We're feeling pretty good about the 2016 Jays, aren't we?
Well, why not? Last year's crew took us fans back into the great fun that is post-season baseball. And this year's squad certainly provides plenty of grounds for optimism. We've swapped two months of David Price for six months of Marcus Stroman, which certainly has a chance to work out nicely. All those Big Scary Bats are back for at least one more go-round.
Optimism, heading into a season - it's kind of a new thing around here. Really - when was the last time we all went into the season feeling downright cocky about the home team? Thinking the home team had a better than even chance to make a Whole Lot of Noise?
It was 2004.
What transpired has been immortalized in Box Lore as the Season From Hell.
A brief digression...
Way back in January 2011, the late great Mick Doherty had an idea. He suggested that while we were all just sitting around, staring out the window and waiting for spring, it might be fun to recycle previous work posted on Da Box. The archives, after all, go back more than ten years. Some are probably entertaining enough to withstand a second look. There have been, quite literally, thousands of things written on this site. It appears that I myself have been responsible for more than 700, and I wasn't even Present at the Creation.
And so this category was created - "Recycled" - with an appropriate icon, and I dutifully re-posted the work upon which my legend, such as it is, was built. And then... nothing. But all that changes now! (Hey, if you don't have any new ideas, just recycle your old ones. Most of y'all were probably too young to read them when they were new anyway.)
In baseball, the great Yogi taught us, you don't know nothing. And in the event that we ever, ever forget that we don't know nothing, I resurrect this piece from April 2006.
This Day in Baseball, Monday Report: Lest We Forget
It all starts tomorrow, and Blue Jays fans are filled with an optimism not seen around these parts since... oh, about two years ago.
Remember? Here is how Coach himself concluded his Blue Jays Preview in April 2004:
As much as I'd like to say 97 wins and the wild card, and as blissful as that would make me, it's too ambitious by a year, maybe two. Instead, we may have to settle for 91-71, and third place in the East for (sigh) the seventh year in a row.
I will make one guarantee — this is the best Blue Jays team since the World Champs in 1993.
And why not? The manager, Carlos Tosca, had spoken out loud that 95 wins was a realistic goal. The team had added two bonafide major league starters (Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista) to the 2003 team, which had won 86 games on the strength of a powerhouse offense and one great pitcher.
So we were eager. And then they went out and played the games. What followed has gone down in Blue Jays lore as:
THE SEASON FROM HELL
This is what happened. Remember it well, my brothers. Be always on your guard...
The 2004 season kicked off with a three game homestand against the Detroit Tigers, who were coming off a 119 loss season. The AL's reigning Cy Young winner was on the mound for the Blue Jays. What could possibly go wrong?
5 April - Detroit beats Halladay 7-0 on Opening Day.
7 April - Bonderman beats Hentgen, and the Tigers sweep the Jays at SkyDome to start the season.
11 April - Say hello to the 2004 bullpen, boys and girls. Miguel Batista takes a 4-2 lead over Boston into the 8th. Terry Adams and Kerry Ligtenberg cough up the lead, and Aquilino Lopez takes the loss in 12 innings. Ligtenberg blows the team's first save opportunity.
17 April - Justin Speier, who is now the new closer du jour, gives up a 2 run HR by Tejada in the 9th, Orioles win 5-3.
21 April - Jays lose 8th straight game at home; are 3-11 to start the season.
26 April - Greg Myers tears up his ankle coming into 3b at Minnesota. His season, it turns out, is over.
27 April - Jacque Jones hits a 3 run HR off Speier in the 9th; Jays blow a 4-2 9th inning lead.
28 April - Jays rally from 4 runs down in the 8th to tie Twins at 5-5. Frasor and Adams immediately surrender 4 in the bottom of the inning. Adams' outing includes the always entertaining Wild Pitch while delivering an intentional walk.
29 April - Pat Hentgen takes a 4-1 lead into the 6th against the ChiSox, then hits the wall. Sox score 5 runs, with Mike Nakamura taking the L. Jays don't just lose - they lose to Lord Voldemort, He Who Can Not Be Named. Also known as E______ L____.
Not quite the start anyone was hoping for, and the bullpen was not inspiring a lot of confidence. But it was early days yet, with lots of time to turn things around. But when the team finally started playing well, toward the end of May, misfortune stepped up to whack us all upside the head...
1 May - Carlos Delgado homers to tie the White Sox in the 8th, which means only that we have to go to extra innings before Crede's sac fly beats Speier.
1 May - Shortstop Chris Woodward (batting .323) injures his hamstring.
3 May - Jays score 2 in bottom of 9th to tie Royals, which again means that all we have to go to extra innings before the Jays finally lose the damn game. This time a Guiel HR beats Adams in the 10th.
