In baseball, it’s a long season. Then, eventually, but suddenly, it isn’t.
What might be the longest and most eventful season for the Toronto Blue Jays in recent memory concludes with six very meaningful games at Rogers Centre this week.
If you were to be offered such a prospect back in April, as the Jays were playing home games before antagonistic crowds in Florida, and scraping their way to a .500 record for the first month of the season, some fans might have been eager to accept that bargain.
Now that it has become reality, the moments before the final week feel like that last moment at the apex of a roller coaster, just as you are plunged downward and immersed into a potent mix of angst and exhilaration.
This is everything we hope for as fans. It will be rapture, and it will be torment.
It will also largely define how we consider this season in the years to come. While there have been many moments and movements over the past 25 weeks that have produced this 87 win-team as it enters this final week, what will largely be remembered in the years to come will be the final stretch, and how the season concluded.
Perhaps from that future perspective, we’ll be able to recognize the exceptional final month that put the Blue Jays in this position. They were broadly written off on August 27th, with only fools and dreamers imagining them making up 6.5 games to reach the second wild card spot, with the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners all ahead of them in the standings.
Since then, the Blue Jays have gone 21-8, a record that is just one game behind the historic streak of the St. Louis Cardinals, who are 22-7 over the same stretch.
The record provides the data to measure the sentiment, which has been one of the most enthralling periods in franchise history. This is a moment when the New Jays, led by a young collection of exceptional talents and untethered from any of the team’s previous successes, steps out and becomes the team that fans hoped they could be.
With so little margin for error, most games down the stretch have felt like must-win scenarios. The anticipation for fans is pitched so high that any setback feels like plummeting to the depths of despair. In a game that is uniquely defined by almost constant failure, it’s no wonder that a few bad ball-strike calls, or balls laced hard directly into fielders’ gloves, or a pitch left a little too much in the middle of the plate can feel like ponderous torment. A sudden weight tugging you back down to your worst suspicions of this year’s outcome.
The reward for enduring these moments must be beneficial enough to keep fans hanging on. It would be easier to check out and avoid the anxiety, except that every big moment fuels something deep inside us. Fans who endured the seasons since the last playoff team in 2016, or those who have withstood enough disappointments or false hope over the decades are willing to twist themselves into bundles of jittery nerves just for the satisfaction of feeling this profound spirit thrusting them out of their seats with every timely hit, big strikeout, double play or big fly. It’s a feeling that is almost involuntary, whether if they are leaping off their couch or rising to their feet at the ballpark with thousands of others just like them.
Think of the journey that’s brought us here. It was Dunedin, then Buffalo. The third wave, the fourth wave and the Delta variant. The moments when it seemed like a return to something close to normal remained distant, and the eventual return of the team to this side of the border, with their own fans filling the stands.
It may have begun in November of last year, when pitcher Robbie Ray re-signed quickly with the club just days into baseball’s free agency signing period following the World Series. It was a signing so unheralded in the moment that for months afterward, it merited at most a perfunctory acknowledgment as the discussion turned to which top-flight Jays may sign, or for whom they may settle after missing out.
And now, it’s about ensuring that Ray – the ace of the staff and a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate – is lined up to pitch as many critical games as possible.
It’s also about Marcus Semien, the unexpected ballast of the team who also took a one-year deal as the Jays’ second or third or fourth choice in the free agent pool who has etched himself into the record books this year.
Marcus Semien ties the MLB record for most HRs in a season by a 2nd baseman with 43! pic.twitter.com/2Ms8TgsK3e
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) September 26, 2021
It’s about Vlad, too. And Bo. And George Springer’s knee and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s hand. And Hyun Jin Ryu’s neck. And it’s down to this: One week, six games. A critical series with the New York Yankees, and so much scoreboard watching.
The term “nervous anticipation” hardly seems to cover it.
The fan’s mind races, and their bodies can barely tolerate a moment of stillness. And their souls ache for something great to happen. It’s agony, but it’s all any of us could wish for.