Blue Jays fall in playoff atmosphere

Blue Jays fall in playoff atmosphere

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays probably didn't expect Rogers Centre to suddenly become a hostile environment on Friday. Leave it to Red Sox fans to make the trek across the border to invade Toronto's home, turning the dome into Fenway Park North for at least one night.

The raucous crowd on hand cheered on every Boston hit and seemed to take delight in the dismantling of Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum. As Toronto steered toward an 8-4 loss, chants of "Let's go Red Sox!" shook the stadium, overwhelming any countering cries from the home faithful.

If the Jays wanted a playoff atmosphere for this crucial weekend series against the Red Sox, they certainly got it -- only not how they probably had hoped. Then again, Toronto was playing catch-up for most of the contest, creating more groans from its fans than anything else.

With the loss, Toronto (66-62) slid eight games behind Boston for the top spot in the American League Wild Card standings. The Jays want nothing more than to shift off the edge of that race and closer to contention, though the club can't afford any prolonged slumps. That makes the final two games of this set even more important now that another loss is in the books.

"It was very disappointing," Marcum said. "This is the team we're chasing, so we needed to come in here and win the series and try to sweep them. Obviously, we can't get the sweep, but we still have a chance to win the series and pick up a game on them."

To have a realistic chance at closing the gap in the playoff hunt, Toronto needs Marcum to return to the form he displayed in the season's first half. Since returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list on July 22, Marcum has been inconsistent and his woes returned against the rival Red Sox (74-54).

Marcum (8-6) -- known for his strong control and economic style -- labored through 46 pitches through the first two innings and had tallied 77 by the time Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston pulled him from the mound in the fourth inning. In that frame, Marcum's command wavered, leading to four Boston runs that put Toronto behind for good, 5-2.

"I thought he struggled with his control all ballgame," Gaston said. "I thought he had a lot of pitches within two innings -- he was in the 40s or so. I thought, from the start, he was struggling with his control. He has to be on with his control. Otherwise, he's going to have problems like he had."

In the first inning, Marcum yielded a solo home run to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, though the pitcher sidestepped further damage in the second and third. In the fourth inning, Marcum gave up a leadoff single to Boston's Jason Bay and then issued consecutive walks to load the bases with no outs.

Two pitches later, Marcum struck Alex Cora on the back with a pitch to bring home another run for the Red Sox, pulling the score into a 2-2 deadlock. That was a frustrating turn for Marcum, who then went on to allow three more Red Sox runners to cross home plate in the decisive inning.

"I'd rather them put the ball in play than give them a free run like that," Marcum said.

When Marcum's night was through, he had allowed five runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings. That marked his shortest start of the season, with the exception of a rain-shortened one-inning appearance on May 18. In fact, Marcum has logged five innings or fewer in four of his seven outings since coming off the DL after a bout with a right elbow injury.

Prior to the injury, Marcum pitched into the sixth inning in 14 of his 15 starts -- that one-inning showing again the exception. In the first half, Marcum posted a 2.65 ERA and allowed just 29 earned runs with 86 strikeouts and 27 walks over 98 2/3 innings. Since returning, he has a 6.19 ERA and has given up 25 earned runs with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks across 36 1/3.

Marcum insists that he's healthy and Gaston said he has no reason not to believe the pitcher.

"He's not complaining," Gaston said. "He's not saying anything, so to me, it's just getting some balls up in the strike zone. He has to pitch down and he's not doing that."

Despite his final line against the Red Sox, Marcum said his arm actually felt "the best it's felt all year."

"That may have had something to do with my command," he said. "I may have been trying to overthrow instead of sticking to my game plan of attacking the hitters and locating everything else."

The Jays' offense provided Marcum with a pair of two-run homers -- one from Alex Rios in the first inning and another by Lyle Overbay in the fourth. That was the extent of the damage against Boston's Paul Byrd (8-11), though, and the Red Sox put the game away with a trio of insurance runs following Marcum's exit.

Fortunately for the Jays, they have two more tries to gain ground on Boston this weekend, and nine more games against the Red Sox down the stretch.

"People are saying that we control our own destiny and it's true," Gaston said. "But you've got to win those games. You've got to go out and win those games. The weekend's not over."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.