Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
In mid-June of last year, Brett Cecil had a really bad week.
His earned run average blew up to a painful 5.96 after allowing eight runs in three appearances. He barely made a save. He blew a save and lost a game. He lost another game. Watching that handful of collapses felt like the worst kind of baseball hellscape, the kind of empathetic experience where you just bury your face in your hands and moan quietly to yourself.
On the 23rd of that month, John Gibbons said to the media that the team was going to “see if we can get him back on track.” This throwaway sports cliché was immediately torched by the masses, with many fans happy to pull out their customary “Fire Gibby” and “Brett Cecil sucks” missives for Twitter and various online comment sections. (One in particular claimed that Gibby would never be the kind of manager who would get a team to the playoffs. Retrospect is a funny thing that way.) These critics were likely the same lovely people who ran Brett Cecil’s wife off of social media over a previous poor performance, with their knee-jerk rage and unbelievably short memories. Here’s a tip. If you’re ever thinking of sending a hateful message to a player’s wife because of her husband’s baseball skills, you should probably rethink all of your life choices.
The day immediately after Gibbons said they were going to get Cecil on track, he made the perhaps surprising decision to put him back in the game. On the 24th of June, Cecil trotted out to the mound in the eleventh inning of a scoreless game against the Tampa Bay Rays. As soon as he did, the frantic online rage swelled all over again, a chorus of hatred that felt the need to point out that Gibby didn’t know what he was doing, and that Cecil was a lost cause.
I remember the moment well, mostly because I recall having the distinct thought, “Gibby knows exactly what he’s doing.”
If the world is tossing vitriol your way, the best way to bounce back from it is to prove your worth—not to haters, but to yourself. (I realize that’s a little self help-ish, but bear with me.) My exact sentiment when Cecil got up to pitch was that Gibbons understood that fundamental concept, giving the perhaps demoralized pitcher the opportunity to remind himself that a bad week does not a ballplayer make. Turns out Gibby’s in-your-face wager was a worthwhile one, with Cecil pitching a scoreless inning and Chris Colabello homering in the 12th to give him the win.
But what’s even more amazing about this tiny (and sure, perhaps invented on my part) player/manager narrative is that Brett Cecil has hasn’t allowed an earned run since. Last night marked 38 regular season outings that the left-hander has had a clean slate, tying with Craig Kimbrel for the all time major league record. That’s just over a hundred years of baseball. Some may argue that this is a bit of a meaningless achievement, and add all sorts of caveats to the distinction, but the tidbit is fascinating in the context of Cecil’s bounce back from his prior isolated implosion. If you were around to witness the vitriol that was being funneled Cecil and Gibby’s way at the time, you might even see it as a satisfying comeuppance.
One of the most excruciating things about being baseball fan is enduring other people’s overlarge reactions to a handful of performances. Fandom tends to be fickle, incapable of viewing the game contextually and quick to react in the most vile, abusive ways. I’ve had about six bad days in the last two weeks, but god forbid a pitcher has even one. I don’t think it’s totally out there to assume Gibbons has some awareness of that climate, and that he deliberately put Cecil in a position to prove the reactionaries wrong. Sure, it was a single appearance, but it was one that eventually became thirty-eight.
It’s always funny to me when we forget or fail to notice that players are actually good. Cecil’s accomplishment last night came as a surprise to most, some of whom were still clinging to a false caricature of him sucking that was left over from early last summer. In fact, there are many players who are “actually good” that a sector of the Jays fan base is far too hard on—RA Dickey and JA Happ for example. There are other players that fly far under the radar of our admiration for months and months (Marco Estrada, for one.) And even with piles of hard evidence to the contrary, the trolls are always so quick to jump all over a player when just a handful of games fall apart. They cling to these lazy ideas like “our pitching is bad,” so much so that they fail to enjoy it when it gets good.
Sure, it would be nice if Cecil pushed past Kimbrel to 39 appearances and became the sole holder of the all time ER=O streak record, but that’s kind of beside the point. What’s meaningful is the assertion that he’s much better than people gave him credit for, and now he’s got the paperwork to prove it.
As Cecil himself said when his wife was abused off Twitter, “They’re hiding behind a keyboard. You can’t go punch the computer and hope that they feel it.” No, but you can go ahead and break a record instead.