BALTIMORE – The injuries of others prevented the Toronto Blue Jays from picking up at least two players that surely would have helped them this season, one well known, one less so.
The failed pursuit of Ervin Santana and the injuries in the Atlanta rotation that at the last minute landed him with the Braves during spring training has been oft-discussed, and hurt early in the season before the Blue Jays staff stabilized.
But missing out on Orioles first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce, who after being designated for assignment at the end of April turned down Toronto to remain in Baltimore after a Chris Davis injury, is more under the radar and proved far more costly.
In 97 games with the Orioles, the 31-year-old has 20 homers with 48 RBIs and a .936 OPS, and his presence would have stopped the constant shuffle of bodies that all failed to fill the role as a right-handed bat versus lefties. And he surely would have helped the club better cover the injury absences of Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion.
For more salt in the wounds, his three homers and seven RBIs on Tuesday and Wednesday helped knock the Blue Jays from any realistic pursuit of the wild card.
"The opportunity was here," Pearce says of his decision to stay with the Orioles during a brief interview. "Davis went down so there was an opportunity for me to go out there and play for a while. That was probably the main reason. Nothing against Toronto, I definitely would have gone and played there if there wasn’t an opportunity to play here."
Familiarity in his situation helped, too, as Pearce is in his fourth organization and didn’t want to start over.
"That played a huge factor also," he says. "I love these guys, I’ve been with these guys since 2012, that made my decision a lot easier to come back."
As things turned out, he might have ended up with a similar amount of playing time with the Blue Jays given the injuries to Encarnacion and Lind. At the time, they described their opportunity to him this way: "They needed a right-handed bat and I fit the criteria they were looking for. That was pretty much it."
"It was very appealing," he added, "a major league team wanted me when I was designated. I had nothing against Toronto at all, I definitely would have went there if the opportunity wasn’t here."
Now headed to the post-season, things turned out pretty well for him.
"They worked out for the best," he said.
Despite all the rhetoric from the Orioles after Marcus Stroman’s errant pitch to Caleb Joseph on Monday, the catcher holds no animosity toward the Blue Jays right-hander.
Far from it, actually, and he’s looking forward to chatting with Stroman.
"Of course, yeah," Joseph says in an interview. "I’m a man of faith and I believe in forgiveness because I want to be forgiven. I’m more than ready, more than willing to talk or meet. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, I faced him a couple of times in the minor-leagues, he’s a talented guy, he’s a competitor, I don’t think he’s a bad guy at all."
Joseph understands the way retribution works in baseball but feels there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. While Stroman insists there was no intent with the pitch, if he was trying to hit him the pitch can’t be in the head area.
"Baseball is a sport that’s policed itself for a really long time now," says Joseph. "It’s one thing to deliver a purpose pitch in the lower half and it’s another thing to deliver a purpose pitch in the upper half. Two big differences and these guys are major-league pitchers and they get paid to locate fastballs inches away from one another."
Pitching inside is key for any pitcher, Joseph readily acknowledges, but there’s a responsibility there, too.
"Any time you go high and tight on somebody, there’s a high risk, high reward," he says. "For most hitters, you have a pretty open zone up there, right under the hands. It’s hard because you want to pitch to your strengths and you want to pitch to his weaknesses as well, knowing if one gets away it’s risky."
A 96 m.p.h. fastball from Blue Jays righty Aaron Sanchez missed Steve Pearce by mere inches Wednesday, striking his bat for a foul ball just above his hands. There was no intent on Sanchez’s part, but it still shook up Pearce.
"It’s baseball, and it’s scary as a hitter," he says. "But I still had two more pitches left, that was even scarier."