Nine … and counting

TORONTO – Manager John McLaren is amazed that a nine-game losing streak hasn’t killed Seattle’s playoff hopes.

Matt Stairs and Gregg Zaun each hit two-run homers, A.J. Burnett pitched seven sharp innings and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Mariners 6-4 on Sunday, the nine-game losing streak Seattle’s longest since an 11-game skid in August 2006.

“We’re still in good shape,” McLaren said. “It’s amazing. We have the ability to streak the other way but we’ve hit a big bump in the road.”

Seattle, which begins a critical three-game series at New York on Monday, has not won since Aug. 24 at Texas, a victory that put the Mariners a season-high 20 games over .500.

The Mariners remained 6 games back of the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. The Yankees lost to Tampa Bay on Sunday, keeping Seattle two games back of the Yankees in the wild-card race.

“It’s not getting any easier and we know that,” McLaren said. “All I can say is we’ve got to fight our way through it. There’s no easy way out of this.”

Infielder Jose Vidro said the Mariners’ season likely rests on the outcome of the coming series in New York.

“It’s not been easy these last nine games,” he said. “We’ve got to do it like this is it for us.”

Felix Hernandez will start against New York on Monday, seeking his third win in four starts.

“We need big Felix to pick us up tomorrow,” McLaren said.

Toronto has won seven of its past 10 and, at 70-66, is a season-high four games over .500.

“Everything is kind of clicking right now,” Burnett said. “We’re hitting, we’re playing D and the pitching staff is doing a good job.”

Burnett (8-7) retired the first ten batters in order and struck out five of the first six. He allowed three runs and four hits, walked one and struck out seven to win for the first time in three starts.

“He got ahead and when a guy with that kind of stuff gets ahead of you, you know you’re in for a dog fight,” Raul Ibanez said.

Left-hander Scott Downs pitched to two batters in the eighth and right-hander Brian Wolfe finished the inning before Casey Janssen worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save in nine opportunities.

Toronto took a 3-0 lead in the second against Seattle right-hander Jeff Weaver when Zaun followed an RBI single by Aaron Hill with his second homer in as many days.

Stairs made it 5-0 with a two-out, two-run drive in the third, and said the Blue Jays felt fortunate to sweep the Mariners.

“Whenever you play a team that struggles, that’s a series you’re always afraid of,” Stairs said. “They can come in anytime and swing the bat extremely well or get some great pitching. It’s nice to sweep a team that’s in front of you.”

Seattle scored twice in the fourth on an RBI single by Ibanez and an RBI groundout by Adrian Beltre that brought Jose Guillen all the way around from second base.

Kenji Johjima’s seventh-inning sacrifice fly made it 5-3, but Toronto added a run in the bottom of the inning on Hill’s RBI single.

Ibanez, who finished 2-for-4, capped the scoring with an RBI single in the eighth.

Weaver (6-11) allowed five runs and eight hits in three-plus innings. He walked one, struck out one and lost for the second time in three starts against Toronto this season.

“He made a couple of bad pitches,” McLaren said. “He was getting too much of the plate.”

Weaver, who had not lost since July 31, has allowed eight home runs in his past four starts.

“Obviously home runs are hurting me right now,” Weaver said. “They jumped on me early and it was too much damage. It seemed like every time I got in the stretch, they got more aggressive.”

Hill finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

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