In foreign territory

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

And here come the New York Yankees ... tonight, tomorrow and Sunday.

They aren't the World Series defending champions. They aren't even the first-place Yankees.

With a $208 million US payroll, when they gathered in Tampa in the spring, the Yankees expected to be setting up their post-season rotation with 16 games remaining in the season.

TIME IS TICKING

Instead, they are in a two-pronged battle, chasing the Boston Red Sox in the American League East and battling the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland A's in the wild-card race.

They are a good series against Boston from turning it all around, but who knew they would be toppled routinely by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their $28 million payroll?

"I remember when the Yankees were second to last in our division," Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said, "I knew that wouldn't keep up, the cream always rises in this division."

The cream is rising, but the Yankees aren't at the top. Not yet.

"The fun part is we get to play a role in who is going to win this thing," Blue Jays pitcher David Bush said. "Hey, it's tough to make the post-season 11 years in a row, unless you're Atlanta (the Braves are headed for a 14th division title).

"We've played well against Boston all season and Tampa Bay has done well against the Yankees."

While most of the win-one, lose-one, win-two, lose-two Jays expressed surprise at the Yankees season, Roy Halladay did not.

"Even in the spring when they had so many pitchers at an advanced age I wondered about how they would do," Halladay said. "Then, the season started and Bernie Williams had showed his age, I mean he was good, but he wasn't the same.

"As good as they are and as much money as they have spent over the years, I always thought that they had good karma or chemistry over the years.

"It's tough to keep a run like that going."

Vernon Wells pointed to the Yankees losing starters Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright as a reason for the sub-par season.

"Then Chien-Ming Wang comes up, makes a couple of good starts and he gets hurt," Wells said.

Jays manager John Gibbons sees pitching as the No. 1 problem as well.

"It's late, but there is still time for things to change, it could turn in a hurry, you know the way things do when Boston and New York hook up.

"If the Yanks don't win the division, they'll win the wild card," Gibbons said. "New York knows how to win when it has to, plus Joe Torre holds things together."

Will the A's, the Yanks or the Indians -- or maybe even the Red Sox -- gain the wild-card berth? Reporting in from all outlying areas of the Jays clubhouse:

Russ Adams: "Boston has the bats going, but the wild card, I have no idea."

Wells: "It would be kind of cool to see a young team like Cleveland make it, they've come up through the system together, grown up together. It gives other teams hope."

Corey Koskie: "Casey Blake (a former Minnesota Twin, now with the Indians) is a good friend of mine, I'd like to see the Indians win."

Halladay: "The way Randy Johnson pitched his last time out was a good sign for New York. I've got to give the Yankees the edge in the wild card, Boston is better suited to win the division."

Zaun: "I've got my pick, but I'm not giving anyone any bulletin-board fodder."

The Jays will try to play like the Devil Rays in order to be spoilers and knock off the Yankees, tonight, tomorrow and Sunday.


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