TORONTO – On Aug. 24, 2011, after a 9-4 loss to the then lowly Los Angeles Dodgers, Chris Carpenter called a meeting in the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse during which he and other veterans demanded that everyone on the team play their best right down to the final out, and hope for the best.
They were 11½ games out of the wild card with 32 games remaining, and no matter how bleak things looked, they still had to push to the very end. So they did just that, going on a 23-9 run to supplant the Atlanta Braves on the season’s final day, steal the wild card, and eventually win the World Series.
In all likelihood, the 70-minute, players-only chat the Toronto Blue Jays held before Tuesday night’s late-inning collapse led to a 10-9 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers won’t have the same fairy tale ending, but by no means does that diminish the importance of the overlying message from both meetings.
Forget the standings. Forget the odds. Show some pride. Play your ass off every step of the way.
"If people listen maybe there’s some good to come out of it," said closer Casey Janssen. "If it doesn’t, I guess we’re no worse off than we were before. Hopefully we come together, hopefully everyone realizes that we have each other’s backs and that we haven’t quit.
"There are guys in this room that genuinely care about the season, care about each other, if nothing else for the most part, we’re kind of tired of seeing the product that we’re seeing on the field."
Few will disagree with that final sentiment, and while it’s stunning that things have come to this with a week left in July, the Blue Jays must make the best of their situation, for the sake of the years to come, if not 2013.
The worst thing that can happen to them is a repeat of last August’s nosedive, especially when the core of this club is due back in the seasons ahead. A culture of losing can simply not be allowed to set in, and there were enough warning signs in Monday’s five-error, 14-5 rollover against the Dodgers to trigger the meeting.
"We had a few guys late (Monday) night and we were talking shop, we let some things off our chest, and we said well this is something we probably need to talk to all the guys in the room about," said Janssen. "We ended up having the meeting and for the most part it went well, but right now they’re just words.
"I think everybody, including myself and my teammates, want to see it on the field."
Added Jose Bautista: "After the break we were hoping to come out of the gates strong and we didn’t, so it was a good time to do it, and it went well. We aired some stuff out. I’d like to keep that private."
There were signs for the better Tuesday night, with key hits from Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia, and 5.2 gutsy innings of three-run ball from stopgap starter Todd Redmond. Combined, they helped build an 8-3 Blue Jays lead through six innings, but taxed from seven innings of relief work Monday, the bullpen faltered, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan surrendering a three-spot in the seventh before Darren Oliver hacked up four in the eighth.
Like it’s been all year, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.
"It doesn’t get any worse than that to be honest with you, considering where we’re at," said manager John Gibbons. "These games happen every now and then, but it’s really magnified now."
Regardless, what the Blue Jays show over the next couple of months will certainly be telling for GM Alex Anthopoulos, who when asked if what he’s seen so far has shaken his faith in the assembled core he paid so dearly for, replied, "at the end of the day you always evaluate."
"Your evaluations of players change, certainly, from year to year, from time to time, but you also know players are going to bounce back," he continued. "Normally it’s a few players, not a collection of them, and we’ve had a lot of players not be able to perform to their abilities."
Already the add mode the Blue Jays were in at the beginning of July ahead of the trade deadline has shifted to "looking at guys that can help us currently, obviously, but we have control of them beyond the current year," said Anthopoulos.
"From our standpoint, we’re having dialogue," he added, "I think it’s going to be quiet, I really don’t see us doing anything."
Really, the roster’s heavy lifting is only really going to be done in the off-season, and much like the foundation of the blockbuster with the Miami Marlins was laid last July when the Blue Jays took their first run at Josh Johnson, Anthopoulos will be doing lots of reconnaissance work on what opportunities this winter may bring.
In the interim, the Blue Jays need to do as much self-correcting as possible, finding a way to gel as best they can. To that end, Anthopoulos praised Tuesday’s meeting for the "accountability among the group, to work it out amongst themselves."
At 45-54 the Blue Jays have now lost a season-high six games in a row, each of them to the type of contending team they were designed to be, underlining the recent comments made by Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Mark DeRosa on the team’s situation in recent days.
On Saturday, Buehrle replied "maybe we were overrated, maybe we’re not as good as we thought we were" when asked about the team’s troubles; on Sunday, Dickey said, "it’s hard to see it any other way because of our record," in response to a question about Buehrle’s comment; and Monday, DeRosa said, "you don’t quit competing, you keep fighting, you never know what can happen, but obviously we’ve put ourselves in a significant hole. I don’t know if we’re capable of coming out of it. I don’t know."
Anthopoulos understands where his players were coming from given their own expectations at the start of the season.
"At the end of the day the results are the results, at some point, you have to acknowledge the obvious, when you’re not playing well, are below .500, all those things, you have to be a realist as well," he said. "There is an accountability. To sit here and say we’re playing like a great team, we’re playing like a playoff team – we haven’t done that. That’s stating the obvious more than anything else."
"We haven’t played as well as we can," said Anthopoulos. "There’s no doubt about it. It’s not that they don’t want to play better, guys have bad seasons, guys don’t perform, you see it in sports all the time. No one wants to not perform, but it happens. From a talent standpoint, we all know that the talent is there, it’s just that the results haven’t been there."
They haven’t and the Blue Jays’ second players-only meeting of the season may or may not change that. Either way, there’s no excuse for them to let up even a bit in trying.