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BLUE JAYS WON'T GO AWAY

When it comes to the American League wild-card race, most of the talk has been about the upstart Athletics. Or about the back-to-back Indians-Red Sox doubleheaders that begin today.

But you still can't forget about the Toronto Blue Jays. They're lurking just three games behind Oakland after stomping the New York Yankees, 16-3, Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series at the SkyDome.

The Jays' goal is to stay alive by Sept. 29. That's the day they open a season-ending three-game series at Cleveland, where they hope they can simply earn their first postseason berth since 1993 on the field without help from other sources.

It's going to be tough to pass three teams, but the final 12 games of the schedule are in Toronto's favor. After the Yankees leave town, the Blue Jays host the woeful Devil Rays for four games and are at Baltimore for three. Through Tuesday, Tampa Bay and Baltimore have combined for 14 straight losses.

"Hopefully we can take advantage of some of these teams coming up," admitted slugger Carlos Delgado, who had three hits and two RBIs. "Then we can go to Cleveland and have our chance. It's all we can ask."

The giddy mood in the Toronto clubhouse was a far cry from the atmosphere at mid-afternoon. Only three hours before the first pitch, ace David Wells (19-6) had to be scratched after having a case of gout flare up in his right big toe. Wells, the AL leader in wins, is now scheduled to pitch Thursday against Orlando Hernandez.

Not to worry. Steve Trachsel, who lasted just three-plus innings Friday at Chicago, was sensational as the emergency starter. Looking nothing like the woebegone Cubs pitcher who led the big leagues in losses last year (18), Trachsel handcuffed the Yankees on four hits over 7 1/3 innings.

"I got three hours notice and just went into my normal pregame routine getting ready mentally," said Trachsel (8-13). "My curveball was as good as it's been in quite some time."

"He was available so he was the guy we went to," said manager Jim Fregosi. "He did a great job."

Trachsel got more help than he could have imagined. The Blue Jays piled up a season-high in runs and scored their most against the Yankees since 1988. Toronto collected 19 hits, with seven players getting at least two. Tony Batista had the only home run, a two-run shot in the seventh that was his 39th of the season.

"Next time, we're not telling Trachsel when he's going to pitch," deadpanned Delgado.

Delgado was one of six Jays with at least two RBIs, and his were significant. Delgado's eighth-inning double drove in Dave Martinez for his 135th RBI broke the club mark of 134 set by George Bell in 1987 and equaled by Delgado last year.

The Jays are about to get back another weapon. Outfielder Raul Mondesi (.272-24-67), who has been out since July 21 with an elbow injury, comes off the disabled list today and will play this weekend. In Mondesi's absence, Martinez is hitting .348 with 18 RBIs in 35 games. He had three hits and three RBIs Tuesday.

The Toronto onslaught prevented New York lefty Andy Pettitte (18-8) from getting his 19th win of the season and the 100th of his career. Pettitte allowed seven runs (five earned) in five innings and left in a 7-2 hole.

"It was just one of those things," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He's been so good (9-1 in his last 11 starts) that you find it unusual to see what he did tonight."

Things got silly in the late going. The Blue Jays got nine runs in their last two at-bats against Yankee no-names Ted Lilly, Randy Choate and Brian Dingman, who had spent most of the season at Triple-A Columbus.

It's been an ugly last three days for the Yankees, who have lost three straight and five of six. They were clubbed by Cleveland, 15-4, on Sunday and victimized by Tribe ace Bartolo Colon's one-hitter on Monday. This is no sprint to another East Division title.

"We couldn't stop the bleeding tonight. It was a bad night," Torre said. "We stunk. It's not a good feeling. We need to perk it up."

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have won seven of 10 and have a bounce in their step.

"A little help would be nice but we can't count on that," Trachsel said. "The weird thing is if it goes to the last day in Cleveland, Boomer (Wells) would now pitch the last day if the rotation holds. I'll take my chances with our No. 1 guy. Maybe that's a good sign."

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