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Kelly: With loss to Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays at edge of playoff hopes

A week ago, you felt sure that the Toronto Blue Jays could not fall completely out of the playoff picture.

After another gruesome loss on Friday – the third time in five games they've blown a late lead – they're now at the edge of the frame.

Toronto carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh-inning at Fenway. That's when the arsonists in the bullpen began doing their thing. A pair of them managed to burn down another contest. It finished 5-3 for the Red Sox.

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"Tomorrow's a big day," manager John Gibbons said afterward. "We'll break out tomorrow."

They'd better.

Because elsewhere, the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers are winning.

The upshot – after Friday's night results, Toronto now trails Baltimore by one game in the wild card race. If it were to end that way, Tuesday's wild-card game will be played in Maryland.

The more pressing problem is that the Jays' lead over Detroit for the final wild-card spot has crumbled to a half-game.

With two games remaining to the Jays (and three for Detroit), I refer you to the Internet and potential madness if you'd like to work out all the permutations.

Essentially, Toronto should try winning for a change. It would be a great service to the non-mathematically inclined.

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You sensed it might not go as planned in the prelims when Gibbons said, "We need one of those good, clean games."

He made it sound as if error-free baseball might act as a purgative for whatever the Jays have been doing recently.

Played in a light, steady rain, it wasn't clean. Starter Marco Estrada managed the trick of providing both quality and quantity. Estrada threw 109 pitches in just five innings. Once he was gone, it began drifting.

Joe Biagini, Toronto's all-purpose stopgap, was in his second inning in relief. The rookie is starting to look a little ragged, but it was bad luck that undid him on Friday.

With the inning's leadoff man standing on second, Boston's Dustin Pedroia pounded a pitch into the dirt two feet in front of the plate. Catcher Russell Martin picked it up and threw the ball past first base. It rolled under a tarp. One run scored. Pedroia advanced to second. Another hit tied it.

Biagini was replaced by Brett Cecil, the man who has in turn replaced the injured Joaquin Benoit. Cecil has looked good in the last while.

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Just as you'd started to think that, David Ortiz roped a short line drive into the stands in right. Game over.

I mean, they played more baseball, but you've been watching the Jays recently, right? This team isn't scuffling. It's snakebit, and edging toward cursed.

They put two men on base in the ninth. But it never felt like they were getting back into it.

Saturday's game is not technically a must-win, but it's sort of a must-win. Toronto will have to overcome a powerful magic to do so, since Boston is in the midst of a religious happening.

While every game here matters to the Jays, this weekend is Boston's chance to invest voluptuous cult-figure David Ortiz into Red Sox sainthood. Ceremonies are planed for every game. They've graven his image on the grass.

If this thing were any more exaggerated and lavish, it would end with Bostonians invading the field, pulling Ortiz apart with their hands and eating his flesh in order to consume his power.

Friday's ceremony was a reminder that Ortiz has a charitable foundation. A long reminder. In the rain. Even Ortiz looked a bit put out.

Across the way, he's presumptive heir – from a Boston perspective – looked on impassively.

At the end of the last regular season game in Toronto, Edwin Encarnacion was seen looking conspicuously emotional in the dugout post-game.

"You don't know what's going to happen after this year and you start thinking about it," Encarnacion said Friday.

To which Canadians interested in winning baseball might say, 'Uh oh.'

Toronto had the chance to sign Encarnacion to an extension during the spring. He's going to cost a lot more now. If Encarnacion's words and body language are any indicator, more than he suspects Toronto is willing to pay.

He was asked, "Is this still the place you would rather be and come back to?"

"Yes, you feel sad because I want to be here, but it's not my decision. Now we have to wait and see what's going to happen."

Encarnacion is not a fluent English speaker, so perhaps it's not fair to parse his words in that language, but two things stand out here.

First, it is his decision. He can sign for ten grand and a floor at the SkyDome hotel if he wants. The inference here is that there is a number that the Jays must meet in order to enter the Encarnacion sweepstakes. He doesn't seem hopeful that they're going to hit it.

Second, the "feel sad" bit suggests that he's already emotionally separating himself from Toronto.

That's the letdown to come. We can save it for later. Right now, the Jays should worry about the letdown in their midst.

After seven months of effort, they have two days left to either save or squander a season.

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