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So you think you're pretty hot, eh? You think there's nothing that can knock you off your hill?

Toronto last played a postseason game on October 23 1993 (I think we all remember that one) and since then it's been nary a sniff of playoff baseball for the local twenty-five. Not only that, but the general perception has been that the team hasn't even been in contention for a playoff spot late in a season since that majestic blast off of Joe's bat. Why is that? Does this franchise always crumble as the season wears on? Is this even completely true? Is some kind of "Curse of Carter" in play here? Am I running out of question marks yet? Well, lets take a look at some interesting seasons over the past two decades.

*As a side note, while I was looking through these seasons I stumbled upon the 1998 team, which had Roger Clemens, Woody Williams, Dave Stieb, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter all start games that year. If only they had been the 83 Stieb, the 2003 Williams, the 2005 Carpenter and the 2008 Halladay. That team probably would've won 110 games.*


The year the Blue Jays were gunning for the three-peat. Toronto had a modest 30-30 on June 12th, despite the absence of Duane Ward and any good starting pitcher not named Hentgen. By the beginning of July, they were 32-45, a 2-15 run over two and a half weeks. Ouch. Once the strike hit the Blue Jays had fought back to 55-60, but the damage had been done. While it is unlikely they could've come all the way back to another division title (they were 16 games behind the Yankees), it's a shame the season could not have been completed. Joe Carter already had 103 RBIs, Paul Molitor was batting .341 and had stolen 20 bases without being caught. Not bad for a 37 year old.


The '99 team hit a high-water mark on August 11th, beating the Twins 6-3 to improve their record to 65-51. The Blue Birds were a game ahead of Boston for the American League Wildcard, and somewhat within striking distance of the Yankees at 6 1/2 games behind. Well, the Red Sox went 31-17 the rest of the way (best in the league) while Toronto went 19-27 (third worst in the AL). A seven game losing streak immediately after that victory over the Twins is mostly to blame, though it's awfully hard to keep up with a team winning 64 percent of their games down the stretch.


Riding a 16-9 April, the Blue Birds enjoyed a 19-12 record on May 6th, tied with Boston for first place and half a game ahead of New York. A 1-8 stretch followed immediately, including an 0-6 homestand against eventual 100+ game winners Oakland and Seattle. Just like that, the team was treading water at the .500 mark and in third place. By June 3rd Toronto was 26-30, 7 games behind Boston. A 6-12 run after the All-Star break, including three straight blowouts at the hands of the Yankees, put them ten games under .500 and any hope of playoff baseball was as flat as Joey Hamilton's fastball.


One of the most fun Jays teams I've watched in my relatively short (compared to many others around here) span of following the team. Behind Roy Halladay's first Cy Young season and a Delgado led offense determined to crush opposing pitchers, Toronto was 46-34 on June 27th, in third place but only three games behind first place New York. Unfortunately, what had been an up and down season already (they were 10-18 after April) continued as such, with a fifteen game stretch before the all-star break where the Blue Jays only won three, capped by a 1-5 homestand against the two teams they were chasing: Boston and New York. The 2003 squad did win 86 games when it was all wrapped up, thanks to Halladay and Delgado's historically excellent seasons, but still finished 15 games back of a 101 win Yankees team destined for several memorable playoff moments.

*For some reason in my mind, I always refer to this as the Greg Myers Year. Myers hitting .307? Who saw that coming? This team also featured maybe the worst bullpen I've ever seen, with such stalwarts as Tanyon Sturtze, Jeff Tam, Aquilino Lopez and Dan Reichert in prominent roles. It was Frank Catalanotto's first season as a Blue Jay, Vernon Wells true breakout year (and arguably still his best ever season) and the year Reed Johnson hit home runs in the Blue Jays first and last at-bat of the same game. Even John "Way Back" Wasdin appeared! Fun times.*


A good Blue Jays team that seems forgotten by many (I for one was surprised how strong they were, looking back). On August 17, they stood at 63-57, seven games back of first place but four back of wildcard leading Oakland. Unfortunately, the ensuing off-day might have disrupted the Blue Birds rhythm, as they proceeded to lose seven of the next eight games, or twelve of the next fifteen. The team was at 67-69 and completely out of the playoff picture in early September, wasting Josh Towers' best season (13-12, 3.71 in over 200 innings. Yep.) and Gustavo Chacin's only good season (13-9, 3.72).


