By Bob Elliott
Pitchers and catchers gathered in Dunedin on Feb. 22.
Position players rolled in two days later for the first full workout.
They talked about culture change but Your 2015 Toronto Blue Jays did not take flight until late July.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos re-made the roster which had a 50-51 won-loss record and the Jays charged down the stretch like Secretariat going 42-14 to clinch the American League East title in Baltimore on Sept. 30.
They rallied to beat the Texas Rangers.
Yet, now after folding like cheap $50,000 claimers running out of puff at the head of the stretch lost 14-2 Tuesday in a game manager John Gibbons described as “ugly,” and trail the Kansas City Royals 3-1 in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
Now after 241 days since they first gathered, all 197 games (spring training games, regular season and the first round of the playoffs), all those home runs (232), all those gaudy runs scored (891) and all that impressive talk about run differential (plus 221) after ... after all that all the Jays are sure they have left this season are:
Only 27 outs.
You want to talk run differential? The Jays are minus 19 four games in.
It’s win on Wednesday at 4:07 or then we can back to that early-autumn discussion, which was the best Jays team in history.
Was it the 1992 World Series winning team?
The 1993 World Series champs?
Or the 2015 team?
R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball didn’t dance or dart past Royals bats. It didn’t even shimmy like Johnny Cueto’s quick hips and quicker pitches. With his knuckleball appearing as flat as a Saskatchewan highway he faced 12 men, seven of whom reached and five who scored.
Not a good start as the most optimistic Jays would say.
With Dickey gone after 1 2/3 the Jays bullpen didn’t really have a long man -- no one like Danny Cox, Al Leiter or even Todd Redmond -- although Liam Hendriks pitched 4 1/3 scoreless his longest outing of the year. His outing was “borderline abuse,” according to Gibbons.
That left nine outs for the dilapidated bullpen to get with the Jays trailing 5-2. They eventually got them with the help of infielder Cliff Pennington ... the first position player to pitch in the post season since a guy named Babe Ruth, but he had previous mound experience.
So, the Jays wake up Wednesday looking at only nine innings on their dance card.
“We’re been there before,” said Aaron Sanchez, who will be called on to contribute if the Jays force the series back to Kansas City.
“We were there three times against Texas.”
The Jays won two win-or-go-home games in Texas against the Rangers No. 3 and No. 4 starters Martin Perez and Derek Holland. And then they won Game 5 on Jose Bautista’s decisive homer and emphatic bat flip.
“I don’t see it as being much different than the Texas series,” said Marcus Stroman. “We had to win three against them down 2-0. We have to win three against the Royals down 3-1.”
Stroman has been the Jays best starter since post-season began.
David Price is winless as a starter, but won Game 4 in Texas (remember when Gibbons was knocked for lifting Dickey early). And Price may come out of the bullpen in Game 5 behind Marco Estrada if help is needed.
Unlike the back-end Rangers starters they faced, the Jays are facing the Royals Game 1 starter Edinson Volquez in Game 5.
“We don’t have to do anything different,” said Edwin Encarnacion, “they have to beat us one more time. That won’t be easy. We don’t have any pressure on us.”
The Jays took three of four from the Royals at the Rogers Centre at the trade deadline.
“We knew that they were a good squad,” Josh Donaldson told reporters. “They come up to the plate with a game plan. That’s a really good team. They have a lot of guys over there who go after it.
“We have to be able to turn the page. Now, we have to pitch well, play solid defensively and hit well.”
It sounds so easy.
A season so memorable, the first post-season team since 1993, may have nine innings left.
“We’re down by two, I don’t see any difference between this and our series with Texas,” said Russell Martin.
The Jays fell down 2-0 to the Rangers after losing a heartbreaker in 14 innings when they lost lefty Brett Cecil.
In this one the Royals scored 14 times ... on the anniversary of the Jays rallying to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the 1993 World Series in the rain at a soggy Veteran’s Stadium.
SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE ARE SIGNS: The TV monitors in the clubhouse were not turned to the Chicago Cubs-New York Mets game, FC Barcelona soccer or deer hunting as is the norm after a Jays game.
All the TVs were motionless and read:
“First pitch 4.07
“Travel after game.”
Mark Lowe was used fifth out of the bullpen by the time the Royals had scored seven against LaTroy Hawkins and Ryan Tepera.
