Jays slump into break

Even with a better-than-expected record through half of the season, manager Cito Gaston wasn’t willing to give the Toronto Blue Jays a pass heading into the all-star break.

Toronto Blue Jays catcher John Buck (left) hangs his head as Boston Red Sox Darnell McDonald celebrates his two run home run during the Red Sox’s 3-2 win in Toronto on Sunday.

Toronto Blue Jays catcher John Buck (left) hangs his head as Boston Red Sox Darnell McDonald celebrates his two run home run during the Red Sox’s 3-2 win in Toronto on Sunday.

Red Sox 3 Blue Jays 2

TORONTO — Even with a better-than-expected record through half of the season, manager Cito Gaston wasn’t willing to give the Toronto Blue Jays a pass heading into the all-star break.

After losing 3-2 to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, the Jays entered the break at 44-45. It’s the same record they held after 89 games last season when they still had ace pitcher Roy Halladay, who was traded to Philadelphia for prospects in December.

“I know it’s good but I’m always not satisfied with just saying good,” said Gaston. “That’s so easy to go and say well we’ve done great this half. I’d just like to seed us do better. But everybody expected us to be way behind Baltimore in last place and we haven’t done that. I don’t think we’re going to do that. I think we’re going to come back and play a little bit better (than) in the first half.”

Starting pitching and the ability to hit home runs have been bright spots for the Jays throughout the season, and they remained Toronto’s strengths Sunday.

Aaron Hill hit his 12th homer of the season to score Adam Lind, who had singled in the seventh inning to pull the Blue Jays to within one run. The homer ended the outing for Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (6-3) who allowed six hits. Jonathan Papelbon picked up his 20th save.

Although Hill and Lind have struggled, the Blue Jays lead the major leagues with 136 home runs led by Jose Bautista’s 24. The Red Sox are next with 118 after consecutive homers by Darnell McDonald and David Ortiz produced all three runs against Jesse Litsch (0-4) in the sixth inning.

Litsch took a no-hitter into the sixth, got two strikeouts and then gave up a double to former Blue Jay Marco Scutaro. McDonald followed with his sixth homer of the season and Ortiz added his 18th.

Litsch allowed four hits and a walk in seven innings in his sixth start since returning to the rotation June 13 one year after reconstructive elbow surgery. He has been alternating good and bad starts and there has been a question about whether he will continue in the rotation.

Asked where he feels he has made the most progress, Litsch said, “mechanically, probably. You know, just being able to stay within myself and not trying to do anything more than I’ve done in the past.”

He said he wasn’t thinking about a no-hitter in the sixth. His only base runner to that point had been a two-out walk to Ortiz in the fourth.

“I was just going out there doing my job,” Litsch said. “It was a 0-0 game and so you’re just trying to (avoid making) a mistake and give up the home run. The hit came, then the home run came and then the other home run came. That’s pretty much the ballgame right there.”

Both homers were on cutters, a pitch that had been working well for him all afternoon.

Despite dire predictions of a 100-loss season after the Halladay trade, the Jays have three players going to Tuesday’s all-star game in Anaheim — centre-fielder Vernon Wells, catcher John Buck and Bautista who plays right field and third base.

Shortstop Alex Gonzalez could have been a candidate, too. He has 17 homers and 50 RBIs and Sunday had two hits and made a couple of excellent defensive plays, which he has been doing all season.

It would help if Lind and Hill showed some of the form they had last year.

“I think everybody would like a break,” Hill said. “The guys didn’t play that bad. We’ve got some guys going to the all-star game and maybe some guys that maybe should have been going to the all-star game. We’ve had some guys had a great first half and a lot to build off of. It was good to see what the pitchers did.

“There were a lot of positives in the first half.”

Hill enters the break batting .189 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs. “Obviously I would have liked to have done a little better,” he said. “But you’ve just to keep going. You’ve got to think positive.”

Notes: Attendance at Rogers Centre was 26,062 on Sunday and on Saturday it was 35,037. . . Boston third baseman Adrian Beltre came out of the game in the sixth inning with Eric Patterson taking second and Bill Hall moving to third. Beltre strained his left hamstring running on a groundout in the fifth. . . Shaun Marcum (7-4, 3.44 ERA), who is on the disabled list with a sore elbow, had a side session Sunday and will return to the rotation in Baltimore next Sunday, assuming another side session on Thursday goes well. . . The Blue Jays return from the all-star break on Friday with Ricky Romero (6-6, 3.71 ERA) making the start followed by Brandon Morrow (5-6, 4.86 ERA). . . After Baltimore the Blue Jays play three games in Kansas City and four in Detroit.

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