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Ted Lilly haunts Blue Jays

A thoroughly miserable homestand ended with yet another lost weekend for the Toronto Blue Jays, who keep drifting further and further from relevance in the AL East standings.


CUBS 7 - BLUE JAYS 4

A thoroughly miserable homestand ended with yet another lost weekend for the Toronto Blue Jays, who keep drifting further and further from relevance in the AL East standings.

Ted Lilly and Reed Johnson helped send their former teammates to a 10th loss in 14 games Sunday afternoon, leading the way in a 7-4 interleague win for the Chicago Cubs.

Afterwards, a glum-faced John Gibbons sat in the manager's office and tried to explain a 4-9 June on the heels of a 20-10 May, as players walked quietly through the funereal clubhouse.

"We're playing good enough to stay close but not good enough to win," said Gibbons. "I don't know how to sum it any more than that.

"We struggled in April, played very good in May. We've been in a lot of games this month, we're either not getting that big hit or that big shut-down out or whatever it is. We're just not good enough right now; that's all there is to it."

Asked if he was questioning his group's talent, he responded: "These are my guys, I'll live and die with them. I'm not questioning the talent, we're just not getting it done. We got it done in May, we're not getting it done now."

Adding to the woes was a budding controversy in which A.J. Burnett suggested to the Chicago Sun-Times that he wouldn't mind being traded to the Cubs. While some on the team tried to fluff it off and Burnett insisted his loyalty was to the Blue Jays, the timing of it couldn't be worse for a team that's reeling right now.

The Blue Jays were a season best five games over .500 on May 30 before their current run dropped them to 35-36. They went 3-6 on the homestand, losing series to Baltimore, Seattle and the Cubs (45-25) to fall 8 1-2 games behind division-leading Boston.

"We don't need to worry about anyone else," said centre-fielder Vernon Wells. "If you're not playing well you know where you're going to be sitting."

That would be in the basement, a half-game behind the Orioles after Lilly baffled his former team for six innings while Johnson, whose three-run homer off Roy Halladay keyed Saturday's 6-2 win, scored twice and made three great catches on the warning track in left.

Johnson singled and scored in the three-run third against Jesse Litsch (7-3) while Lilly (7-5) allowed just one hit while walking five before a Father's Day crowd of 40,738.

"Those guys did what everyone wants to do when they come back to (face) their former team," said Wells, "and that's beat them and do what they can to make the other team hurt."

Some of the frustration boiled over in the ninth when Gibbons was ejected after Marco Scutaro was called out on a close play at first. Wells' sacrifice fly brought home a too-little, too-late run before Kerry Wood nailed things down.

Lilly was facing the Blue Jays for the first time since spurning a similar offer from Toronto to sign a US$40-million, four-year deal with Cubs at the 2006 winter meetings, and delivered one his best outings in what has thus far been an uneven season.

The performance was reminiscent of his three solid yet frustrating seasons in Toronto, nibbling to batters he should go after, unnecessarily running up his pitch count, but leaving his team in good position to win.

"It's nice to come in here and pitch well and everything but I'm not going to take it much further than that," said Lilly. "I need to win games for this team and that's it."

Lilly escaped his only two jams unscathed.

After RBI singles by Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee and Jim Edmonds opened a 3-0 lead in the third, Lilly walked three batters in the bottom of the inning but the Blue Jays failed to capitalize.

With runners on first and second and one out, Scutaro swung at a 1-0 pitch and hit into a fielder's choice. Scott Rolen then walked to load the bases, but Wells swung at a first-pitch cutter and popped out weakly to second to end the inning.

"I played with Vernon for three years and I'm sure that they want to get their hits off me and I want to get them out," said Lilly. "I made a good pitch to get Vernon out with the bases loaded."

Then in the sixth, Wells reached on an error by shortstop Ryan Theriot and Kevin Mench followed with a walk. Up came Rod Barajas, whose drive to left took Johnson to the wall where it fell into his glove. Brad Wilkerson then grounded out.

That proved costly as the Cubs opened things up with a four-run seventh. Johnson scored for a second time on Lee's two-run single off Shawn Camp and Aramis Ramirez followed with a two-run blast that left nothing but the ambience for fans to enjoy.

Alex Rios' sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning prevented the shutout while Gregg Zaun, activated from the disabled list before the game, hit a two-run shot in the eighth off Neal Cotts to make it 7-3.

Litsch didn't pitch poorly, but gave up five runs in 5 1-3 innings on eight hits and a walk. He's now winless in his past three starts and lost for the first time in six home starts.

"When he's using all his pitches he's much more effective," said Gibbons. "But he hung tough, he kept us right there until it exploded on us with their big guys in the middle."

Notes: Rolen left the game in the seventh after fouling a ball of his foot. X-rays were negative and he expects to play Tuesday. ... Curtis Thigpen was optioned to triple-A Syracuse to make room for Zaun. ... There was a three-minute delay in the third inning because of the moving shadows in the infield caused by the roof's closure. ... The Cubs planned to spend Sunday night in Toronto before leaving at 7:30 a.m. Monday for Cooperstown, N.Y., to play in the Hall of Fame Game. Manager Lou Piniella says he'll try to get his regulars as much rest as he can. "They'll play an inning or two and that's the end of it," he said, adding that the team would call up about 15 minor-leaguers to finish things out. ... Ryan Dempster of Gibsons, B.C., starts Tuesday for the Cubs against Tampa Bay. ... Piniella manages his first game against the Rays since parting ways with them in 2005.

 
 
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