out there on the field and I think they'll come back."
It's too late for that this year, especially with Gaston's roster continuing to shrink.
Gaston all but confirmed yesterday that Marco Scutaro, his starting shortstop, is through for the season after injuring his right foot during Sunday's game in Tampa Bay against the Rays.
"I'm pretty sure that he's probably not going to play the rest of the season," Gaston said.
Scutaro, who has become just the fourth shortstop since 1940 to total at least 35 doubles and 90 walks in a single season, is still awaiting the results of a magnetic resonance imaging procedure he had last night to confirm his fate.
He has been battling plantar fasciitis for the past two months and he heard a loud pop on Sunday going after a grounder. Until then, the veteran Venezuelan player is trying his best to remain optimistic.
"Hopefully play next week, I don't know," he said, his right foot encased in a large, black plastic boot. "We'll see."
The timing for an injury is not great for Scutaro, who will become a free agent at the end of the season.
"Whatever's going to happen is going to happen," he said. "I've already played 140 games already. I don't think five, six, 10 more games is going to make a difference."
John McDonald got the start at shortstop for the Blue Jays and he celebrated with a home run - just his third of the season - in the two-run Toronto sixth inning in which the Blue Jays took a 5-1 lead.
Lyle Overbay led off the inning with a home run, his 15th of the year.
Baltimore took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Felix Pie singled off Toronto starter David Purcey, scoring Nick Markakis from third base.
The Blue Jays scored three in the third to take a 3-1 lead, highlighted by a two-run scoring single by Adam Lind, giving him 106 on the year.
After giving up Baltimore lone run in the second, Purcey (1-2) was masterful, gaining his first win in his second game since getting called up from Triple A, allowing just four Baltimore hits over 7 2/3 innings of work.
NOTES Jesse Litsch, who has missed most of the season after having Tommy John surgery in June, was spotted at his locker in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse before last night's game. When it was suggested to Litsch that he might get the start for today's second game of the series against the Baltimore Orioles he responded, "I wish." Litsch is just visiting with the team this week, according to Jays manager Cito Gaston, and is still a ways off from doing any throwing. … Gaston said Brian Tallet's sore right foot has recovered sufficiently enough to allow him to start tonight's game against the Orioles.
NEXT Tuesday night in Toronto, against the Baltimore Orioles, 7:07 p.m. EDT.
PROBABLE PITCHERS Jays LHP Brian Tallet (7-9, 5.31) v. Orioles LHP Mark Hendrickson (5-5, 4.47).
TV Rogers Sportsnet.
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