The off-season before 2006 was a lot like the one before the 2013 season in terms of excitement, thanks to big acquisitions. While the media hooplah surrounding the beginnings of the 2006 team wasn't quite to the degree of that which swirled (and probably strangled) the 2013 squad, the Blue Jays were looking like a big deal. The 2005 team had featured great pitching but a very weak attack (Frank Catalanotto led the team with a 115 OPS+) so J.P. Riccardi went to the trading block. In came big bopper Troy Glaus, doubles machine Lyle Overbay (still a favourite of mine) and the slowest Molina of them all (Bengie). The pitching was boosted also, with the team adding a titan of a man with a deceptive delivery to close games (B.J.) and the million dollar arm attached to the less impressive head (A.J.). It was a team built to contend and they stayed in the thick of the race in the early going, finishing May with a 29-23 record and a just a pair of games behind the division lead. Toronto continued their consistent play, despite major regressions from their two best starters of 2005 (Towers and Chacin) and Burnett's inability to remain healthy for much of the first half. The squad was 49-39 at the all-star break, five back of a playoff spot and sending five representatives to the mid-season classic (Wells, Ryan, Halladay, Glaus and Rios). They seemed good enough to have a chance. Once the break finished they blew out a few teams before a big west coast swing. They were 56-45 on July 26h, heading into Oakland for a four game series, trailing the division by five and the wildcard Yankees by four.

Oakland was in the midst of beginning a classic A's late season surge so their barely .500 record at the time was misleading. Toronto lost two of the first three, all reasonably close games, but had Halladay going in the finale against an obscure arm named Shane Komine making his first of two ever starts in the majors. Despite a leadoff home run from Reed Johnson, Komine stifled the Blue Jay bats and left the game after six with a 2-1 lead. The A's added another in the seventh and suddenly the lead was 3-1 heading into the final two innings. These Toronto bats were not ones to go quietly into the warm Northern California afternoon, however. A two out rally featuring a Hinske RBI single in the eighth cut the lead to 3-2, giving Huston Street little wiggle room in the ninth.

I remember this particular game very, very well. I was listening to it with my dad (whose excellent work I'm sure many of you are familiar with around here) on the radio at his old house while we constantly refreshed GameDay. To this day I have no actual idea what this game actually looked like, the only visual memory I have is not of the action but of the environment. It was one of those sweltering humid Toronto days, and as we followed this game from a basement with only a decades old fan and an open door praying to entice a stray breeze to cool us, we were running out of things to wipe the sweat from our faces. Of course, the sweat was as much from the nervousness of this game as it was the horrible Toronto humidity. (Seriously. The summers here are actually enjoyable temperature-wise maybe one third of the time. The rest of it you're wanting to invent some freakish medical technique to inject ice-cubes under your skin). Anyhow, this was a very tense game. Street came in for the ninth and it sounded like it was over. But...

...Catalanotto singled on the first pitch he saw from Street. Vernon Wells popped out (see, he did that all the time even when he was really good) but Glaus then ripped one past the shortstop to put two on. Toronto was in business. Overbay worked the count to 2-2 before launching a deep one into centerfield that no one could catch. Two runs scored. Suddenly the Blue Jays were on top. An Aaron Hill double two batters later scored Overbay and gave Toronto the insurance run certain to finish the game.

It sounds strange to say this now but back in 2006, B.J. Ryan was completely untouchable closing games. He was Casey Janssen without the constant worries about velocity and many, many more strikeouts. 2006 B.J. just made batters look dumb, and it was all just a 93 mph fastball and a hard slider that looked exactly the same coming out of that jerky delivery of his. A 5-3 lead for him was automatic in 2006. My dad and I looked at each other knowing the Jays had this one. Ryan set down two of the first three (a cheap sounding single from Mark Ellis the only problem) and one more out was all that remained. Mark Kotsay came up, fouled off about a half-dozen pitches and somehow drew a walk for his trouble. Two on, two out for Milton Bradley. No biggie. Ryan fell behind 2-1. And then...

It was hit deep. Vernon went back. It was over his head. Over the wall. The game was over. The A's had won. Our indestructible superman was human after all. My dad and I had no words in response, only shock and surprise, while the hot air beat the reality onto us harder and sweatier.

The 2006 team lost the next five in a row, suddenly finding themselves at 57-53 and way out of a playoff spot within just a week and a half. Some Shea said some ship was sinking and in retrospect that ship did sink, but we marooned his butt to some California bay and got a good bounty season of a reliever as payment. The squad still managed to finish reasonably strong and claim second place from a faltering Boston team, the only second place finish Toronto has enjoyed in over two decades now.

