SEATTLE – A year ago Sam Gaviglio was on the other side of the beer-fuelled party Canadian fans have turned the Toronto Blue Jays’ annual series at Safeco Field into, allowing two runs, one earned, over six innings in what finished as a 4-2 win for the Seattle Mariners.
Even though the right-hander pitched well that day in what was in reality, if not in practice, a home game, he didn’t get the type of ovation he enjoyed walking off the field Sunday after he worked 5.2 innings of three-run ball for the Blue Jays, many fans standing and cheering.
“It’s way better to be on this side, I’ll tell you that much,” Gaviglio said with a grin afterwards.
The carousing came to an end Sunday both for the Blue Jays, who failed to complete an unlikely four-game sweep with a 6-3 loss, and their fans, who started making the return trip north to recover from their weekend of mayhem, hangovers in tow.
A crowd of 40,515 in Sunday’s finale brought the series total to 138,578, the four-day average of 34,645 more than 5,000 fans a game above their season norm. Across the city Blue Jays fans filled restaurants and bars both before and after games, their revelry and hijinks extending deep into the night.
“A lot of the guys told me before it was going to be like this, but you can’t believe it until you come here and see it and you live it,” shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who finished the series 7-for-13 with three homers, said through interpreter Josue Peley. “I really appreciate what they did, it felt like playoff games here, like we were playing in Toronto, so it’s really nice to witness that.”
Yet despite the injection of revenue they provided both for the Mariners and the city, their presence isn’t necessarily viewed as the innocent, feel-good curiosity it once was.
“I take that personally when a team comes in here and brings their faithful fans and their muddy shoes and stomps on our carpet and takes a dump on our dining room table,” Mariners starter Marco Gonzales told reporters after falling 7-2 Friday.
“They’ve been loud,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of the Canadian fans. “I don’t like it. The players don’t like it. We’ve had enough of it. But there’s only way to make it stop.”
Smaller anecdotes spoke to the growing irritation, as well.
On Saturday outside the stadium, two fans carrying a Canadian flag chanted “Let’s go Blue Jays,” and hooted along with their compatriots at a local bar. A man wearing a Mariners jersey across the street shouted to them angrily, “Go home, you’re drunk.”
While for the most part the Canadian merrymaking remains good-natured – two hosers sitting on a patio with two-litre beer mugs (not a typo) were applauded by fans of all stripes for their efforts – a handful of outliers have started taking things too far.
The naked man who ran out on the field in the ninth inning Saturday night, for example, turned out to be an Irish national living in Vancouver, and such misbehaviour is obviously unbecoming.
The Blue Jays’ use of the hashtag #BlueJaysInvade on social media platforms is both accurate and arrogant, celebrating a remarkable yearly ritual while simultaneously rubbing an uncomfortable reality in the faces of the Mariners, who are classy hosts, and their fans.
“You’re at a home game but it feels like you’re away,” Gaviglio said of his feeling a year ago. “The Blue Jays fans outcheer the Mariners fans here … it’s just different. You get a hit or you score a run and it’s quiet. Then the other team scores and it’s loud.”
Still, most painful for the Mariners is how the Blue Jays came in limping on the heels of suffering a three-game sweep in Oakland but flipped the script to take three of four.
Amid the pre-trade deadline roster sell-off and poor play that prompted a post-game team meeting Monday, things weren’t good for the Blue Jays, and the atmosphere has since changed dramatically.
“Every time you get close to the trade deadline, it’s a little bit awkward, it’s a little bit hard because you lose some teammates and lose some friends, it gets a little tough in the clubhouse,” said Diaz. “But we had a meeting, we talked about it and we decided what we wanted to do with the rest of the season and we played great here. The starting pitchers did an awesome job, kept us in the game and it was fun to play here.”
At the same time, they flipped the wild-card standings around, as the Mariners, now 2.5 games behind the Athletics for the second berth, led by two games before the Blue Jays arrived in Oakland on Monday.
“These games mean something and we’re a professional team, a big-league team, so you try to win every game you can. It’s unique out here, you’re not going to find it anywhere else for any team, I don’t think. And it does something to you. It gives you an extra burst of energy, I think the guys felt it, so we tip our hat to all our fans that came down here,” said manager John Gibbons, before quipping: “Wins have been few and far between this year, they got to see three of them.”
Briefly the Blue Jays made it look they might take all four games, as Aledmys Diaz ripped a two-run shot off Mike Leake in the seventh that tied the game 3-3.
But Joe Biagini, the losing pitcher against Gaviglio in the game here a year ago, served up a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz and a solo shot to Kyle Seager, his second of the game, in the bottom half of the inning to salvage the day.
For the Mariners it was good riddance to their guests, who left messes to clean up in the streets and in the standings in their wake.