11 May - It's time for Justin Speier to go on the DL. Woodward returns to the lineup and immediately reinjures his hamstring.
12 May - Chris Woodward goes on the DL.
12 May - Terry Adams is now the closer du jour. His first move is to surrender a 3-2 lead in the 9th on Mike Sweeney's 2 run 2b.
13 May - Bad news even comes seeping up from the minor leagues - Dustin McGowan needs Tommy John surgery.
14 May - The first in what will prove to be an amazing series: Kerry Ligtenberg Meltdown # 1. Ligtenberg entered a 3-3 game in the 8th. After he allowed 4 hits, 1 HB, and 5 ER, it wasn't 3-3 anymore.
17 May - Another late Jays rally! They scored three times to tie the Twins in the 7th. Unmoved, Mike Nakamura gives up a 2 run HR to Jones to lose in the 9th.
19 May - Justin Miller, Lopez, and Kershner pitch the Jays to a 5-2 lead going into the 9th. Terry Adams comes in to close out the victory. But first he loaded the bases for Matt LeCroy, who hit a grand-slam homer. The Jays had gone beyond snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory. They were reaching down Victory's throat and pulling out the loss...
21 May - Mike Nakamura gives up a HBP and a Ramirez HR in the 8th inning of a tie game. Ligtenberg then chips in with Meltdown # 2, facing three batters, all of whom reached and scored. Red Sox win 11-5.
22 May - Ted Lilly was tossing a shutout at Fenway until Bellhorn lined one off his leg and Manny followed with a game-tying HR. Ligtenberg, Kershner, Adams took care of the rest, 5-2 Boston.
23 May - Orlando Hudson comes out of the game after aggravating his hamstring.
27 May - Frank Catalanotto (batting .346) and Kevin Cash go on the DL.
29 May - Orlando Hudson goes on the DL.
30 May - Carlos Delgado misses his first game of the year with a rib cage strain. Jays have their modest 5 game win streak snapped by Texas.
The middle infield is on the DL, the team's best hitter is day-to-day. What next? Don't ask. After the whack in the head comes the knee to the groin...
1 June - Roy Halladay scratched from start against Seattle.
3 June - Tom Cheek misses his first Jays game ever after the sudden passing of his father.
3 June - Oh, swell. Roy Halladay goes on the DL. In the game, Batista and Zito battle for 8 IP. Set free to roam in the Toronto bullpen, the A's beat Adams in the 11th. This was the game when Bobby Estalella hit a HR that the umpire said was foul. Naturally.
8 June - Oh, joy. Carlos Delgado goes on the DL.
11 June - Pat Hentgen turns back the clock with 7 shutout IP against Arizona. Newly installed closer du jour Jason Frasor chooses this night for his first blown save, allowing 3 in the 9th.
12 June - Well, this actually explained a lot. Kerry Ligtenberg goes on the DL.
14 June - In case the fans were taking their suffering too seriously, Tom Cheek misses his first home game ever. Two days later we learn he has a brain tumor.
15 June - Vernon Wells injures his calf running in CF.
16 June - Reed Johnson, cleanup hitter.
17 June - Vernon Wells goes on the DL. Speier allows 3 runs in the 8th, Giants win 8-5.
19 June - Josh Towers comes out after 7 IP but just 78 pitches with a 2-1 lead. Speier gives up 2 runs in the 8th, Padres win 3-2.
24 June - Tampa Bay scores 19 runs against Lilly, File, Nakamura, Peterson, Speier, and Adams.
27 June - Frank Catalanotto goes back on the DL. Pat Hentgen makes what will prove to be his last SkyDome start: 1.2 IPT, 3 H, 6 ER, 5 BB.
The Blue Jays headed for July with their three best players - Delgado, Halladay, Wells - on the DL.
2 July - David Bush works into the 6th in his ML debut and leaves with the score 0-0. Speier lets the inherited runner score to tag Bush with the loss.
4 July - Trailing Expos 2-1 in the 6th, Jays load bases with none out. They do not score, and the Expos get 4 more in their half.
9 July - The day after Delgado's dramatic 9th inning walkoff HR against Guardado finished a sweep of Seattle, Doc allows 12 hits in 5 innings, and the Jays will be swept by Anaheim.
10 July - Ligtenberg Meltdown #3 (0.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 ER) helps turn a 4-2 game into an 11-2 blowout.
18 July - On a hot night in Texas, Batista hits the wall with a 5-1 lead. Teixeira hits a grand slam off Vinnie Chulk. That's six losses in a row, by the way.
20 July - Rich Harden and David Bush hook up in a magnificent pitcher's duel, which Speier finally loses, 1-0, in 14 innings.
