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Time to see if the Blue Jays are for real


Time to see if the Blue Jays are for real
And now for a quiet three days with the New York Yankees.

Not.

If anything, this series -- which opens tonight with Roy Halladay facing former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett -- sets up as a measuring stick of the Jays' early-season success.

It may also be one of the most anticipated and meaningful early-season series the Jays have played in recent memory. Toronto sits at the top of the American League East, no one's pick out of spring training for that kind of success, but certainly full marks for leading the league in hitting, combined with gutsy pitching despite injuries to five starters and closer B.J. Ryan.

In come the Yankees, their big payroll and big names carrying tradition and intrigue despite a slow start.

Some critics say the Jays have benefited from a soft schedule to open the season. The 22-12 club has played only three games against a divisional opponent (Baltimore).

The Jays' first-place worthiness is expected to be tested beginning today.

"Yeah, I really believe they are," manager Cito Gaston said of the Yankees as the consummate test.

"They certainly have a huge payroll and great players. The one thing I like about George (owner Steinbrenner) is that George tries to win every year. No matter what people say about him, he always tries to win. ... I had a drink with him once, and he was drinking ROOT beer at that time, but I got to know him and I really liked him. He always tries to get the best (players) over there."

The Yankees certainly haven't started the season in top form. The Jays have.

Toronto's success has bred confidence in the clubhouse. Beginning tonight, the team will need every ounce of that confidence.

With Alex Rodriguez returning from March hip surgery, the Yankees will field a mostly healthy lineup for the first time this season.

The visitors also have their three top pitchers on tap for the series -- Burnett, Andy Pettitte, who pitches well in Toronto, and CC Sabathia.

The matchup between Burnett and Halladay is being talked about around Baseball.

"I think the guys are looking forward to it because the fans enjoy it so much ... it's a chance to face A.J. and CC for the first time," Jays centre fielder Vernon Wells said. "A.J., everyone knows what he can do on the mound. It'll be a challenge. I've talked to him about this series and he's looking forward to it."

Halladay declined comment on the matchup with Burnett but, in spring training, he revealed the two pitchers had quite a rivalry in their first two years together.

The two grew to be closer friends last season, with Burnett absorbing everything he could from Halladay, considered one of Baseball's hardest-working pitchers. The result was a career-best 18-10 season, and a rich new contract from the Yankees in the off-season.

"I think he (Burnett) looked at Doc (Halladay) and saw what Roy did and (A.J.) learned a lot," Gaston said.

"The first day I managed this club (June 20), Roy got hit in the head by a line drive. The next day I was coming into the clubhouse and there was the two of them, Roy and A.J., and they were jogging in the street together so I said there's nothing wrong with them."

Burnett left the Jays on good terms so, while fans can expect fierce competitiveness between the pitcher and his former team tonight, there will be no ill will.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 12, 2009

8985---tigers-v-yankees--2006-mlb-playoffs
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