By Bob Elliott
Welcome to the 40th season of Blue Jays baseball.
It will be the 27th played indoors, the first 15 were under the concrete clam known as the SkyDome and this will be the 12th under the clammy confines known as Rogers Centre ... although some still call it SkyDome.
In you are of the belief that time begins on the day of the home opener we’ll tell you there wasn’t a lot of catching up to do from Toronto’s first trip. The Jays opened with a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field before returning home to see old pals David Price, John Farrell and the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.
The Jays are dead even in the standings with 158 remaining.
It could have been a much better start. The Jays trailed for one inning of the first 25 before Logan Forsythe stung Brett Cecil with a two-run homer with one out in the eighth for a 3-2 Rays lead. And that turned into a 3-2 win after the same Forsythe threw a ball into foul ground with Jose Bautista breaking up two with two runs scoring.
Then, Jeremy Sowers reared his head.
Sowers was not a man that the Jays pitchers discussed in pre-game meetings. Sowers was not a name mentioned once in hitters meetings.
Yet it was Sowers, the former Cleveland Indians starter, who helped pin the first loss on the Jays and the Rays register their first win. Sowers took over as the Rays’ video review man this season and saw Bautista slide past second. He quickly called the dugout.
Crew chief Mike Everitt went to the replay and the umps in the New York control room ruled that Bautista had
“hindered and impeded” the fielder. It wasn’t ruled he had done a thing wrong by the man 10 feet away from the bag, but an unknown ump 1,149 miles away with a remote control and video monitors ruled because of Bautista’s slide, Edwin Encarnacion was out at first, the 27th and final out.
So after leading for seven innings, the Jays lost on an eighth inning homer off a reliever and an umpire’s call made in New York. It was as manager Cito Gaston used to say “a winnable game.”
Cecil was due to give up runs at some point. His scoreless outing in Monday’s 5-3 victory marked 38 consecutive regular season appearances without allowing an earned run, tying him with Craig Kimbrel, now a Red Sox, for the major league record.
And in the finale, the Jays led for seven innings, lost on an eighth inning homer off a reliever, five outs from winning. Once again it was a winnable game.
This time it was Arnold Leon who spat up the lead. Gavin Floyd took over for Happ in the seventh with a man on and headed out for the eighth. He allowed a single to Evan Longoria and an out later to Desmond Jennings on a hit-and-run on a pitch a foot off the plate that was flicked to right. It was wasn’t like Floyd had spent his first two innings backing up third.
The decision not to use Drew Storen three days in a row (a scoreless inning in Game 2 win plus he warmed up and was ready in Game 3 but instead had a dry hump in the bullpen) was understandable. Besides Storen, the Jays were also without Jesse Chavez and Cecil on Wednesday. Both had pitched Monday and Tuesday and Gibbons was not about to go three days in a row.
Used as a starter all spring being asked to get six outs should have not have been a serious deal for Floyd. when you come down to it wouldn’t you rather go with the veteran Floyd (1,219 innings) over Leon (26 2/3) at such a critical point.
Leon had thrown ground balls all spring to make the club. He threw a 3-1 meatball which Steven Souza tonged for a game-winning homer.
The Jays could have gone 3-1 in St. Pete’s, or they could have swept the series.
The big plus of the first four games was the starting pitching. All were outstanding. Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ combined for 26 innings, allowing nine runs (3.11), each allowing a homer.
New boss Marrk Shapiro got a first-hand look about the Jays all-or-nothing approach and their (nonexistent) two-strike approach.
The Jays had men on first and third with none out in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Down a run a fly ball or a ground ball would have tied the score. Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere struck out then Josh Donaldson bounced out.
Toronto sluggers hit five homers in four games (third highest going into play Friday) while striking out 46 times in 136 at-bats (roughly once every three at-bats).