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.