It’s starting to get extremely difficult to watch the Toronto Blue Jays. But for the first time in my memory, it’s because they’re incredibly exciting.
Last week, with a crucial six-game homestand on the horizon, I took the only opportunity I had during that stretch to head down to the Dome on Wednesday night to watch the home team take on the division-leading Orioles. One night before, Baltimore had dominated to stretch their division lead to five games. It was the first meaningful baseball game in August I’ve attended since 1999, when I was all of 10 years old.
And in return for my dedication as a fan, Dr. Drew Hutchison turned in one of the best live pitching performances I’ve ever encountered. (The only competition was a complete game shutout by Doctor Roy Halladay against Kansas City about a decade ago.) He came one out away from a complete game, and the only blemish was a solo home run off the bat of Chris Davis in the second inning. No other hits, and just one walk before he was pulled at 115 pitches to a resounding standing ovation.
The building was electric. Over 100,000 fans made their way down for three weekday games, which is something I haven’t seen before, or at least not in a long while.
On Friday night, reliable closer Casey Janssen blew the save, spoiling a good outing from R.A. Dickey. They lost a game they should have won. On Saturday afternoon, they returned the favour on the Detroit Tigers (a World Series favourite), by tying the game in the 9th, and winning it in the 10th. They won a game they should have lost. Leading the charge were Danny Valencia and Nolan Riemold, two players acquired shortly before the trade deadline, by the general manager who was heavily criticized for not making significant upgrades to the roster.
And then on Sunday, to cap off the wild week that was, the Blue Jays played the longest game in franchise history. 19 innings. Over six hours of baseball. Dickey was warming up to pitch in the 20th inning if it went that far. Melky Cabrera reached base eight times, something no player had done since Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew in 1972. At one point they were trailing 5-0. They tied it in the ninth, and the team’s best player Jose Bautista, gave the Blue Jays a walkoff win over the Tigers for a second straight day. Heading into play Saturday, they were 0-51 when trailing after eight innings. Make that 2-51, please.
And on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, perhaps the best of the summer, the nation was trapped indoors.
Despite all this, the Blue Jays remain on the outside looking in. The two teams they are chasing, Baltimore in the East, and the Kansas City Royals in the Wild Card, are among the hottest teams in the majors. Over their last 10 games: Baltimore 7-3, Kansas City 9-1, Toronto 4-6. That’s how quickly things can change. A week and a half ago, The Jays were three games behind Baltimore, and held a lead on Kansas City. Now the deficits sit at 5 behind Baltimore, 1.5 away from Kansas City.
And a deadlock with the Seattle Mariners, where the Jays begin a three-game series tonight.
Their opponent? Felix Hernandez. The King. The third consecutive former Cy Young winner the Jays face, joining Max Scherzer and David Price. So far, they’re an impressive 2-0.
However, Hernandez is in the midst of one of the best stretches of pitching in Major League Baseball this year. Fifteen (that’s right 15 times!) in a row, Hernandez has pitched at least seven innings, while surrendering no more than two runs. He’s 8-2 with a 1.43 ERA during that time.
The good news? Adam Lind should be back in the lineup tomorrow, after missing more than a month with a foot fracture. Fellow 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion could be back by Wednesday, or Friday in Chicago at the latest, as he recovers from a quad strain. With those two back in the fold, the lineup will have quite a bit more pop than it has in recent days.
But most importantly, for the first time in more than a decade, nearly two, the Blue Jays are playing games that matter in August, and barring a horrific road trip, will continue to do so into September. After what we’ve witnessed over the last two days, is it time to believe in Blue Jays magic? Are these lads a “team of destiny”? A group of ballplayers sent to heal a city from its perennial sports broken heart? Some might say this team should have fallen out of contention long ago, after missing the middle of the batting order for over a month, and sporting a rotation that no prognosticator would have had faith in during Spring Training.
Yet here they are. Battling away for both ballgames, and a place in our hearts, but most importantly, a place in history, as the first Blue Jays club to play a postseason game since Joe Carter touched ’em all.
It’s getting extremely difficult to watch the Blue Jays play these days. Because for the first time in a long time, it’s late in the season, and we still have reason to care.
Buckle up, Blue Jays fans.