Marcus Stroman bopped out of the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse, nodding the affirmative and saying: “Yep, I’m ready for everything all the time.” David Price? “If needed, yeah,” he responded. “For sure.”
They will be the members of John Gibbons’ all-hands brigade in Game 5 of the American League Division series Wednesday afternoon, as the Blue Jays don’t so much turn the page on one of their most embarrassing moments in franchise history as they do rip out the page, run it through the shredder – then burn the book for good measure.
What is left of this team following Tuesday’s humiliation beyond a lineup that can score runs? Well, Marco Estrada, their most consistent starter this season, will be on the mound. Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna, too, as well as the aforementioned starters Price and Stroman possibly for a batter or two. “We’ll be fine tomorrow if we get a good outing by Marco – we expect to,” said manager John Gibbons, who muttered angrily under his breath as he walked out of his post-game interview.
Aaron Loup, the only left-handed reliever, left the team before Tuesday’s game to attend to a recurring family matter; Liam Hendriks is done after an outing that Gibbons described as “border-line abuse; Mark Lowe is at least doubtful after an inning’s work with the score 12-2 … and one would suppose Cliff Pennington is available, too. Ryan Tepera and LaTroy Hawkins … no.
Estrada, of course, took the loss in Game 1. Tuesday, he talked about working on pounding fastballs down and away in his bullpen session. He didn’t have four-seam location either, in Game 1, and figures the Royals will be as aggressive as they’ve been throughout the series – which was a departure, he acknowledged, from the level of aggressiveness he’d seen in two regular-season starts.
The 32-year-old also beat the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series when the Blue Jays were down 2-0 and facing elimination in that best of five series. “I didn’t think about it that way,” Estrada said. “I thought: ‘It’s the first game we’re playing against them.’”
There is a segment of the Blue Jays fanbase that is resolute in their belief that Gibbons doesn’t get things right – they are the children of the “Cito doesn’t do jack” gang of the 90s – and with so much uncertainty afoot with the status of general manager Alex Anthopoulos and incoming president Mark Shapiro’s intentions unknown, a game like Tuesday’s sure seems as if it could have long-range implications for people looking for an excuse to make changes, or at least find something to hang over Gibbons’ head early into next season.
I’ve been a defender of Gibbons, particularly his bullpen use, and will continue to be – especially since I realized going into the postseason that the one pitcher whose absence would completely change the way Gibbons manages a game was Brett Cecil, who hasn’t been available since Game 2 of the AL Division Series.
But, yeah, he lost me there a bit when with the score 5-2 he replaced Hendriks with Hawkins, who hasn’t looked healthy or reliable. True, the Royals were into their usually impermeable bullpen but, man … with Edinson Volquez due to pitch Game 5 and the Blue Jays quick-strike offence a threat at home … I don’t know: I might have gone with the more dependable Lowe instead of Hawkins, or kept Lowe for Game 5 instead of bringing him in for Ryan Tepera.
Turns out Gibbons effectively wanted to stay away from Lowe.
“He’s been so good, he’s been one of our go-to guys,” Gibbons said. “It was getting so ugly. You try to have a little pride, anyways. I hate to use position players … maybe we made a little history today, I don’t know. A big game like that and a position player pitches …
“But we were trying to stay away from him. He had a tough time.”
Anyhow, this is where the Blue Jays find themselves: Game 5 against a pitcher who was almost otherworldly in the first game of the series. Volquez sounded light-hearted in his media availability, going so far as to expound on a conspiracy theory floated by Game 3 victim Johnny Cueto that the Blue Jays steal signs, children, signals, car keys – hell, that they’ll steal the shirt off your back if you aren’t careful. So … could The Man In White make his return around the bullpen?
Russell Martin rolled his eyes.
“Honestly, I would tell you,” he said, then added for the benefit of two familiar reporters from New York: “We did it with the Yankees … but we don’t here. We just (expletive deleted) hit. We just (expletive deleted) crush …”
Wait, what? Did he just say the Yankees stole signs? “I didn’t say that,” he said, pulling on a few chains. “I mean, it’s part of the game but as far as having somebody in the stands … come on, man.”
Martin quoted Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ in summing up his teams approach to elimination. “Pretty easy, man … you win or go home, and I feel like there’s a lot more fight left in us.”
Are these desperate games? Martin shrugged. ” I don’t feel those types of emotions when you play the game,” he said. “I’m always in an aggressive mindset. When you know your backs are against the wall, you can only move forward.”
Hmm. Sun Tzu: left-hander or right-hander? Has he got an inning in him today?