TORONTO - Back playing out the string after a brief flirtation with meaningful baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays opened the season's final homestand intent on finishing strong and proving that their September surge was for real.
Those modest goals took a hit Tuesday night when starter Shaun Marcum was forced to leave a 2-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the third inning because of tightness in his right forearm that led to numbness in his pinky finger.
The severity of the injury wasn't immediately known and he's hoping to visit with doctors Wednesday to determine if he'll be able to make his final two starts. Marcum (9-7) missed a month earlier this season with elbow soreness and has struggled ever since to regain his outstanding first-half form.
''Nobody wants to end the season hurt,'' said Marcum. ''Everyone wants to go out with a bang. .
''If there's nothing wrong, I don't have anything guaranteed for me next year so I've got to come out and pitch and show these guys that I can be in the rotation next year as well.''
The right-hander said he felt fine until turning his arm over too far on a couple of changeups in the third, causing the forearm to tighten. Then the feeling disappeared from his pinky finger as the inning started to unravel.
He walked leadoff batter Juan Castro, surrendered an RBI double to Brian Roberts that was badly misplayed by Travis Snider in left field, and then walked Nick Markakis.
Ball four prompted manager Cito Gaston - who noticed his pitcher trying to shake some feeling back into his hand - and trainer George Poulis to sprint out to the mound and after a brief discussion, Marcum's night was done.
''We'll see what the doctor says,'' Gaston said of Marcum's status. ''If they recommend we shut him down we probably will.''
John Parrish came on in relief and after surrendering Luke Scott's solo blast in the fourth, there was little else of consequence for the crowd of 25,746 to digest other than the grim reality of a 15th straight year without post-season baseball.
''I think we were flat with the bats that's for sure,'' said Gaston.
At least these Blue Jays (80-71) created a tiny bit of September excitement with a 10-game win streak that gave them a chance to make things interesting. They arrived in Boston last Friday 6 1-2 games back of the wild-card leaders and could have put their foot in the door by winning three of four.
The Red Sox had none of it, however, taking three of four to leave the Blue Jays out in the cold and on the brink of elimination. Up until then, contenders had been describing them as the team nobody wants to face this month.
''We certainly have to continue to show those teams that have that respect for us that we are a team you're going to have to look at hard next year when we come back to play,'' Gaston said before the game. ''By going the other way late in the year, that's not going to help either, they're going to forget about us real quick.''
The Blue Jays close out their home sked with three-game series versus the Orioles (67-82), Red Sox and Yankees, with whom they are fighting for third in the AL East. They'd also like to use these games to answer some roster questions in preparation for 2009.
To that end, the left-handed hitting Snider started against southpaw Chris Waters (3-3) for the experience, while utilityman Jose Bautista played second base for the fourth time in his career and first time since 2006 to see whether he can handle it.
Snider was 1-for-3 with a double and Bautista helped turn a 5-4-3 double play but otherwise saw little action at second.
Waters, making his ninth career start, allowed just four hits and a walk in his first shutout. The Orioles posted back-to-back wins for the first time since a three-game win streak in the middle of August.
Notes: The Blue Jays are facing the possibility of having their triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas next season after losing out on Buffalo to the New York Mets. There's a slim possibility they could still end up back in Syracuse, which recently parted ways with the Blue Jays to vie for the Mets, but Washington and Florida are also interested. New Orleans and Albuquerque are other potential fallback options for the Blue Jays. . LHP Scott Downs remains day-to-day with an ankle injury. The Jays want to give him more time to heal before deciding whether to shut him down. . Orioles 3B Melvin Mora was ejected in the third inning for arguing a called third strike. He could be facing a suspension for throwing a bat onto the field on his way to the clubhouse. . Canada will open the 2009 World Baseball Classic against the United States at 2 p.m. on March 7. Venezuela and Italy will also play out of the group in Toronto. . If Marcum can't make his final two starts, Parrish and Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., are likely to replace him.