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Mound matchup a fan's delight

Mound matchup a fan's delight
Paul Beeston says he isn't being coy by refusing to predict the attendance for the three-game series between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees. It's anybody's guess.

"I know we can expect more than we've been getting but, if you want an accurate figure out of me, call me the morning after. I'm just one more curious person. I'm not saying a number," the interim chief executive officer of the American League East division leaders said.

If not today, then when? Neither hockey's Toronto Maple Leafs nor basketball's Toronto Raptors made the playoffs, and the mound matchup should be irresistible for Baseball fans: Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay counters free-agent defector A.J. Burnett in the series opener today at Rogers Centre.

Toronto is averaging just 20,014 fans at the gate this season, down some 6,500 from the reported average last season. Despite a strong start on the field, the club ranks 27th of 30 major-league teams in attendance. Only the Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals are drawing fewer fans.

"Ascribe it to the economy, and bad weather that doesn't make people think of Baseball," Beeston said.

"A number of people think we're playing well now, but they want to wait and find out before they put their money down. Well, we're about to find out."

Burnett opted out of his Jays contract to sign a five-year, $82.5-million (U.S.) deal with the Yankees after going 18-10 with a 4.07 earned-run average and 231 strikeouts in 2008. With the Yankees, the right-hander is 2-0 with a 5.26 ERA, as he faces his former team for the first time.

Without him, the Blue Jays (22-12) have had nine pitchers start at least two games already. Yet, led by Halladay (6-1, 3.29), the staff ranks fourth in the AL with a 4.11 ERA, compared with the Yankees' rank of 13th (5.79 ERA).

"It's funny, because when we parted ways, I told [Halladay], 'Thanks for everything. You've been a huge influence,' " Burnett told the Yankees' official website. "And he said, 'Thanks. I learned a lot from you, too.' I kind of laughed. 'What did you learn from me, dude?' "

The Blue Jays still have something to prove despite the AL's best record, as they've yet to face any of the AL East's presumptive top contenders. A three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles has been their only action within the division.

Following the Yankees (15-18), the Chicago White Sox are in for four days, including the Victoria Day weekend (May 15 through 18). At the end of the month, there's a three-game home stand against the Boston Red Sox (May 29 through 31).

The uncertain economy has made attending live sporting events a frill for a lot of spectators. Season-ticket sales have taken a hit. Fans are keeping tabs at home - Rogers Sportsnet has reported a 6-per-cent climb in its TV viewership in the first month of the 2009 season - and hoping the Jays' bats keep booming in support of the club's unheralded pitchers until better times are back financially and they can witness the revival in person.

"We've got challenges ahead, no matter what we're doing now," Beeston said. "It's a long season, and you can't count on anything yet. The guys who are pitching now are doing a terrific job. ... If I had an early Christmas wish, it would be to keep going at the rate they're going."

Injured Jays pitchers Casey Janssen and Ricky Romero are throwing rehabilitation games in the minors this week, while Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan also remain on the disabled list.

Wire services contributed

to this report.



Notes The Toronto Blue Jays enter today leading the majors in runs scored (204) and team batting average (.284). They'll face a New York Yankees pitching staff that ranks second-last in earned-run average (5.79). ... Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay has won his past five starts against the Yankees and is 15-5 with a 2.86 ERA in his career against them. In three home starts last season against New York, Halladay was 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and two complete games.

Next game Today, New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, 7:07 p.m. EDT

Probable Pitchers Jays RHP Roy Halladay (6-1, 3.29 ERA) v. Yankees RHP A.J. Burnett (2-0, 5.26)

TV Rogers Sportsnet

James Christie

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 12, 2009

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