“Our bags will be packed for the flight to Kansas City,” said Lowe, who got the final out of the eighth and ran into trouble in the ninth.
“Not having Aaron Loup was probably a deciding factor,” said Lowe, who doubted he would be available to pitch in Game 5.
Loup headed for the airport on a family matter leaving the Jays without a left-handed reliever. The Jays can’t replace Loup on the roster.
Catcher Dioner Navarro said he was planning on making the flight to K.C.
“We can’t think about Game 7, not yet, we have to think about winning Game 5, then travel to Kansas City. We know what we have to do. Right now all anyone should be thinking about is Estrada vs. Voloquez.
“We’re flying to Kansas City.”
Spirits may have been high/upbeat or whatever but no one was singing the Fats Dominio classic
“I’m going to Kansas City
“Kansas City, here I come
“I’m gonna be standing on the corner
“12th Street and Vine
“With my Kansas City baby
“And a bottle of Kansas City wine.”
It’s win Game 5 or the Jays that return for next season will be singing that other old classic.
“I’m going to Dunedin.
“To the Bobby Mattick Training Center next February
“I’ll be at 1700 Solon Ave, in Dunedin.
“Wishing we had gone to Kansas City.”
MY FAVORITE NETWORK: Dan Plesac on MLB Network: “Ryan Goins was unfairly criticized about that pop up that fell in Game 2. It was the lead-off hitter of the inning. Price is Toronto’s ace. He has to make some pitches and gets some outs.”
HOW ‘BOUT THEM ROYALS: Duane Ward, who won World Series rings with the 1992-93 Jays, says that the Royals remind him of the Milwaukee Brewers of the early 1990s: “They had all those guys like Paul Molitor, Robin Yount B.J. Surhoff, Pat Listach, Bill Spiers and Jim Gantner, who would hit the ball gap to gap on you and then Rob Deer or Greg Vaughn, who could take you deep.”
Former Blue Jays Cy Young award winner Pat Hengten, who also won two World Series rings with the Jays, compared the Royals to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2002-04: “Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were getting established. They had all these athletic, pesky players. We all thought ‘if this team ever gets pitching, watch out.’”
PRE-GAME: Carlos Delgado, the Blue Jays career leader in home runs with 336, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Mark Buehrle. And Delgado, who had 473 career home runs when a hip injury cut his career short, threw from atop the mound.
Jose Bautista is second behind Delgado with 243 homers, followed by Vernon Wells (223), Joe Carter (218) and George Bell (202). The rest of the top 10 contains Edwin Encarnacion (197), Jesse Barfield (179), Lloyd Moseby (149), Adam Lind (146) and Ernie Whitt (131).
WHY WAS SS TOSSED? The day after the night before Troy Tulowitzki was still wondering what umpire John Hirschbeck had to say.
“I didn’t swear,” said Tulowitzki, before it was his turn during batting practice.
The Blue Jays shortstop had struck out to lead off the seventh -- the ninth pitch of the at-bat against Kris Medlen -- and then was ejected when he took the field in the top of the eighth.
“I gave him his say at home plate, I took it,” said Hirschbeck outside the umpire’s room before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. “He comes out for the next half inning and he’s still screaming at me from almost behind the mound.
“I warned him two or three times.”
Hirschbeck ejected Tulowitzki in long-distance fashion standing on the first-base line while Tulowitzki was almost at his natural position at short.
Chad Pennington took his place in the lineup with and Ryan Goins moving over to shortstop.
“I know it’s a playoff game, but we have to maintain the order of the game,” said Hirschbeck, a 31-year veteran of calling balls and strikes.
As catcher Russell Martin, also called out on strikes, caught Mark Lowe warm up tosses to start the eighth, Hirschbeck was squatting, talking in Martin’s ear.
“It was a friendly conversation, Russell and I have known each other for years,” said Hirschbeck.
LAST WORD: “You don’t really understand what is going on here do you?” asked a long-time Blue Jays employee. “It’s 1985 in reverse ... we’re going to pay the Royals back for what they did in 1985.”
The Jays led the Royals 3-1, lost Game 5 at Royals Stadium, returned home to Exhibition Stadium and dropped decisions on back-to-back nights as the Royals went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.