Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Because the Jays did away with the face-punch-loving Texas Rangers in the fewest number of days possible, we’ve had an entire luxurious work week not only to take a deep breath and get our lives back in order (as I’ve written before, meaningful baseball really messes with your ability to be a functional adult), but also to dissect and analyze what our chances are against Cleveland going into the ALCS. We’ve had ample time read all the comparisons and predictions, to review all the stats, to develop an intense fear of Corey Kluber, and to understand why we should never use their team name (that last one should only take a few seconds.)
But what I personally like to do before every important game or series is not add up all the available numbers and furiously forecast possible outcomes, but instead take stock of everything that came before it. For me, this generous little break has been less about terrified anticipation, and more about thoughtful reflection on the topic of who we are (a really great team), and how exactly we got here (baseball magic). In fact, after I got some much-needed sleep, I was finally able to remind myself how grateful I am to even be worrying about the postseason at all. And after a near week of submerging myself in said gratitude I’ve actually become surprisingly relaxed, sentimentally playing a filmic montage of great 2016 season moments in my mind.
I’ve reflected on Devon Travis’s walk off single in May, a win that felt oddly weighted with meaning for a team that at the time wasn’t exactly living up to its great expectations. I’ve thought about Michael Saunders’ three home run game against the Orioles in June, and Josh Donaldson doing the same against the Twins in August. I’ve considered how strange it is that Blue Jay newcomers Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini became our solid bullpen salvation, respectively fist pumping and absurdist joking their way into our hearts. I’ve thought about how Ezequiel Carrera became our unlikely journeyman hero, and how JA Happ, despite all loudly professed initial reservations, became one of the best pitchers in the American League. In fact, the narrative of this team seems to be about how our heroes were not always exactly who we expect them to be, and how the previously overlooked have a tendency to save the day.
I think one of the more interesting aspects of this 2016 season is that it started with some fan cockiness and ended with desperate, gasping appreciation. We went in with incredibly high hopes dictated by the previous fall, dipped repeatedly into what at the time felt like persistent disappointment, and then in October, were delivered an incredibly pleasant—even shocking—surprise. Before Opening Day many would have said we were more than sure we’d end up in another postseason, and now we’re totally amazed that we’re here, one final series away from a chance at ultimate glory. Despite how strange the journey has been, none of this, of course, is out of place in the emotional world of this game, and yet we’re astounded by it every time. Baseball’s long, constantly evolving 162 plus games are responsible for many upsets and near unbelievable outcomes. Last week never looks like this week, tomorrow is always another day, and a broken baseball heart has a chance to become whole again. Hey, it’s repeatedly celebrated as unpredictable for a reason.
These scrappy, never-say-die Jays have struggled their way into a position that defies all past doubts, to the point where all the pessimism and griping that plagued us seems to have entirely disappeared. Remember when we were lamenting the loss of Alex Anthopoulos and David Price? Remember when we were worrying excessively about Marcus Stroman’s pitching woes? Remember when we were arguing about what to do with Aaron Sanchez? Remember when Jose Bautista being out with injuries felt like a death knell? Remember when our bullpen was declared to be a mess? No, me neither. Right now what I remember is how it felt to watch Edwin Encarnacion throw his arms above his head as his wildcard game-winning home run ball sailed over the outfield wall. My mind is stuck in the deliriously happy place where a rejuvenated Josh Donaldson dove into the red dirt of home on a forever-beautiful Rougned Odor error. In short, going into the ALCS, we are all rendered anew, and whatever may come, I’m thankful that we got this far.
For our Toronto Blue Jays, every step forward into the month of October has felt like a gift; not one that was necessarily anticipated, but given how hard they’ve slogged when hope seemed all but lost, one that was richly deserved. Though it wasn’t exactly the most comfortable or expected way for this season to play out, maybe it was just as it needed to be for us to truly value and not take it for granted. After every heartbreak and heart attack, and after all that has happened, I feel oddly restored and frustration-free going into the ALCS.
Despite the myriad flaws that were picked apart time and time again throughout 2016, right now my team is perfect, and perfectly suited to take it all.