Wilner: Blue Jays don’t owe fans an apology

Alex Anthopoulos. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/AP)

BALTIMORE — Mark DeRosa’s second straight two-out RBI single came in the top of the 10th inning and gave the Toronto Blue Jays the lead for good in the opener of their final road series of the season.

With the Cleveland Indians having beaten the Chicago White Sox earlier in the evening, Baltimore’s loss was enough to mathematically eliminate the Orioles from the American League wild-card race. They’re now six games behind the Tribe with only five games to go.

The spoiler role is never fun but once you’re in it you might as well rise to the occasion. That’s what the Blue Jays did against the Yankees last week in taking two of three at Rogers Centre, and that’s what they did here in Baltimore, dealing the killing blow to the Orioles’ slim playoff hopes the first chance they had.

BlueJaysTalk: Sept. 24

Now they’ll see if they can do the same to the Tampa Bay Rays, but the odds are much longer there. The best the Blue Jays might be able to do is to deny Tampa Bay home field in the AL wild-card play-in game.

As the season winds down, there have been a few, ummm, interesting callers dial me up on The BlueJaysTalk, but there was one after Tuesday’s game who asked what I found to be a particularly interesting question.

Do the Blue Jays owe the fans an apology for the way this season has turned out?

My initial thought was no, they don’t, and the more I think about it, the more I think that’s the right answer.

There are no guarantees in professional sports. Specific to baseball, you win some, you lose some and sometimes it rains and you have to go back to Chicago on an off-day three months later. All an organization (that is trying to win) can do is assemble what it believes to be the best collection of talent that it can, and all those players can do is the best they can to be as productive as they can and win as many games as possible.

The odds are never in their favour.

You can adjust expectations to increase the odds, for sure. Blue Jays fans dreamed this winter of a return to the World Series after 20 years, but the overwhelming majority would have been happy with just a pennant race, I’m thinking. Meaningful games in September, as they say — games that are meaningful for a team other than the Blue Jays’ opponent.

Look at the New York Yankees, for example. For years the highest spenders in the game, a playoff team every season but one since 1996, though you can pretty much double that now — their tragic number for playoff elimination is down to one following Tuesday night’s loss to the Rays. Yankee fans want a World Series — they feel it’s their right. But for all their recent post-season appearances, the Yankees have won but one World Series championship in the 21st Century.

Should they be apologizing? Of course not.

It’s different with the Blue Jays, clearly, because the World Series is such a distant memory and the team hasn’t even been a factor in a pennant race in two decades. Of course, all of that was supposed to change this season, and instead they’re going to finish in last place in the AL East for just the fourth time since 1981.

They were supposed to be a playoff team. They were supposed to at least be a playoff contender. No one imagined things would go this badly.

But the idea that Blue Jays fans were sold a bill of goods is ridiculous. It wasn’t the Rogers marketing machine that had the Jays as World Series favourites in Las Vegas in December. Nor was it all the hype that had the vast majority of American baseball pundits picking the Blue Jays to be in the playoffs this spring. It was the collection of talent — talent that for the most part wound up underachieving or injured or both.

That can happen, and it really sucks when it does, but that’s sports.

For the cost of a ticket, you are guaranteed nothing more than the opportunity to watch a Major League Baseball game. You’re likely to be entertained, and more often than not the home team is going to win. In fact, if the Blue Jays don’t sweep the Rays at Rogers Centre this weekend, it will be just the first time in 10 seasons that they’ve had a losing record at home.

Unfortunately, you might wind up at one of those games in which the home team loses by a dozen runs. It happens, and there are no refunds on your way out.

Your team doesn’t owe you a winner, because there’s no way for that to be guaranteed. What stinks is that every other city has had a lot of things go right and found its team at least in a playoff race at some point over the last 20 years, but it hasn’t happened with the Blue Jays.

Alex Anthopoulos, with the support of president and CEO Paul Beeston and the high muckety-mucks at Rogers, took a big swing this off-season. Like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Miami Marlins the year before, and like the Boston Red Sox the year before that, the Blue Jays clearly won the winter, energized the fan base and had lots of people falling all over themselves to declare them champions before a game was even played.

Not one of those teams made the playoffs.

The Blue Jays brought in the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, the last two NL batting champions and the most highly sought after pitcher on the trade market. They looked at their shortcomings the year before (starting pitching, left field, shortstop, second base) and made what they believed to be improvements — and what should have been drastic improvements based on track records — at all those positions. They did their best to turn around two decades awash in mediocrity.

It didn’t happen. Are they sorry it didn’t happen? Of course they are. Have they wronged the fans somehow? Of course they haven’t. All one can do is try one’s best, and if that’s not good enough, then eventually someone else gets a chance to try.

Sorry, Blue Jays fans, but the team doesn’t owe you an apology. What it owes you is a winter spent trying to fix what went wrong this summer.

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