2

Fowles: Seven Great Moments in a Not Always Great Season

“Season’s not over yet. There’s still a lot of things that can happen from now until then. I like the make-up of our club as we sit here right now. Eight games out? I wouldn’t count ourselves out. So we’ll see what happens.”
–Jose Bautista

As I write this, your beloved Toronto Blue Jays have now played about 66% of their 2017 season, and I think we can all safely conclude that things haven’t exactly turned out the way we initially wanted them to.

A rather dismal April left the team in a deep, dark deficit, and a collection of particularly grim blowouts (2-12, 1-15, 2-12, 1-19, and so on) felt like a pile of salt poured into a the wound of our thwarted expectations. Yet every season—no matter how many games under .500 a team can find themselves—offers some pretty incredible and magical moments, and a lot of ours have come from players you would have least expected to make the highlight reel. (Justin Smoak forever.)

With the Jays coming off a fun, buoyant (and even a little heated) 8-4 win last night against the Chicago White Sox, I thought I’d keep up the heady optimism and take a nostalgic look back at some of their finer moments of the last few months.

Sure—it may be a little early to start playing the filmic montage and the sappy music, but when you’re at the bottom of the division, it certainly doesn’t hurt to look on the bright side every so often.

1) Jose Bautista faces Marcus Stroman in the World Baseball Classic: Okay, technically not part of the Jays’ year, but that charming impromptu wink of acknowledgment felt like a really nice way to kick off the 2017 baseball season. After some genuine winter concerns, Bautista was secured as a Blue Jay, our man Stroman was ultimately named WBC MVP, and with all the riveting action and irreverent pre-season celebration, everything felt right in the baseball world. (With apologies to the Canadian team.)

2) Chris Coghlan’s leap, dive and roll into home: Though we’ve all watched it more times than we can count, and then some, Coghlan’s last minute decision to take flight still feels impossible to believe. I would venture to guess that many didn’t even really know who Coghlan was at the time, and in a mere moment of impressive gymnastics he became unforgettable. “I was like ‘just jump.’ And I went.”

3) Marcus Stroman pinch hits a double in the 11th: This lovely thrill of a thing was eventually largely overshadowed by Stroman’s home run in May, but it’s still very much worthy on the shortlist of things to be happy about. The very same game that Coghlan took his now legendary leap, Stroman got a key double in what was his first major league hit, setting off a series of events that would have the Jays dramatically winning it in extras.

4) Joe Biagini starts his first major league baseball game: In a season plagued by injury (my god I’ve written that cursed string of words so many times,) Biagini popped up like an unassuming superhero, shuffling to the mound in his oversized jersey and (finally) giving us something fun to believe in. He ended up throwing 52 pitches in four innings that day—the most for him in MLB at the time. Thirty-seven of those pitches were strikes, and the end result was one unearned run on two hits. The team snagged the 2–1 victory we needed, and the fan base felt good about something for a change. “It was important for me to not overthink it,” Biagini told Sportsnet after the game. “I probably smell worse than I do after bullpen outings because of the more length of time letting it kind of stew a little bit.”

5) Marcus Stroman’s very first MLB home run: Marco Estrada and Devon Travis’s reactions alone make this a best moment of the year thus far. (I also think there’s little chance it won’t end up on the end of year list.) The thing that often gets lost in this deliriously wonderful baseball tableau in Georgia is that Stroman’s catcher for the day, Luke Maile, hit his own home run mere moments before. (According to Sportsnet, they were the first AL battery to do so since 1970, and the first ever to do it in interleague play.) I’ll also admit this one is a little personal for me, as I was there in the stands that day, and after jumping up and down like an unhinged maniac, I offered a hearty apology to the Atlanta fans seated behind me. “Naw, y’all are alright,” they offered.

6) Justin Smoak: That’s it. Just Justin Smoak. Thirty-one home runs, first time All-Star, genuine “who would have predicted this” miracle, everyone’s favourite underdog, glorious welcome surprise Justin Kyle Smoak. Thank you, Baseball Gods.

7) Steve Pearce’s two walk-off grand slams in one week: The man single-handedly doubled the Jays walk off grand slam record in a mere four days. Can you even imagine doing something that amazing, that history-making, twice in one week? I’m generally happy if I can get my laundry done, and there he is, heavily contributing to what could be the most exciting regular season bottom of the ninth I’ve ever witnessed. Feats like that are enough to make you temporarily forget the complaining and the whining and the disappointment, and just revel in the glory that is baseball.