Monday, October 26, 2015

Every beast has its poison

There was no good way for the 2015 Blue Jays season to end. There was only one acceptable outcome, given the improbable run up and come back and full weight of expectation. 29 teams fail to win the World Series every year, which doesn’t meant that they’re all failures.

In some ways it is reassuring that the Blue Jays went down as they did, flipping the script with stolen bases and leadoff singles from hitters otherwise left for dead. The inability to push across the tying run against baseball’s best reliever won’t sit well, not now and certainly not during the long, dark winter.

The Toronto Blue Jays 2015 season ended ten days too early. It easily could’ve ended ten days ago, or, absent a whirlwind trade deadline, ten days before that. But it ended on a warm October evening in Missouri, after a rain delay and an unforgettable baseball game.

The Blue Jays season is over for among the most basebally of baseball reasons. They were beaten by a team that won more regular season games but probably represented less on-field talent. The Royals, the team that beat the Blue Jays, made a boatload of their own luck while also identifying and highlighting skills that made for a tough, maddening opponent to watch.

There are few hoary cliches less insightful than “baseball is a game of inches.” Among corny baseball truisms, it is might be the corniest. But it is the kernel of truth in this axiom that sent the Blue Jays home and propelled the Royals to a date with the Mets. In Game Six of the ALCS, the inches grew and grew.

It was the inches between the outside of the strike zone and the pitches called against Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere. It was the inches between where Mike Moustakas stood and where Josh Donaldson hit a line drive in the sixth inning. The ball left Donaldson’s bat at 114 mph and travelled just to the left of the Royals third baseman. Across baseball this year, four outs came on balls hit in the air to infielders at that speed. Only one was hit to a corner infielder. This one.

Let us not discount the inches between the ears of John Gibbons and Ned Yost. Without Yost putting his team in increasingly uncomfortable positions, there is no opportunity for Jose Bautista to continue constructing his growing legend via 9804 inches worth of home runs.

Gibbons cannot win for losing, somehow forced to defend not sending his most strikeout-prone pinch hitter against an unhittable monster boasting a strikeout rate in the neighbourhood of “terrifying.” His own decisions deserve scrutiny and no small amount of second-guessing, but for me the entire American League Championship series underscores the relative lack of impact managers have on final outcomes.

Without the inches between Troy Tulowtizki’s fingertips and a Bautista relay throw in the eighth inning, there might be a different story to tell, the same goes with the inches between Revere’s glove and the top of the left field fence. Distances between "target" and "terminus" for pitches thrown by Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Madson and so on and so forth.

Now the greatest distance Blue Jays fans must contend with is the space between now and the beginning of a new season. No matter what moves are made this winter, which players are added or mended or coaxed into comfort in new surroundings, it won’t be like this fall. The meteor ride that was the 2015 Blue Jays says has limited analogs.

Championships are the be-all-and-end-all of spectator sports because there are few moments like celebrating success deep inside a swarm of happy strangers. It is the ultimate capital-M Moment, which is what being a sports fan often boils down to for me. The pursuit of moments to be cherished and shared and reminisced over until they’re immortalized and part of Blue Jays mythology (such as it is.)

The 2015 Blue Jays season failed to deliver on the ultimate moment. There aren’t any more banner raising ceremonies planned and all of my parade routing went for naught. But I struggle to imagine a season, even a championship season, so full of moments. Indelible, unforgettable moments.

Waking up and looking over to see my phone lit up like a Christmas tree the day of the Tulowitzki trade and then the "Is this real?" trade deadline. The big games against the Yankees when Impostor Syndrome loomed over an uneasy fanbase, only to have Russell Martin danse those fears aside. With the season on the line, Jose Bautista sent those fears rocketing to the past where they belong.

Bautista found himself in the gooey middle of two truly great baseball games, delivering on promises made on this very page mere weeks ago. The games are instant classics that will stand the test of time and live long in the memory of all involved, not unlike the awe-inspiring baseball player at their center. No matter what transpires this winter or next season, his place in Blue Jays lore is secure.

I am both thankful for the opportunities this October provided and eager for more. There's a difference between contented and satisfied, pleased and placated. The work to build on all this cannot begin soon enough. How the players and the front office plan on following up this unbelievable act is clear enough - I can't wait to watch them try.


  1. Great post, Drew.

    I hate this loss to the Royals because the Jays lost, but also because it brought the "Fire Gibbons" and the "Boy, home field advantage sure would have been nice" people out of the wood work. Not that there are legitimate Gibbons criticisms to be mined out of there, but agree with the overall point that managers don't typically have a lot to do with the wins or losses here. The future is bright for the Jays, and that's something we haven't been able to say since... woof... sometime in the 90s, probably.

    Thanks for writing and podcasting, See you next year!

    1. The first pitch take by Goins was surely called from the dug out, and was a huge mistake.

    2. Another huge tactical mistake was not sending Pillar in the 9th before Navarro had two strikes. I'd say sending him with 2 strikes was dumb and risky, but I don't know if he was sent or went on his own there.

  2. Well, the HFA advantage people are rightly coming out of the woodwork. There were a ton of them back in September who didn't like the laissez-faire attitude the Jays took towards securing HFA. Here we are a month later and the 0 for 3 in KC speaks for itself. Perfectly encompassing HFA is Game 2 being lost, at least in part, due to the crowd noise interfering with Goins' attempt to make the play out in right.

    Also, Gibby deserves to be the subject of some criticism when there were repeated failures throughout the ALCS to move runners around the bases and get them into position where a sac fly or out would bring them in. And, oh yeah, the failure to cash in a man on third with no outs to tie game 6 will go down in infamy as one of the greatest failures to execute when it absolutely mattered the most. Is that Gibby's fault his guys didn't get the job done? It certainly can be pinned on him at least in part as there were options other than to simply send Pillar, Navarro and Revere up there to swing away...

    1. Spoken like a true Leafs fan.

    2. So you're going to pull your starting CF and your starting LF in those spots? For which bats, exactly?

      There was only one PH candidate: Goins, for the aforementioned Navarro, and then inserting Pennington to play 2B and replace Pompey in the 7-hole. Aside from changing the rules of the game so the penultimate inning of the season didn't start with the 7-8-9 run of hitters, what the hell was Gibbons supposed to do?

    3. To 1st Anon: I'll take your chiming in as you did as a compliment since you have no reply other than to disparage my name. I can only assume that your chose response is because everything I said was valid.

      To 2nd Anon: I'm fine with who was sent up to the plate. once they got up there and what they did is another issue. this was a repeated issue in game 6 and throughout the entire series. see the 5th and 6th innings.

    4. But that's on Smoak, Navarro and Revere, not Gibbons.

  3. Perfect. Thanks Drew.

  4. I'd have rather lost a WC play in game, or the DS or the WS. Hate finishing third!

    1. Only mostly joking. I really hate finishing third, or second for the AL - it hurts to be so close to the top!


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