*For all you that want to look at things positively, the Blue Jays have managed to turn Troy Glaus (from Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista) into Scott Rolen, and turn Rolen into Edwin Encarnacion. Both Rolen and Glaus have long retired, while Edwin has put up two better offensive seasons as a Jay then any one of theirs. Riccardi handled several things badly but this sequence was a tidy piece of business*


The 2006 team is my favourite Blue Jays team of the past decade (if you couldn't tell by my long reminiscing there) but the 2009 team is probably my least favourite. Never have I finished watching a season with such a sense of bleakness that I wondered if committing to another season would be worth it. Clubhouse discontent, an accomplished manager of former glory seeming disinterested, an absolute void of young promising starting pitching anywhere (sorry Brett Cecil), the best pitcher in team history (sorry Stieb) wanting out, and way too much Kevin Millar for any sane mind to handle. I mean, people were screaming for Randy Ruiz to get a bigger opportunity. Randy Ruiz! These were bad, bad times. Yet, these guys actually started out 27-14, in first place by 3.5 games as of May 18th. What happened? Something quite unfortunate: a nine game losing streak. The squad hung survived above the .500 mark for a while longer though, enjoying a 41-34 record on June 6th after a win over the Phillies. Then things went wrong again. Badly. They went on a 3-12 run until the All-Star break, ending up at 44-46 and never even getting a hopeful whiff of contention again.

By the end of the year, we knew Riccardi was toast, Halladay was gone and the next few years weren't going to be pretty. Frankly, Jose Bautista morphed into a superman hitter at just the right time for this franchise. His sudden Ruthian home run prowess gave us all something so unexpectedly exciting after such deflation, and for that I will always be a Bautista fan.

Anyway, back from Memory Lane, (the banker never wears a Mac in the pouring rain, very strange) the 2014 Blue Jays are playing well. Really, really well, but this isn't the only team of the past twenty years to have a strong record at least two months into the year. History hints at another collapse, however none of those teams I mentioned have been in first place (with a modest cushion) like this squad is. At the risk of sounding obvious, lets just get deeper into the season, see if these guys can steal games they don't deserve to win and enjoy the ride. If they can avoid the nine game losing streaks, or the 3-15 runs, they might be okay. If only it were so easy.

The Bluebirds versus The Death Spiral | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
jerjapan - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 10:04 AM EDT (#288227) #
Excellent read Eephus! That 2006 team was the last time I thought we had a chance till last year, and I remember Ryan's dominance at the time well. If only we'd traded the guy once we were out of the race ....

May I ask how people might now your dad's work?
Mike Green - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 10:16 AM EDT (#288229) #
I had a vague inkling who "Eephus" might be because of a certain quality in the writing.  Don't know if it is genes or environment, but whatever it is, keep it coming.  May you be the Buddy Bell or KGJr. of writers...(Barry Bonds has baggage that I wouldn't wish on anyone). 
tecumseh18 - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 10:22 AM EDT (#288230) #
Great reminder of how things can go south in a hurry. 2006 is what I remember as well. IIRC, Jays went 3-1 in its four game series against the Yankees just before the road trip from hell. I was at the game AJ started, and it was a great energy in the Dome. Hope was in the air, and it was period when A-Rod was making an error every other game so booing him was extra fun. No-one could have predicted how it could all go so wrong, so soon.

I'm sure many of us remember how automatic BJ was for a while. You don't forget something like that.
Magpie - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 01:32 PM EDT (#288254) #
Is some kind of "Curse of Carter" in play here?

Nope. It's something else, which I wrote about almost ten years ago. Some excerpts for any of you not born at  the time...


In 1992, Tom Henke saved 34 games during the regular season, with just 3 blown saves... He had an ERA of 2.26, he was still striking 7.4 batters per 9 innings. He was a free agent, he wanted to return, he was still phenomenally good. He was, and still is, regarded as one of the very best people ever to play in Toronto. He was a man who did honour to the uniform every time he put it on.

The team didn't want him back, and the fans didn't want him back either. The prevailing sentiment, from the front office to the cheap seats, went something like "We've got another guy who's younger, and cheaper and better. Thanks for being a great pitcher for eight years. Thanks for being a credit to the the game and the community and the organization. Now get the hell out of town."

And so the big fella shuffled offstage, to save 91 games over the next three seasons, retiring at the absolute top of his game (1-1 with 36 saves and a 1.82 ERA for the 1995 Cardinals).

All of it - the last twelve years, in fact - has been punishment. Not for letting Tom Henke walk away. But for making Tom Henke walk away. For shoving him out the door. It is the Curse of the Terminator, and I say this unto you all:

The Curse will not be lifted until we see that number 50 up there on the RC Wall, in the Level of Excellence.

Where it belongs.


That's just the way it is. These things have a half-life like uranium-235.
Mike Green - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 01:45 PM EDT (#288257) #
All of it - the last twelve years, in fact - has been punishment

I wasn't sure about the mathematics of the curse.  Was there a 10 year latency period, to allow for the fake-out of the 1993 Series victory?  Or was it one of those clever curses that hid itself in the detritus of the 1994 strike?
Whatever it was, there is no difficulty with the cure.  And even if the curse is simply in our imaginations and reflects our guilty consciences, we still need that cure...

