Photo credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
On Wednesday in Seattle, Jose Bautista reminded Jays fans that he still has immense moments left in his bat. And then the Jays’ offence reminded us what it has been like watching them for the past three weeks, failing to produce inning after inning until the club’s run prevention wobbled slightly from the razor thin margin for error it was trying to walk, and then suddenly it was all over.
Bautista’s home run deserved better. It felt for no short amount of time like it was one of The Big Ones. A home run that might not quite go down in history (though the way he moonwalk-pimped it like a fucking boss surely should), but that had a chance. A blast that lifted fans and the team out of the depths we’d been suffering, just at the very moment it felt like we were slipping back into them.
We were witnessing what was perhaps — maybe even likely — the final big, indelible moment of Bautista’s incredible Jays career. But probably not! In the din of that stadium so outrageously full of west coast Blue Jays fans more than just this fleeting greatness felt possible, even to someone listening through his TV speakers a continent away. And holy shit, it sure looked like Jose felt it too.
— VICE Sports (@VICESports) September 22, 2016
It would be easy to reflect on it now, though, as though the arc of that game mirrored the arc of this whole season — brimming with expectation and excitement and anticipation to start, a long stretch of trying to find equilibrium, a slow build to a sudden fever pitch, and then sputtering out to ignominious defeat betraying so much promise.
It may even be tempting, especially with the hurt of this month still so raw, to indulge thoughts on how that description could apply to this whole era that we’re in — everything we’ve been through all the way back to the big trades that reshaped the team heading into 2013. To that end, R.A. Dickey may have thrown his last pitch as a Blue Jay on Wednesday, fittingly doing absolutely nothing wrong but still taking the loss. His outing could have provided us a perfect endpoint for the era, leaving us staring into the off-season abyss, much like it feels we’re doing now with respect to the rest of the season.
But this isn’t a eulogy. And we can’t fucking well say that this season has followed the arc of Wednesday’s game yet, because the season isn’t over. It doesn’t feel like it is, either. Even if a Wild Card fight with an Orioles team that has three chances to take advantage of these sputtering Jays, and Tigers and Astros clubs that have favourable schedules, doesn’t exactly make one feel like it couldn’t be. And quickly.
We’re now in the middle of nearly 48 hours in which to think about it all. Far too many hours in which to wonder if Wednesday’s struggles mean Tuesday’s offensive breakout wasn’t for real, or if Bautista and Donaldson finally managing to hit the ball out of the ballpark is a signal of better things to come.
For the sake of the season the latter had better be.
Tonight the Orioles have one more crack at the Red Sox — who I think most Jays fans will, at this point, have to cheer for — before they host the lowly Diamondbacks, head here for three, then finish on the road in New York. The Tigers have a doubleheader with the Twins today before they return home to host Kansas City and Cleveland, then finish with a visit to Atlanta. The Astros host the Angels for four, then the Mariners for three, before finishing with three in Anaheim.
On their most recent Effectively Wild podcast, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller agreed that Arizona has been “the clearest failure in Major League Baseball this year,” but “if the Blue Jays lose on the last day of the season and don’t make the playoffs, maybe they go home more depressed than the Diamondbacks.” Summer is over. We’re on the brink of the final homestand of the regular season — maybe of the season writ large; maybe of an era on the field; maybe even of an era in the stands, depending on what the off-season has in store.
Add it all to the way the Jays’ division lead unravelled throughout early September, the awful memories regurgitated on Thursday (and on Saturday and Sunday) of what the worst of this skid has looked like, and how it is hardly unfathomable that the Tigers and Astros could roast their mostly terrible competition and make a late surge, and you cut straight to the nut of our angst.
It’s with that in mind that we can only conclude that the Jays can’t feel comfortable just because, for now, they’re a game up on Baltimore and two on Houston and Detroit. They may be in the lead, but it still feels like they have to push the pace.
That’s part of why the Bautista home run felt so momentous. That’s why it felt like, “Fuck yeah, we may have pissed away a free pass to the playoffs, but we’re still in control of this Wild Card thing and so let’s pimp the shit out of this shit!”
Now here we are. But where are we?
As I noted yesterday after the game, if the series had gone LWW or WLW for the Blue Jays, we’d have been fairly thrilled by that, I think. The mood might have been entirely different, even though we know the sequencing doesn’t really matter, and we know that 4-3 west coast road trip is an unqualified success. And, like I say, Donaldson and Bautista showing signs of waking up could be even more enormous for the club over these next ten games than anything that may or may not have happened in the win-loss column.
There is still fight left — in the season, in the Blue Jays, in us.
Yes, autumn means withering and death, but it means crisp, cold air that reminds you you’re alive, and incredible bursts of colour, too. Hopefully that moment when Bautista’s blast left the yard was just the first of many left come. It still certainly could be — and right now it’s probably a good idea to think on, more than anything else, just how fucking good that would be.