Jays lacking killer instinct

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

The Blue Jays locker room was a sombre place yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it's always that way after a loss, but somehow this one felt different. This one couldn't be dismissed with a "let's get 'em tomorrow."

Everybody in the room knows the math and now so many of those early-season defeats are putting a tight squeeze on Toronto's vague wild-card hopes.

No disrespect intended to the Baltimore Orioles, who have a better post-all-star record (19-14) than do the Blue Jays (19-16), but this was one of those games that a team dedicated to making the playoffs simply has to win. There are so many elements that have to be present in a winning team and one of them is a killer instinct. The Jays may think they have that, but it hasn't been evident.

So many times this season, the Jays have lacked that one key hit that would tip a pitcher over the edge. We take you back to the second inning of what turned out to be a 5-3 Baltimore victory. At this point, though, the Jays were trailing 3-1, having given away three unearned runs in the top of the inning. Matt Stairs responded with a leadoff homer to cut the Baltimore lead to a run. Three of the next four batters hit singles against noted Jay-slayer Steve Trachsel. That sequence also included a perfectly executed squeeze play by shortstop John McDonald. Now, with runners at first and second, the score tied and one out, Reed Johnson hit into a rally-killing double play.

From there, Trachsel got on a roll and erased 12 of the next 13 hitters he would face and neither he, nor relief pitchers Jim Hoey and Danys Baez, allowed another Toronto run.

"The bottom line is, we've got to win some games," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "This was one we thought we should get."

Conversely, the Orioles made the most of their opportunities, one in particular that was given to them in the top of the second by Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill. Aubrey Huff was on second after a leadoff double against his former Tampa Bay bat-boy Jesse Litsch. When Melvin Mora hit a sharp grounder to Hill, instead of taking the sure out at first base, the Jays infielder tried to get the lead runner at third.

The throw hit Huff in the back and everybody was safe. So, instead of having a runner at third with one out, the Orioles had runners at first and third with nobody out.

They eventually cashed in three unearned runs in the inning.

It's easy to dump on Hill but by the same token, the out was there to be had and a better throw would have made him a hero, if only for the moment. It was still early and the Jays did come back to tie the score, but Trachsel never gave them another chance to take the lead.

"We were battling but it seemed like we just couldn't answer them," lamented Lyle Overbay, who also made an error, one that didn't cost the Jays any runs.

"We kind of had them on the ropes and couldn't put that dagger in them. It's getting to that point where we can't allow these games to happen. We don't want to be looking back in September at these games and wondering: 'What if?' "

It is so bizarre that this Blue Jays team has failed so miserably in the clutch. If you had told Gibbons back on April 1 that, in the third week of August, he would be managing the third-best pitching staff in the American League, a cadre of starters that could produce nine quality starts in a row, he would have signed that scorecard right then and there.

Back then, the offence was a given but the pitching outlook was shaky at best. Instead, the offence has been sporadic and unreliable and the pitching has been as steady as a rock.

Now, as the games dwindle down to just 40 remaining, this team struggles to put together even a modest winning streak. The most it has won in a row this season is five. The furthest above .500 it has been is three games, which was before yesterday's misfire.

If there is a killer instinct alive and well in the Blue Jays locker room, they'd better not wait to unleash it.


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