Mike Green - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 02:17 PM EDT (#288258) #
Of course, it's now an 18 year curse and it was a trojan horse curse (we all thought that it was the strike).  Funny thing from the Terminator, who relied on power over deception every time.
Chuck - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 02:19 PM EDT (#288259) #
Funny thing from the Terminator, who relied on power over deception every time.

Except when he went sidearm!

Mike Green - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 02:39 PM EDT (#288260) #
This shutout business has got to stop.  Right here, right now. 
grjas - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 02:39 PM EDT (#288261) #
Interesting reflective Eephus. Thanks. The long losing streak factored into more years than I remembered.

At least this year we have a bigger cushion... at this point, none of the AL teams are making a this point, and we have come back well from adversity a couple of times this this point.

Hopefully the Terminator has buried the hatchet.
Richard S.S. - Wednesday, June 11 2014 @ 07:06 PM EDT (#288281) #
If Tom Henke returns for '93, it raises two equally valuable questions.
1) Do the Jays still win in '93?
2) Does Duane Ward still go on the D.L. after the '93 season?
I don't think I want to know.
TangledUpInBlue - Thursday, June 12 2014 @ 05:45 AM EDT (#288293) #
"The team didn't want him back, and the fans didn't want him back either."

Some fans maybe. Tom Henke was an awfully popular player on that team, and had been going back to 1985. I doubt there were too many itching to see him go, even if Ward was better by 1992. I found it disappointing when all of those guys from the mid-80s started leaving, even the ones who were no longer any good (Barfield and Moseby come to mind). It was at least nice to have Henke and Key (and Stieb to some extent -- was that all?) still around for the first championship.
John Northey - Thursday, June 12 2014 @ 08:38 AM EDT (#288294) #
Well, in 1993 the Jays had the highest payroll in baseball history (to that point).  The need to save a few dollars was starting to hit even with a sold out stadium and high TV ratings.

The Jays did a few dumb moves - signing Dave Stewart to a big 2 year contract (ages 36/37, declining core numbers) instead of Jimmy Key to a 4 year (ages 32-35, coming off a 115 ERA+ with a 139 the year before).  Jack Morris was being paid the highest ever for a starting pitcher in 92/93, Joe Carter got a big raise in 93 due to RBI's, etc.  It still gave them a 2nd WS but the choices to dump Jimmy Key and Tom Henke seem bad in retrospect but the funny thing is we all knew those were coming at the time (every person I knew expected it).  Losing Manny Lee was a good move, exchanging Winfield for Molitor was fantastic and amazing (Winfield was a superstar here in '92). Dumping David Wells was weird (all about the attitude).  Losing Kelly Gruber was also good, although it was almost all due to macho reasons (the feeling he was a china doll, then finding out years later he actually was seriously hurt and playing through amazing pain).

In the end what mattered most was a second WS title, amazing final moment, and some joy to get us through the strike and hard times that came right after.  Sure beats what the Expos fans got (great team in 94, lost out due to strike, then lost players fast after).
uglyone - Thursday, June 12 2014 @ 12:03 PM EDT (#288315) #
It's actually interesting looking back at those WS rosters and seeing all the holes in them. Maybe we forget that you don't need anything near a perfect roster to win it all. Or maybe everything changed when nyy and bos started fielding billion dollar rosters.
jerjapan - Thursday, June 12 2014 @ 01:20 PM EDT (#288317) #
I loved Kelly Gruber back in the day. I actually ran into him at a party in Halifax last summer - looks the same, minus the mullet. Seems like a good guy, glad to hear that the story he was a softie has been discredited.
GregH - Tuesday, June 17 2014 @ 02:49 PM EDT (#288552) #
I also loved the 2003 Season. It was the first one that my sons (then 8 and 7) were able to go to a lot of games and really enjoy them - we went to about 23 that year. They were playing baseball themselves by then and understood things much better than before. In those days they were happy to sit in the 500s, just left of home plate.
The Reed Johnson lead off and walk off home runs came, I believe, in the Fathers Day game against the Cubs. We were there, sitting in the sun in the 500s. One of my favourite Fathers Day memories.
And Greg Myers! He hit an in-the-park home run that year that we saw. The other players set up an oxygen tank at his locker afterward. We met Myers at one of the car dealership promotions that the Jays used to do in those days, on the same weekend that the infamous "White Jays" article was published in the Toronto Star. Myers was furious about it.
Ah, memories! Maybe we will all have some new ones after this season.
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