Sans the threat of Soriano at the plate, the Jays once again used stellar pitching to pave the way for just the fourth win in the past 12 contests for Toronto, which continues its dance with a .500 record. Powered by a pair of well-timed homers, the Jays moved a game over the break-even mark on this night -- one that had manager John Gibbons in a smiling mood.
"Nice everything," said Gibbons, summing up Toronto's effort. "It was a good ballgame against the team with the best record in the game. We played very good. We needed that one in a lot of ways. We really needed that one."
Toronto (35-34) needed this one in the sense that the club could've let the recent series against Seattle get the club too down. The Jays needed it, because the showing by their bullpen helped overshadow some of the recent struggles the group has experienced.
Jays closer B.J. Ryan, who had already taken three losses and blown two saves this month, entered the ninth and slammed the door on a potential comeback for the Cubs (43-25). Before Ryan's entrance, a quartet of Toronto relievers held Chicago's potent lineup in check after an abbreviated outing by starter A.J. Burnett.
"Our relievers picked me up today," said Burnett, who toiled through 33 pitches in the first inning and was forced from the game with no outs in the sixth.
With the Jays clinging to a 3-1 lead, Burnett (6-6) opened the sixth inning by yielding a single to Chicago's Kosuke Fukudome and walking catcher Geovany Soto. At that, Gibbons pulled the plug on Burnett's night and turned to right-hander Brian Wolfe.
Cubs center fielder Jim Edmonds drilled the first pitch he saw from Wolfe back up the middle, where the ball grazed off the right hand of second-base umpire Jeff Nelson before skipping into center field. Fukudome would've scored on the hit, but Nelson ruled the play dead.
Fukudome was forced to retreat back to third base for a bases-loaded situation, rather than head to the visitors' dugout after plating a second Chicago run. Wolfe then struck out Mark DeRosa and allowed an RBI single to Eric Patterson, but the pitcher escaped further harm by inducing an inning-ending double play.
"We caught a break, hitting the umpire there -- a big break," Gibbons said. "The key was [Wolfe] got that double play. There was a chance it could've exploded on us."
Wolfe couldn't have agreed more.
"It was a big break for us," said Wolfe, referring to the line drive that bounced off Nelson. "That definitely would've scored a run."
Instead, Toronto was able to continue on with its 3-2 lead, which came courtesy of the club's first multi-homer inning of the season. In the third, Matt Stairs and Scott Rolen connected for back-to-back home runs against Chicago right-hander Sean Gallagher, putting the Jays ahead, 3-0.
It wasn't an intimidating lead by any means, but it was one that held up for Burnett, who was charged with two runs on four hits over his five-plus frames. Burnett struggled with his command, walking four batters and hitting another, but he mixed in seven strikeouts and exercised sound damage control.
The best example of that came in the opening inning, when Burnett issued two walks and gave up a single to load the bases. With his 33rd pitch of the evening, during which he'd log 111 tosses, Burnett induced an inning-ending fly ball off the bat of Soto.
"He had his back against the wall in the first," Gibbons said of Burnett. "But he got the flyout to get out of that. Then he settled in a little bit."
It was just one of the many breaks that swayed in Toronto's favor, helping to overcome another low output of run support. Then again, the Blue Jays' pitching staff can make a one-run lead seem insurmountable at times.
"Our bullpen is pretty solid down there," said Wolfe, referring to the late-inning arms. "I knew once we got the ball to those guys we'd be all right."