By Bob Elliott
As opening nights in the city that never sleeps, Brett Cecil’s run as closer of Your 2015 Toronto Blue Jays lasted as long as flickering bulb outside the Shubert Theatre on Broadway.
Cecil faced four hitters in Game 2 of the season at Yankee Stadium, retired one and blew the save.
Glory Days and Moose Murders were Broadway plays which had a run of exactly one show.
After Cecil’s short spring and his first outing, manager John Gibbons relieved him of his closer duties and went to untested rookie Miguel Castro.
Fast forward to Game 150 on Monday night.
The most important inning of the most important game played in these here parts since Joe Carter faced Mitch Williams in 1993.
Cecil allowed a single to Jacoby Ellsbury cutting the Blue Jays lead to 4-1. With two runners aboard and facing the tying run he struck out Brett Gardner looking, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann swinging.
He had faced two batters on Saturday and three on Sunday against the Boston Red Sox tagged with the loss and here he was:
Game on the line.
“What he did on his third straight day of work was legendary,” said R.A. Dickey, “he struck out probably their three best hitters.
“With that much leverage, it was pretty amazing. I can’t underscore how important a job he did.”
David Price had worked seven scoreless and Aaron Sanchez allowed the first two men of the eighth to reach.
A pitch away from loading the bases, Cecil struck out Gardner on a curve which had plate ump Greg Gibson’s right arm moving in an upwardly direction and Gardner’s mouth moving as he debated the location of the pitch.
Rodriguez swung and missed at a 1-2 curve.
And then McCann on a 1-2 pitch swung through another curve ball. Dickey called Cecil’s curve ball on this night “one of the best breaking balls I’ve ever seen.”
Cecil has now pitched 614 2/3 innings for the Jays since scouting director Jon Lalonde and scout Tom Burns made the University of Maryland Terapins reliever the Jays first-round pick in 2007 (38th over-all) making his debut May 5, 2009 against the Cleveland Indians.
The Jays chose Houston high school INF Kevin Ahrens with their first pick (16th over-all), who peaked at double-A New Hampshire, and then chose C J.P. Arencibia (21st over-all) who is now with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Cecil has been a starter and a closer.
He’s been The Guy and a guy in the bullpen.
“That inning could have exploded on us,” said veteran LaTroy Hawkins, who was warming in the bullpen when Cecil recorded his first strikeout.
No one could have envisioned this night on April 8 inside the small band box in the Bronx. Cecil came on the face Carlos Beltan with the bases loaded and the Jays leading 3-1. He threw a wild pitch and after striking out Beltan, was ordered to issue an intentional walk to Mark Teixeira.
Cecil hit McCann with a pitch forcing in the tying run and Chase Headley reached on an infield hit giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
How far has Cecil come since that night?
“He had a so-so start after his abbreviated spring,” manager John Gibbons told reporters, “then we took him out of the closer role. He found his release point. He had been leaving the ball up and away.
“The key for relievers is getting strikeouts. He can strike people out.”
Cecil has whiffed 62 in 49 2/3 innings this season.
Dickey said along with the fourth, when Price pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam, the eighth was a “challenge inning” by the Yankees.
Gibbons said the eighth may turn out to be the pivotal inning of the season. Told of this Cecil, down played the eighth like any Terapin would.
“A lot of innings made a difference this season,” Cecil told reporters, “I think there is a lot more going for us than that one inning.”
Had he pitched a more important inning in his career with the Jays?
“Nope,” he said.
Asked by Jamie Ross of MLB.com if he could explain how he felt after the third and final strike out as the noise of the sold-out Rogers Centre carried him off the mound, Cecil gave a half smile and said: “Not really.”
Cecil has not allowed an earned run over his last 27 innings recording 36 strikeouts.
Could there be more important innings down the road for Cecil?
Sanchez allowed a five-pitch lead-off walk to the No. 8 hitter and a Dustin Ackley single. He had 1.15 ERA as a reliever in July and August and now has allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings (7.01).
Closer Roberto Osuna allowed a homer to Greg Byrd in the ninth -- that’s four in 7 2/3 innings this month -- after allowing three from opening day until the end of August in 57 2/3 innings.
“I don’t show too much emotion, when I can save a guy a run, I try,” said Cecil and then discussing Ellsbury’s run-scoring single said “I apologize for that run, I’ll try to make a better pitch.”
On the night Cecil struck out the side, it did not matter that the three whiffs were preceded by a run-scoring single.
On the night that Cecil pitched the most important inning since he was drafted it was not a time for apologies.
Apology not accepted.