The meteoric rise and fall of the Toronto Blue Jays this season has allowed fans to experience all the emotions that happen to a championship club after their fall from grace. Blame escalating salaries, small markets, poor management, or under-performing athletes; sometimes it’s fun to just be along for the ride. The past 10 days: not so much.
I’ve kept with the team through thick and thin (yes, even the Season From Hell) seeing the constant glimmers of brilliance and unexplainable struggles. Watching last year’s hitting flail with runners in scoring position was painful. It’s hard to justify a professional hitter allowing fastballs straight down the middle with the bat never leaving the shoulder. Re-enter manager Cito Gaston, whose hitting philosophy more aligns with the school of thought that involves fucking up what should be ripped. Right on.
Of course, his hiring brings to mind whether he was just hired for marketing as the team was supposed to enter a short rebuilding phase before injured pitching returned in 2010. Then they suddenly started winning. There were plenty of articles and sound bites about how the Jays had the best record in Major League Baseball since Cito took over. With the recent nine game losing streak, that story point is out the window.
Maybe we can now mention how Cito used to roll out an aging Joe Carter when he was one of the worst hitters slotted into the 4-spot. How about his refusal to pinch hit and take advantage of platoon situations late in the game? How he keeps relying on relief pitchers in close games when they have had recent struggles? The concept of staying the course is pretty much dead in modern baseball. You don’t build confidence over many months of the season. If there’s a leak in the ship, you plug it (if we’re going to keep the Hillenbrand nautical theme up.) As in, put someone on the field that can get the job done. Lose one now to win a couple more down the road. Team synergy. Whatever. You just watched Camp and Carlson ruin four games on this past road trip.
Of course the team’s on-field regression was inevitable, a law of averages when you have so many players exceeding their career performances thus far, such as Barajas, Bautista, Scutaro, and Tallet. At the very least, they were beating the bottom-dwellers that they had been losing to in past years. Exposure to competitive AL East teams is sure to reveal the Truth. But all the media, bloggers, and armchair peanut galleries are really just bullshit. Baseball has shown again and again that no matter how many statistics and intangibles you attempt to analyze, it’s a sport that can go any way on any given day, even given the performance of just one player on a team (well, mostly the starting pitcher.)
Thus is exposed the Toronto Blue Jays fans’ dichotomy of hope and cynicism. There’s always a feeling that the pieces are there but the puzzle couldn’t be completed. Then an unexpected crew of non-superstars take off and make us believe magic just might be in the air. Maybe our city won’t have another disappointing year of sporting failure. Then a losing streak that can be blamed on bad luck or black, albino Baby Jesus supplants our joy with turmoil. Do we not just stay on the bandwagon, but jump onto the long haul train? Maybe you should just get another beer and enjoy the ride.
Also, this illusion is kinda neat and Roy Halladay is the most enjoyable athlete to watch.