Brunt: We really can’t help ourselves

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It’s been a roller coaster of a season for the Jays. But no matter the ending, we’ll be back for more.

We have all been there.

That girl/guy, so attractive, so perfect, so close and yet so unattainable, and you just can’t get them out of your head. Reason tells you that it’s never going to work out, that you don’t really have a shot, that all of that time and energy and hope invested isn’t going to make a lick of difference. It’s just not in the cards.

But then an offhand remark, an encouraging glance, a friend saying, “Look, I probably shouldn’t even tell you this, but . . .” and you’re hooked all over again.

Such are the irrational, maddening and magical ways of love, and such has been this Toronto Blue Jays season.

When we began back in February, as the team assembled for spring training in Dunedin, those fans who had returned to the fold in numbers following the blockbuster trades in advance of the 2013 season were feeling betrayed. All of that promise, all of those prognostications that made the Jays World Series favourites had proved hollow and empty. They started badly, and but for one illusory winning streak, only got worse.

Having already endured two beat-down decades, the paying customers would not be fooled again.

The Jays needed starting pitching. The Jays needed a second baseman. Neither had materialized over the winter, nor had much of anything else. During the last days of spring training, Toronto believed it had locked up free agent Ervin Santana, only to have that deal fall through—and then to have it revealed that only by asking players to defer salary had GM Alex Anthopoulos been able to come up with the necessary money to make an offer.

So naturally there was public outcry from the fans. The roster as configured couldn’t possibly compete with the Yanks and Red Sox and Tigers. All that was left to do was predict the date of Anthopoulos’s and manager John Gibbons’s inevitable firings, to be followed by a fire sale.

Except then came May, and a team that had been middling the first month of the season suddenly morphed into the best in the game. Everything was working. Everyone was hitting. Home runs came in bunches. Mark Buehrle was going to win 20, maybe 25. Who was this Juan Francisco guy? As the rest of the AL East receded in the rear-view mirror, the post-season probability indicators had the Jays as mortal locks to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. All they had to do was play .500 ball for the rest of the year, and, well, surely they could do that . . .

Detailing the summer swoon isn’t necessary here. The memories are too fresh and painful. And yes, injuries were a big part of it, along with Casey Janssen getting sick over the all-star break and the Baltimore Orioles suddenly turning into the team-of-destiny the Jays had been. The non-waiver trade deadline came and went with no significant moves, and Jose Bautista voiced the frustration of both his teammates and the folks in the stands. During a historically awful August when nothing worked, it was only a question of when to abandon ship. The trolling naysayers in a city where betting the under almost always pays dividends returned after their brief spring hibernation to claim they’d been right all along—and it was tough to argue the point.

By Labour Day, disappointment had hardened into cynicism. Mathematically, the Jays were still alive, but logically, with all of those teams between them and the second wild card spot, their true prospects were highly-unlikely-to-impossible.

Then they won a series in Tampa for the first time in a dog’s age. They completed a sweep. Not quite dead yet. And those young pitchers: Drew Hutchison, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, on his best days unhittable; Marcus Stroman, supposedly too short be a starter, blowing bubbles and blowing away opposing batters more often than not; Aaron Sanchez, the last of the Lansing Three still with the organization, throwing 98 mph effortlessly, unflustered in high-leverage situations, showing none of the control issues that occasionally plagued him in the minors. And then there’s Daniel Norris, called up in September after his breakthrough year, rising all the way from A-ball, and Kendall Graveman, whom no one saw coming, a ground-ball machine. How about a five-man rotation under the age of 25? Deal Buehrle maybe, or R.A. Dickey, create payroll flexibility, bring Melky Cabrera back, and still have two years of Bautista, two years of Edwin Encarnacion. A couple of smart moves in the off-season and watch out in 2015 . . . cockeyed optimism that would last all the way to the next loss, the next rejection.

But you can’t quit them—even when your brain suggests you ought to.

In love, and in sports, that’s our lot.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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