Blue Jays a disinfectant for Toronto’s wounded sports psyche


Jose Bautista has the most Twitter followers of any Toronto Blue Jays player. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – Is Karma capitalized? Yes, I think Karma is capitalized.

I mean, this was a pressing question in the final moments of what will be remembered as one of the finest, richest, craziest and long-awaited pieces of sports theatre you will ever see.

And a lot of people saw it.

That’s the thing about the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays. They are a THING. Sold out for weeks on end. Record television ratings, a team transitioning from really good to borderline legendary in the space of one week in October.

They are filling a need, a void.

And while they are only one third of the way home to a World Series, the ultimate destination for a team that has the feel of destiny about it – even if you’re not into that kind of thing, you have to admit it kind of fits in this case – the way they’ve gotten this far is some kind of epic tale that they’ll be making documentaries about when Jose Bautista is bald and grey.

And that will only cover the 53-minute seventh inning of the Blue Jays’ come-from-behind, you-wouldn’t-believe-it-unless-you-saw-it 6-3 win.

“I’ve never seen anything like that, that whole inning,” said Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, champagne soaking his bandana for the second time in two weeks after going a whole career without a single playoff celebration. “Nineteen years of playing, I was talking to [Mark] Buehrle and even he’s never seen anything like that. That’s like 40 years of experience between us.”

The Blue Jays are ALDS champs. They are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time in 22 years. This would be amazing enough in any circumstance. But they got there in a fashion that is closer to boyhood fiction than anything that actually happens outside of that.

They were 23-30 on June 2, remember? They were eight games behind the New York Yankees on July 28, remember?

And after losing in 14 innings at home just this past Friday, they were 0-2 in the five-game ALDS.

And – it will forever be remembered – they were trailing the Texas Rangers 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning at Rogers Centre on Wednesday. And they got in that pothole in the most Toronto way imaginable.

The short version: In the Rangers’ half of the seventh Roughned Odor was on third base with two out, the count was 2-2 to Shin Soo-Choo when Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin threw the ball back to Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez. Except the ball never got there. It glanced off Choo’s bat, rolled up the third base line, and confusion reigned.

Home plate umpire Dale Scott signalled time out. Martin looked like he thought the play was dead – which it would have been had Choo been outside the batter’s box when Martin’s throw hit his bat. Odor didn’t ask, he simply ran home rather than wait for permission. And Choo was in the batter’s box, so Martin was charged with a throwing error and upon review the Rangers were awarded the run and a 3-2 lead.

“I was just throwing the ball back the way I have a million times before and at that moment – it was probably the worst timing of my life – [it hits his bat],” said Martin. “He didn’t do anything wrong, it was either they’re lucky or we’re unlucky. It was a situation where you either feel sorry for yourself or you do something about it.”

It was a strange situation, but ultimately the right call.

But that it happened?

That was the thing. You could write a book about what it’s like to be a Toronto sports fan. It would be equally parts sad and scary and the heroes would always die in the end, in the same way lemmings always fall off the cliff.

And that particular moment, when the Blue Jays seemed to have come undone because of a fluke play that no one – even the umpire – seemed to understand when it happened would have been the perfect of summation of all of that pain.

It was Kerry Fraser missing Wayne Gretzky’s high stick on Doug Gilmour for the smartphone generation.

It might have only been the seventh inning, but it was exactly how a perfect Toronto season would end – painfully, controversially – even if no one could have imagined it 30 seconds before it happened.

There have been decades without championships. Decades without making the playoffs, even. And lately, when teams have qualified for post-season play it’s brought a special kind of ache, the kind that settles deep in your bones.

The Toronto Maple Leafs not only losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins in 2013, but blowing a 4-1 lead midway through the third period. Not only do the Toronto Raptors get swept by the Washington Wizards, they get swept in the most humiliating way imaginable.

In this respect the 2015 Blue Jays have been less a salve for a wounded, contorted sporting psyche, but a disinfectant. Since they caught fire after the trade deadline they have proved that Toronto can be happy again. They gave Blue Jays fans and sports fans and eventually just people looking for something to cheer for something to cheer for. It was safe to embrace and believe, and crowds came out in droves and watched in record numbers. It was like a boulder had been rolled back from the cave and a lost people could stand up and see the sun again, some for the very first time.

But for a moment, when that ball went bouncing off Choo’s bat and Odor crossed the plate, it seemed like a big setup. A long con. Maybe MLB was in on it. Maybe it went higher than that. Because for all the highs these magical three months have delivered, losing this game, that way, would have undone them all. It’s never cool for fans to throw garbage on the field of play as some did. But you could understand the urge.

“We were pissed. Everyone was pretty upset about it,” said Donaldson. “No one wants to win or lose a game in that manner, it’s not good.”

It would have been proof that the happiness that other sports fans in other cities seem to enjoy sometimes was not going to be available here. Ever.

But then came the bottom of the seventh and three straight Texas errors (“I’ve never seen that before,” said Donaldson) and you started wondering if it was ‘karma’ or ‘Karma.’

“The momentum was palpable,” said Dickey. “You could feel it turn [on the second error]. You felt like things were starting to turn to your side, and we took it and ran with it.”

The tying run comes home on a sawed-off flare from Donaldson’s bat and then Bautista came up to bat with two on and two out. And Rangers reliever Sam Dyson grooved one and Bautista sent it so far and so hard that every single person in the Rogers Centre knew it was gone the minute it left the bat.

“I can’t describe it,” said Martin, who started the rally by sprinting down the line while Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus bobbled his grounder. “I can definitely remember it. I can still see it. …”

Who won’t remember it? Who won’t see it?

As it cleared the fence it seemed to take with it all that pain. All those years.

In its place a strange new feeling.

I think they call it joy.

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