TORONTO – With only a few days left in the season and playoff berths at stake, every remaining game is hugely significant for teams like the Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays. We’re at the point that a single swing could legitimately change the trajectory of a team’s season. It’s some of the most compelling baseball you’ll see all year.
Objectively speaking, there’s no denying that these two teams are among the worst in major-league baseball. Entering play Wednesday, Baltimore and Toronto had already combined for 200 losses, and they came by them honestly, with run differentials of minus-258 and minus-107, respectively.
What, you might wonder, could these teams possibly be playing for? On Wednesday, only 13,853 showed up to find out. And granted, compared to the baseball we’re about to watch in October, the Blue Jays’ 3-2 win over Baltimore doesn’t even register.
But long after the possibility of a collective accomplishment disappears, these games still matter on an individual level. Roles, roster spots and reputations are still at stake, after all. Even in a game between two of baseball’s worst teams, that’s apparent if you look closely enough.
“I’ve been doing that since the beginning,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “You play to win. It doesn’t matter who you play.”
A two-homer game for Rowdy Tellez gives the rookie first baseman 21 homers on the season, making him just the fourth rookie in Blue Jays history to hit 20. The others: Fred McGriff (20, 1987), Eric Hinske (24, 2002) and J.P. Arencibia (23, 2011). Reaching the 20-homer plateau has significance for Tellez, who’s making a habit of putting up big offensive numbers in September.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “It’s one of those things that a lot of people dream of that’s hard to do. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Beyond the numbers, Tellez spent batting practice with a young fan named Emmett who has already battled heart issues. As he prepared for the game, Tellez made a prediction.
“I’m not going to compare Rowdy to Babe Ruth, but he promised a kid he’d hit a home run,” Montoyo recalled.
Later, Tellez offered a correction.
“I promised him three and I failed,” he joked. “It was a special moment for us. We have a connection and I was glad that I could have him with me.”
This game had significance for Jacob Waguespack, too. His season began on a windy Thursday afternoon in Buffalo, when he was the Bisons’ opening day starter. Nearly six months later, his year ends with six shutout innings that lower his big-league ERA to 4.38. Viewed from afar those numbers are easy to overlook, but Waguespack didn’t post them by accident.
“You come out each and every day and put your heart and soul into competing,” said Waguespack. “That’s what I tried to do. You take away that each pitch matters. You need to be locked in on each and every pitch.”
And sure, it was against Baltimore, but this is a big-league team, not the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders lineup he faced on April 4. After a strong showing in the big leagues this summer, Waguespack will compete for a rotation spot next spring.
“I thought I held my own out there and showed some good things,” Waguespack said of his season. “And also (I) showed some room for improvement.”
Others had less to be pleased with. Recently acquired infielder Breyvic Valera got the start at shortstop in place of the recovering Bo Bichette only to go hitless in four at-bats and look shaky on some defensive chances. If he loses his grip on a 40-man roster spot at some point in the off-season, Wednesday might stand out as a missed opportunity.
Regardless, games like this are easily forgotten in the course of a long season and with playoff races unfolding elsewhere, that’s understandable. But at field level, there’s always something at stake, as Tellez and Waguespack would attest.