Jays get shot at Wild Card leaders

Jays get shot at Wild Card leaders

CHICAGO -- Pitchers often will tell you they approach every start like the season depends on it.

Well, that literally might be the case when David Purcey meets up with the Red Sox in Friday's series opener at Fenway Park. If the Blue Jays are to have any hope of catching the Wild Card leaders, they'll need to get off on the right foot.

That's a lot of pressure, isn't it?

"No," Purcey said. "I felt more pressure when I was pitching against the Devil Rays the first time, because I had had a couple bad starts up to that point. And I wasn't necessarily trying to prove myself, but I wanted to have a good outing then.

"The [Rays] are a good team, as well. We're in the American League East -- all the teams are really good. You're going to constantly have to go out and execute your pitches."

The Blue Jays have adjusted their starting rotation, and A.J. Burnett, Jesse Litsch and Roy Halladay all will throw on short rest against the Red Sox. That setup, manager Cito Gaston said, gives Toronto the best chance to come out of the four-game series with at least three wins. And taking three out of four is perhaps the worst the Blue Jays can do and keep their playoff hopes alive.

At the very least, Toronto needs to perform well enough to make its series against Boston a week from now at Rogers Centre a meaningful one.

"If you think about it, it doesn't really matter what team you face, as long as you go out there and try to execute your pitches," Purcey said. "That's the mentality that I'm going to take out there."

Gaston, for one, will be treating these four games like a playoff series.

"It's certainly going to be that kind of atmosphere," the manager said. "I'd have to think everybody is just as pumped up to go play in Boston and have a chance to maybe steal the Wild Card from those guys. Even so, it's just good that this team can go through something like this and prepare themselves for next year, when hopefully they're chasing us."

Pitching matchup
TOR: LHP David Purcey (3-5, 5.23 ERA)
On Sunday, Purcey spun eight shutout innings against the Rays, earning his first victory since Aug. 13. The rookie left-hander scattered six hits and finished with seven strikeouts and three walks. The key for Purcey simply was throwing strikes to avoid being behind in the count too often. His two best starts of the season have been against Tampa Bay, and he's thrown 70 percent of his pitches for strikes in those starts. In his other eight outings, Purcey's strike rate has been 57 percent. Purcey, who has never faced Boston, is 1-3 with a 5.73 ERA in four road starts this season.

BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (8-10, 4.11 ERA)
Wakefield's 500th appearance as a member of the Red Sox was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. He lasted just 1 2/3 innings, the second-shortest start of his career. In that brief period, he allowed seven runs on four hits, four walks and a hit batter. The knuckleballer retired the first five batters he faced, but he was unable to get out of the second inning, allowing nine straight hitters to reach base before being pulled. Kevin Cash, who caught Wakefield, said the right-hander's knuckleball had great movement. But the Rangers became patient in an effort to see if Wakefield could keep his knuckleball in the strike zone, and the veteran was unable to. Wakefield is 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts against the Blue Jays this season.

Gaston was asked before Thursday's series finale with the White Sox if he felt the previous night's 6-5 loss, which snapped a 10-game winning streak, might relieve some of the pressure the Jays are facing during the final two weeks. Though Gaston agreed with the premise of the question, he couldn't figure any positives to take from the loss. "I can understand what you're saying, but I never find anything good about losing," Gaston said. "Even though we caught a break [with Boston's loss], if we win, it's even better. I know what you're saying, but I always focus on trying to win." ... Vernon Wells is batting .333 (12-for-36) in his previous eight games. He has eight home runs since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 10.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• FAN 590

Up next
• Saturday: Blue Jays (A.J. Burnett, 17-10, 4.31) at Red Sox (Paul Byrd, 11-11, 4.39), 12:35 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Blue Jays (Jesse Litsch, 11-8, 3.70) at Red Sox (Bartolo Colon, 4-2, 4.09), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 18-10, 2.77) at Red Sox (Jon Lester, 14-5, 3.23), 1:35 p.m. ET

David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.