"The Blue Jays have reached .500! Remove the stone of shame!"
"Attach the stone of triumph!"
So apparently the Blue Jays have been playing pretty good lately. In the span of two weeks the attitude of the fanbase has changed from lamentations of self-pity to "hey maybe we have a shot after all." Not bad. The reality now is that the team now rests in the same position they've found themselves in almost every season for the past decade: right around .500, a wildcard position in sight but a bunch of teams in front of them. Familiar, right?
That being said, what the Blue Jays have done in the past twelve or so days has truly been incredible. The fact we can even talk about a wildcard spot with seriousness is a testament to the outstanding level of baseball Toronto fans have witnessed recently. Also, unlike those teams of the past that have started strong but floundered or danced with mediocrity all year, these guys were down and out immediately. They've been to the bottom and survived, and now we can just hope they continue playing like a team with nothing to fear.
Our Game of The Week this week is the June 21st affair against the Baltimore Orioles at the Dome. R.A. Dickey was on the hill for Toronto against O's hurler Jason Hammel.
The Blue Jays jumped on Hammel early, getting a first inning two-out double from Edwin Encarnacion to continue the inning for the invulnerable Adam Lind. Lind waited on a slow looping 1-2 curveball from Hammel and struck it from his shoetops into the right field seats. Adam's quiet, still hands had ignited the Blue Jays offence again. 2-0 Toronto.
Baltimore answered quickly next inning with shortstop J.J, Hardy, who has one of the more bizarre batting stances in the league (he looks like he's trying to tug a flagpole out of the ground or something.) Hardy wasn't able to free that flagpole but he swung it hard against a high knuckler from Dickey, blasting it into left field to cut the score to 2-1.
Both starters settled into their respective games: Dickey baffling Orioles hitters with his bag of tricks and Hammel missing Blue Jay bats with exceptional efficiency. The bottom of the fifth arrived and Maicer Izturis led off with a walk for Toronto. Josh Thole then hit a ground ball to second base that might have been a double play ball had Izturis not gotten a head start on the hit and run. I personally like the hit and run as an offensive strategy but you have to pick your spots with it, and this was a good one so kudos to manager John Gibbons. Emilo Bonifacio hit a ball into rightfield that advanced Izturis to third, allowing Munenori Kawasaki to single in Maicer for the third Blue Jays run. 3-1.
Then Dickey lost it. Nate McLouth led off the top of the sixth with a single and a Nick Markakis walk followed. Adam Jones lined a knuckleball into leftfield to score McLouth and suddenly the go-ahead run was on base for the monstrous power hitter Chris Davis. The major league leader in home runs didn't feel like waiting around, launching a high hard drive into left that sailed over everything on its way into the seats. 5-3 Baltimore. Davis' power is remarkable: he doesn't look like he's swinging hard at all, just a quick flick of his bat and the baseball goes high and deep into the night. Scary.
Edwin Encarnacion is no slouch in the power department either. On this evening he flexed his bat muscles in the bottom of the 6th and smashed a ball over the left field wall, cutting the Orioles lead to 5-4. Ryan Flaherty answered that with a solo blast of his own off Dickey in the 7th and the lead was back to two for Baltimore.
Along came the bottom of the 7th and Izturis was on base again with a single. Nobody else could get anything going until with two out Kawasaki came up. With a swing that may have surprised Muni himself, he turned on a high pitch from Tommy Hunter and pulled it just squeaking into the right field bullpen, tying the game and sending the home crowd into a frenzy. 6-6.
There was some unpleasantness later this inning between Jose Bautista and Orioles reliever Darren O'Day. Joey Bats didn't like the way O'Day celebrated after striking him out and blah blah blah back to the game.
Bottom of the ninth, still tied at 6, lefty Brian (the 'Z' is for flavour) Matusz was in for the Orioles. Maicer Izturis again got aboard with a single and up came Josh Thole. It was a textbook bunt situation and Thole executed perfectly, deadening a high Matusz fastball and dropping it inbetween the pitcher and third baseman. Thole was barely out at first and Izturis had advanced to second, only one out. Mark DeRosa was summoned to pinch hit and was intentionally walked, so Baltimore could maintain the platoon advantage against left-handed hitting Kawasaki.
Muni was a little anxious this at-bat, clearly wanting to win the game but unable to square up anything Matusz threw at him. Nevertheless he bounced a ball to second base that was impossible for the infield to turn two on. Runners were now at 2nd and 3rd with two out, Rajai Davis was up and so the call to the bullpen came for the right-handed pitcher Pedro Strop.
It's interesting how when we are greatly exposed to certain things and people that their flaws seem so much more apparent and frankly, exaggerated. Davis was a guy last season that everyone ragged on for various reasons, and those reasons were well founded. I've realized though that a lot of that is because we were over-exposed to Davis the player: he was put into a situation of playing time by necessity that was not optimal for his success, and so his flaws as a player became so glaring and enormous. This season has been an entirely different story: Davis has played less overall and more in a role that utilizes his strengths (and give Gibbons some credit here.) As such we seem a bit easier on Rajai these days. The fact he's had a knack of winning games for us early on has certainly helped our amnesia as well, whether it be the great throw to erase a walk-off run in Baltimore or the game winning single to end the extra inning marathon against the Rangers. Remember that guy with the bad jumps in the outfield or the foolhardy stolen base attempts in dumb situations? I sorta do and maybe that memory is around somewhere but I don't care to look for it.
On a 1-1 count, Rajai Davis sliced a single off Strop into short left field to give the Blue Jays a 6-5 victory. FINAL: 7-6 Toronto. (Their then 9th straight victory)
Stat Line to Chew On
12-4, 138.2 IP, 90 H, 28 ER, 6 HR, 41 BB, 143 K (WHIP 0.944, ERA 1.81)
I'm not quite sure people realize just how ridiculously good the top four guys in the Blue Jays bullpen (Janssen, Cecil, Loup and Delabar) have been. The only one of those numbers that isn't mouth dropping are the walks (and over half of those belong to Delabar alone.) They throw strikes, they keep the ball inside the fences, and they rarely get beaten.
A winning streak that lasts almost two weeks is sure to help that team escape unpleasantly named divisions. The Blue Jays actually escaped the Division of the Lousy, leap-frogged over the next level and landed in this one. So, it pleases me to introduce:
Division of The Respectable -- Standings (as of June 23rd)
Arizona Diamondbacks 41-34*
Tampa Bay Rays 39-37 2.5
Cleveland Indians 38-36 2.5
Toronto Blue Jays 37-36 3
San Francisco Giants 38-37 3
*first place -- NL West