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When he went down in a heap after one hideous slide into second base more than two months ago in Kansas City, Jose Reyes had all kinds of thoughts flash through his mind. A few hours later, the gruesome sight of his ankle had him in tears. There were probably many baseball fans in Toronto, especially the ones who had spent all winter reminiscing about Joe Carter, feeling the same way.

“The next day when I got up I called my mother and we were crying together,” Reyes said Friday afternoon in the Bisons' dugout as he prepared to start his injury rehab assignment in Coca-Cola Field. “Because when I saw my ankle, that thing was huge. It was swelling a lot. But I put a lot of hard work into my rehab and it's paid off.”

Reyes was hitting .395 in his first 10 games with the Blue Jays. Then came the crushing ankle sprain that wrecked the high hopes that had Jays fans talking big through the chilly Florida spring.

Those hopes are coming back. Reyes seems healthy and, barring a setback, just about ready to rejoin the Blue Jays. That's huge news. He can be the difference-maker in the American League East.

The Blue Jays entered Friday on an eight-game winning streak and look like the team everyone thought they would be from Opening Day. Without Reyes, the Blue Jays slid to a 10-21 record that left them ahead of only the Astros and Marlins. Entering Friday, they had the best record in the AL East since then at 25-15. (The Yankees, by the way, had the worst at 21-22).

“The talk has been since he went down, amongst us, amongst you guys that if we can get back to .500 by the time he gets back then that's pretty good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters Friday during his pregame briefing in Rogers Centre. “We're close to doing that. ... He's one of the premier players in the game. Just all the different things he can do. I know everyone will be glad to get him back.”

Reyes spent much of his time during his rehab with the Jays so he had a first-hand look at what was going on. It clearly spurred him to accelerate his rehab and beat the timetable that had him on the shelf past the All-Star break.

“It was tough sitting home seeing my team go through tough moments because I know our ballclub is better than what we showed when we were struggling,” Reyes said. “Right now you can see what the guys are capable of doing. I miss that. I want to be part of the guys there. They're having a successful season right now and they can continue to play like that.”

And it had to be even tougher for Reyes to hear all the whispers about what happened last season in Miami. The big trade with the Marlins over the winter wasn't supposed to produce a second straight disaster but Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Emilio Bonifacio sure heard all that talk.

“This is a different organization, different ballclub,” Reyes said. “What happened in Miami is in the past. I know a lot of people say, 'Oh man, this team is going through the same things those guys went through in Miami' but I don't see it that way. I see our ballclub getting together now and all the talent we have getting together.”

The Blue Jays are finding their stride offensively behind Adam Lind, who is at nearly .430 since May 23. Their starters are improving and the bullpen has been air-tight. Imagine what a healthy Reyes can bring.

He was his normal ebullient self Friday, meeting the media in a blue Superman T-shirt and red shorts before batting practice. And the ballpark had a buzz rarely seen in recent years, a surge of Toronto-based adrenalin that should carry all weekend.

Fans crowded around the Bisons' dugout hoping to snag some autographs and Reyes obliged many. At one point, he was handed a baby and held the tot for a classic photo op.

A few minutes later as the Bisons took the field, Reyes sprinted – and I mean sprinted – to his position at short. He lashed a double to right in the fifth, cruising freely into second and coming home with no problems on Kevin Pillar's double to left. Looked good.

The Jays open a three-game series Monday night at Tampa Bay and then have a huge four-gamer against the Red Sox in Fenway beginning Thursday. Reyes' return couldn't come at a better time.

“There's still three months of baseball left,” Reyes said. “Still a lot of stuff that can happen. If we continue to play like that, we're going to compete. When I get there, I can take my team to another level.”

email: mharrington@buffnews.com