21 July - The last game of Pat Hentgen's fine major league career is a start in Yankee Stadium. Hentgen lasts just 2.2 IPT, allowing 7 H and 8 ER.
22 July - Lilly and El Duque lock up in a fine duel, settled when Chulk allows a Ruben Sierra walkoff homer in the 9th.
21 July - Roy Halladay goes back on the DL.
25 July - Pat Hentgen retires.
26 July - Jays rally with a pair of 9th inning runs against Mariano Rivera himself to send the game to extra innings. Naturally, once there, Tony Clark beats Frasor in the 10th inning.
27 July - Lilly leads the Yankees 2-1, when we encounter Ligtenberg Meltdown #4 (0.0 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 ER) as, with help from Speier, they surrender 4 runs in the 8th.
By now, the theme of the season was pretty clear: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Round about now, it just started getting really ugly...
5 August - Ligtenberg Meltdown #5, as he allows 4 hits and 3 runs in the 10th inning, and Cleveland wins 6-3.
8 August - Bernie Williams hits his first career grand slam, as Yankees win 3rd straight. Carlos Tosca is fired.
10 August - Dave Bush has barely been in the majors for a month, but this is already the third time that the Jays have scored no runs for him. The immortal Chad Durbin shuts them down, 2-0
12 August - Lilly has a 2-1 lead and 2 out in the 7th. After Belliard singles, it's time for Ligtenberg Meltdown #6 - 3 BB in a row. Vinnie Chulk finishes the fun by serving up a Ben Broussard grand slam.
15 August - Jays take a 7-1 lead behind David Bush. "Let's see you blow that one," he says to the bullpen. They were more than up to the job, as Chulk and Frasor gave up 8 runs in the 8th inning.
18 August - Boston jumps out to a 4-0 lead in the 1st and hang on for a 6-4 win. Jays have now lost 13 of 15.
24 August - Batista hits the wall in the 6th inning, and Mirabelli's 3 run HR snaps Toronto's little 4 game win streak.
26 August - Jays jump out to early 4-0 lead, but they give it all back and lose when Frasor allows 3 in the 9th.
27 August - Jays have the lead again, but the Yankees score 4 in the fifth. And just to make it all especially irritating - the winning pitcher is Tanyon Sturtze.
28 August - Mariano Rivera retires the potential tying run in the bottom of the 8th. The game doesn't stay close for long. The Yankees score 9 off Maurer and Ligtenberg (Meltdown #7 - 0.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 HR). Frank Menechino finishes up on the mound, and is the only Toronto pitcher not to allow a run on the afternoon.
31 August - Jays squander a 4-0 lead, but rally to tie it 5-5. Ligtenberg then loses it in the 8th.
At this point, the only question remaining was: "When will it end?"
4 September - Jays take a 5-2 lead into the 8th. Chulk (2 runs) and Frasor (5 runs) give it all back.
11 September - Trailing 7-4, Jays get pinch hit homers from Hinske and Gomez to tie it up. Frasor then allows 3 runs with two out in the 8th.
12 September - Teixeira hits a 3 run homer in the first, but the Jays come back and take a 6-5 lead. Teixeira then hits a 2 run HR off Speir to win it.
13 September - Bruce Chen pitches a 5 hit CG. Justin Miller, whose grandfather has just passed away, gets shelled.
21 September - Lord Voldemort wins the only game he would ever win as a Yankee. Doc returns to the mound, and gives up the only HR Giambi would hit since returning to the lineup.
25 September - Jays rally from 5-1 deficit to tie the game in the 9th. But Batista's own error sets up the game-winning sac fly in bottom half.
29 September - HRs by Delgado and Adams bring the Jays back from 6-3 deficit to tie Orioles. Alas, an Adams error in the 9th sets up the winning hit by Newhan.
3 October - The season ends with Delgado, stuck on 99 RBI, watching from the on-deck circle as Wells flies out to end the game. The dreadful season was finally over.
And then, of course, it got much, much worse. On the same day the season ended, broadcaster and former pitcher John Cerutti was found dead in his hotel room. He was just 44 years old, with a wife and three children. Bobby Mattick, a Blue Jay fixture since 1976, died of a stroke in December - at the ripe old age of 89, true, but depressing nonetheless. Opening Day hero Doug Ault took his own life three days before Christmas. In this context, the fact that the greatest hitter in team history had played his last game in Toronto simply didn't seem all that significant...
So... see what can happen? One of the fundamental laws of baseball is the alarming and disconcerting fact that you can do everything right and still have your hat handed to you as they scrape you up off the ground. (This law, of course, features the inevitable corollary - you can also mess up royally and still emerge on top, sometimes.)
In baseball, you don't know nothing
- Yogi Berra