Here’s to 2009!!

Halladay wins 20th in Jays home finale
TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays began Thursday night with an address from team president Paul Godfrey affirming the futures of GM J.P. Ricciardi and manager Cito Gaston, and capped it by celebrating ace Roy Halladay’s 20th win.
Thus ended the home portion of their disappointing 2008 season, an 8-2 victory over the New York Yankees allowing their franchise pitcher to post the seventh 20-win season in team history after bigger things had played out behind the scenes.
The Blue Jays (84-75) officially settled the key pillars of their management structure before hitting the road for three games in Baltimore to close out the campaign, with Godfrey confirming Ricciardi’s return after Gaston’s two-year contract extension was announced.
“To me, it says we’re going to continue to try and win and that’s important for me,” said Halladay. “I like what Cito has done in the time he’s been here. I think we’ve gone in some good directions and I’ve always trusted J.P. …
“I like that they’re coming back. I feel confident the organization will continue to go the right way.”
As for his own future, Godfrey refused to tip his hand, although all signs point to his departure. He said a decision would come “probably next week sometime” and if he does indeed step down, bringing Ricciardi and Gaston back and his talk with the team would be his final acts after eight years in his role.
“I thanked all the players,” Godfrey said, “basically told them that I’m sure they’re as disappointed as everyone else about not making the playoffs, but that we honestly believe that we have the nucleus of a great team here.
“And I said that those who can come back, should come back next year.”
He denied looking in the direction of A.J. Burnett, who can opt out of his contract after the World Series, when making that last comment. The expected departure of the enigmatic right-hander is one of the main issues the team faces this winter.
With Thursday’s victory Halladay (20-11) and Burnett (18-10) surpassed Jack Morris (21) and Juan Guzman (16) as the winningest duo in team history, a 1-2 punch they’d be hard-pressed to match without Burnett.
“He’s been huge for me,” said Halladay. “To have somebody that’s right there with you, I really felt like we kind of pushed each other at times.”
It will take big money to keep Burnett, and with about US$70 million already committed next season, the Blue Jays are only likely to have in the neighbourhood of $20-$25 million to spend barring a payroll hike.
Godfrey also recently submitted cost projections for 2009 with player salaries at the top of the list.
“I think it will be an appropriate payroll,” said Godfrey, “but I can’t say it will be significantly higher.”
A payroll around $95 million this season earned them a 47-34 home record and helped them draw a total of 2,399,786 fans, up for the sixth straight season. There was a crowd of 44,346 on hand to watch Halladay complete his second 20-win season.
The big right-hander, the club’s foundation, mowed through the Yankees (87-72), allowing just two runs on six hits and a walk in his career-high matching ninth complete game. He struck out five, giving him a career-high 206 for the season.
And in a rare gesture of emotion, he traded hugs with his teammates and tipped his cap to the crowd before heading into the clubhouse.
“I want everybody to know how much I appreciate them and how important they were in this,” said Halladay. “Really it was more that than being excited about the number, I just felt like there were a lot of guys who helped me do it.”
The Blue Jays are expected to start talks on a contract extension with Halladay, who is signed through 2010, in the off-season and he’s open to it.
“As long as we continue to make that effort to be that post-season team,” he said, “then you can sign me up.”
Win No. 20 was a highlight for fans in an event-filled season in which the Blue Jays locked up young cornerstones Alex Rios and Aaron Hill shortly before the home opener, cut ties with DH Frank Thomas two weeks later, fired manager John Gibbons on June 20, brought back Gaston to replace him, won 10 straight games in late August in early September in a too-little, too-late run at the post-season, and ultimately settled for what is likely to be fourth in the AL East.
The Blue Jays were 35-39 when Gibbons was fired following a three-game sweep in Milwaukee and have been 49-36 since.
“We felt very strongly that what we saw during the Milwaukee series was a problem symptomatic of the leadership and coaching of the club that if left, would lead to a very unsatisfactory conclusion this year,” said Godfrey.
Not that the inevitable conclusion looming this weekend is particularly palatable either, but it’s better than the fiasco they were headed for. More offensive nights like this one early in the season would have made the difference.
“It was a good night,” said Gaston.
Vernon Wells erased an early 1-0 deficit with a two-run shot off Carl Pavano (4-2) in the third and after Joe Inglett’s RBI single, added a two-run single in the fourth.
“The thing with (Halladay), if you can give him a few, he doesn’t need too many,” said Wells.
Travis Snider, the top prospect who’s made quite a September impression, and Gregg Zaun, in his final days with the team, ripped RBI doubles in the fifth and Marco Scutaro’s RBI single in the seventh made it 8-2.
The Yankees scratched out a run on Robinson Cano’s RBI single in the third and picked up another when Cody Ransom scored on Francisco Cervelli’s double play ball in the fifth.
Notes: A day after serenading Burnett with a standing ovation and chanting his name to prompt a curtain call, a sign in the outfield read “A.J. Stay.” … Snider batted eighth for the second straight game. … Wells’ first two RBIs of the night gave moved him past Lloyd Moseby’s 651 for fourth on the club’s all-time list.