Blue Jays not looking back

The Toronto Blue Jays put a dismal and turmoil-laced 2009 season to bed Sunday insisting that their simmering unrest is no longer boiling over and brighter days are ahead.

Baltimore Oriole Brian Roberts steals second base as Toronto Blue Jays Aaron Hill stops the throw Sunday. The Orioles won the season finale 5-4 in 11 innings.

Orioles 5 Blue Jays 4 (11 ings)

BALTIMORE — The Toronto Blue Jays put a dismal and turmoil-laced 2009 season to bed Sunday insisting that their simmering unrest is no longer boiling over and brighter days are ahead.

Bob Marley’s Is This Love blared in the clubhouse, perhaps ironically, before a 5-4 loss in 11 innings to the Baltimore Orioles that left them with a 75-87 mark this year, while Cito Gaston again suggested a conspiracy from outside the organization was behind Friday’s shocking revelations of player frustration with his approach.

As every corner of the franchise worked to paper over the differences Saturday, catcher Rod Barajas reaffirmed before the finale what several of his teammates admitted publicly Friday, that “there were various small issues. Just various issues that us as players felt we needed to get off our chests.”

That was done Saturday in a meeting between a small group of players and interim CEO Paul Beeston, who later addressed the entire team along with Rogers Media head Tony Viner and new GM Alex Anthopoulos, promoted to replace the fired J.P. Ricciardi.

Asked if the issues could have been addressed earlier, Barajas replied: “Yeah, they could have, absolutely. They could have been. They weren’t.”

It will now be up to Anthopoulos, a 32-year-old from Montreal who had been an assistant GM with the team, to decide whether or not a disconnect exists between Gaston and players, some of whom said privately there are problems with his approach, negativity and in-game management.

“Unfortunately you had to go through something that someone else planted here, I don’t think it came from my players,” said Gaston, who denies being negative. “The person who did that, it will come back to get him some kind of way. We might never find out who did it, but it will come back to get him. But right now, I feel a lot better that my players had nothing to do with it.”

Anthopoulos faces a daunting task, needing to sort through that mess, settle another set of problems with the coaching staff, and help shape a bigger-picture direction for the future.

The last is the biggest question, as the Blue Jays spent 2009 developing some young pitchers but lacked a clear philosophy guiding their decision-making. The path forward is unclear, with both adding free agents for a run in 2010, and dealing ace Roy Halladay to jump-start a rebuild on the table.

“I think you have to see what we have to spend before you can do any of those things,” said Gaston. “I think they’re going to have to get their budget together to see which way we’re going to go. …”

“(If) you’re giving up a pitcher like Doc, you might have to go back and say we’re not going to go out and get players who can help us contend and try to win, so you kind of back it up and say let’s regroup for a few years. It’s a lot of what-ifs.”

Rookie lefty Rick Romero is one highlight of a season gone bad, beginning the spring as an after-thought before emerging into the staff’s No. 2 starter behind Halladay. A no-decision after seven innings of four-run ball versus the Orioles left him at 13-9 for the season, with 178 innings logged and 141 strikeouts.

“It’s been a fun year. A lot of doubters out there and I kind of did what I had to do,” said Romero, the late-blooming sixth overall pick in 2005. “There are some small things I just got to clean up, and hopefully come back with a couple of new pitches. Looking at some left-handers that have been successful in this game, (Andy) Pettitte, (Jon) Lester with their cutters, I’m trying to come back a better pitcher.”

Solo shots by Edwin Encarnacion, who has shown some promise in the final weeks of the campaign, Jose Bautista and John McDonald, plus an RBI double by rookie Travis Snider, who Gaston said must win a job next spring, took care of the Toronto offence.

Brandon League (3-6) made two throwing errors on sacrifices in the bottom of the 11th, the second on Jeff Fiorentino’s bunt that allowed Michael Aubrey to score the winning run and complete a three-game Orioles sweep.

“Leaguer’s done a great job for us this year, I know he feels terrible,” said Gaston. “It happens that way sometimes.”

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