And after a month-long stretch that featured all manner of heartbreaking circumstance, curious underperformance and untimely injury that both expedited a once-in-control-of-first-place team’s slide down the standings and crushed the souls of those who live and die emotionally with that team’s results on a daily basis, the Toronto Blue Jays won Tuesday night in convincing fashion, finally.
And what a relief that must have been—for team and fans alike, no doubt—to experience triumph, especially after a week that hadn’t gone how anyone would have liked it. Four straight losses to Oakland followed by a series-opening defeat to the Angels, which pushed the Blue Jays a whole three games out of first place in the AL East, had sent many outside the organization into panic mode and many within it to deep reflection. Key players were either floundering in slumps or being lost to injury, while the team’s management was busy claiming the refuse of other organizations on the waiver wire, searching for something, anything, that might keep the ship afloat.
And all of this while teams with similar win totals, like the Athletics and New York Yankees, were improving their rosters significantly through trade, and others, like the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, were playing their best baseball of the season and running off winning streaks. These were dire days indeed.
And then Tuesday night came around, and the Blue Jays swatted 14 hits in a 4-0 victory over the Angels, after totaling just 30 hits in their first five games of this road trip. Six of those hits came from Steve Tolleson, Nolan Reimold and Munenori Kawasaki, three players who are on the Blue Jays roster as injury replacements and, in the most ideal of situations, probably wouldn’t be on this roster at all.
And that’s not to mention Jose Reyes, who had his best game of the season, producing four hits of his own and all the offence the Blue Jays would need with an RBI single in the fifth, his team’s first hit with a runner in scoring position on their current road trip, snapping an 0-for-25 skid. Reyes was also the guy making a stupidly athletic play in the fifth, ranging deep to his right to grab a Collin Cowgill grounder that was running away from him, pivoting and throwing against his momentum, putting everything his clandestinely injured shoulder has behind it, and nailing Cowgill at first base, on a play Blue Jays fans have seen him fail to make far too often this season.
And Reyes was the guy going deep to left field two innings later (his first homer off a left-hander this season), extending the Blue Jays’ lead with a two-run shot. By the time he was collecting the final out of the game, firing a perfect putout from shortstop before un-tucking his jersey and running off the field through the high-five line, Reyes looked like a man who had stood for enough of the criticism and decided to do something about it.
And R.A. Dickey had his best outing of the season, facing just two batters over the minimum through six, while throwing 96 efficient pitches (just the seventh time in 18 starts this season he’s thrown less than 100), 79 of them knuckleballs that danced and weaved their way through the strike zone and earned 10 swinging strikes. He threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes and managed to avoid a home run for just the second time in his last 10 starts. He manhandled a no-joke Angels lineup and suddenly the knuckleballer has a 3.10 ERA over his last six outings.
And maybe this is when Dickey falls into his groove, and pitches like the Cy Young award winner he was. And maybe this is when Reyes falls into his, and provides the trigger at the top of the lineup the Blue Jays offence needs to break out of its slump. Crazier things have happened than a couple of very good baseball players with strong track records of success playing up to their potential and helping a team win when one of its best hitters is on the disabled list and another is playing hurt. Tuesday night’s game was played as if everything that’s driven you crazy about the Blue Jays over the last few weeks had somehow fixed itself. The team’s stars and fill-ins were all contributing and at no point throughout the game did it feel like the Blue Jays were on the brink of disaster. And maybe that’s a sign of things to come.
And maybe you’ll leave a comment under this story, saying it’s just one game and the Blue Jays remain a sinking ship. That the team has shown its true colours and that the incredible boom of a 21-9 May was just a mirage. That you knew all along this team didn’t have what it takes.
And, who knows, maybe you’re right. Maybe the Blue Jays offence will fall back into its arctic slump come Wednesday night, and maybe the starting pitching won’t be able to consistently hold the opposition to just two or three runs a night any more, and maybe the defence won’t be as sound as it was in this series opener, and maybe Reyes will send another throw wide of first base, and maybe the roster fill-ins will perform at below the replacement level they’re meant to epitomize. Maybe that will all happen and you can relish in whatever morsel of satisfaction comes from accurately predicting your favourite team’s demise. Maybe it will all fall apart.
And maybe it won’t. Maybe a five-game losing streak on the west coast is just one of those things that happens in a long baseball season—a good team that hit a funk. Maybe the Blue Jays are as good as they seemed just a month ago. Maybe when they’re healthy and not mired in an offensive slump, these Blue Jays can be pretty damn good.
And maybe everything will be alright.