The Blue Jays Are Flipping The Script
Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
Let’s be honest, Tropicana Field (also known as The Trop) has been a pure nightmare for many opposing teams, especially the Blue Jays.
It was an understatement to say the Trop was the House of Horrors for the longest time. The Blue Jays have struggled mightily ever since the Trop’s inception in 1998 when the Devil Rays were a mediocre expansion franchise, and that certainly hasn’t changed with the modern version of the club being a consistent playoff team.
That was the case until the Blue Jays turned the tables rather unexpectedly this weekend.
Facing the Rays was a tall task for the Jays. The Rays have optimized their team to do just enough damage no matter who’s on the field. The team’s efficiency successfully endured the loss of key players such as Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, and Wander Franco. Despite the adversity, the Rays came into the weekend with a record of 94-60 and were threatening the Baltimore Orioles for the division title. This is what every team aspired to be, and it seemed nearly impossible to beat their adaptability.
The Jays fell behind by 1-0 on Friday by giving up a couple of hits early in the first inning. Nothing about that screamed optimism or good fortune. The Rays were Rays’ing their way as usual by inviting chaos. But as time passed, the Jays’ hitters started exercising more patience until the Rays’ starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow lost his zone. Who needs to score with singles, doubles, triples or home runs when you can just take your walls or get hit by a pitch? That’s how the Jays approached their game on Friday to reap a 6-2 win.
Saturday’s game was a reality check for the Jays as they handed four runs to the Rays at the bottom of the first inning. While the Jays battled to come back from a huge deficit, they ultimately failed to complete the assignment when the Rays’ came back to crush the Jays with a 7-6 win. For the Jays, this game served as a painful reminder that the Trop can be an unforgiving place that wreaks havoc.
With the series still up for grabs, the Jays needed a spark to bring themselves back to life. But nothing comes easily for this team as we’ve learned for the past 155 games as the Rays players Isaac Paredes and Junior Caminero each hit clutch singles to make it a 2-0 lead. Given the Jays’ consistent power outage in their offensive department, a 2-0 lead seemed insurmountable to overcome. But then, something bizarre happened at the top of the second inning. The Jays’ catcher Alejandro Kirk walked as Daulton Varsho doubled and Whit Merrifield singled to tie the game to 2-2.
With Kevin Kiermaier’s single and the runners at the corner, the Jays’ leadoff hitter George Springer came to the plate. It was time to break that vicious circle of stranding runners on base, and with that in mind, Springer belted a pitch at the heart of the zone towards the outfield. At first, it resembled a home run until it hit the outfield wall and rolled on the grass away from the Rays’ outfielders. Merrifield and Kiermaier scored, and Springer slammed himself onto the home plate to complete the most improbable outcome. It was an inside-the-park home run that unlocked a 5-2 lead for the Jays, and chaos was finally on their side for once.
The Jays didn’t make it easy for themselves throughout this game despite the inside-the-park home run as they almost surrendered a huge lead to the Rays by making it 6-5 but they eventually secured their lead with Daulton Varsho’s triple, Bo Bichette’s home run and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s home run. At last, the Jays finally secured their series win at the Trop with a convincing 9-5 win against the Rays on Sunday. They had finally done the impossible: beating the Rays at the dreadful Trop.
It wasn’t long ago when the Jays faced the Rays in the American League Wild Card series. Three years ago, the Jays threw in Randal Grichuk and Jonathan Villar into their lineup to face the Rays in the first Wild Card game as Matt Shoemaker led the rotation. In contrast, the invincible Rays rotation included aces like Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow while their lineup featured offensive dark horses such as Randy Arozarena, Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot. It was a lopsided game even before it began, and the Jays fell helplessly to the Rays.
To add insult to injury, the Rays beat up the Jays to secure an 8-2 win for the second game of the Wild Card series. The Jays simply didn’t have the chance to assert themselves as their pitching and offence completely flopped at the Trop.
It was imperative for the Jays to learn their lessons from this agonizing playoff series. Fast forward three years, this team displayed its learning by putting up an absolute clinic. It certainly was far from easy at times but it was a combination of patience, hard-hit balls, timely hitting, stellar defence and clutch pitching that ultimately rewarded the Jays at the Trop.
The Jays are now the complete team they wanted and needed to be. Their rotation is beyond superb with Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi, and Hyun-Jin Ryu and they boast the deepest bullpen in the American League. Their defence is off the charts with the likes of Daulton Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier, and Matt Chapman, so all the team really needs is George Springer, Vladdy Jr., and Bo Bichette to get the job done at the top of the order.
They have everything they didn’t have in 2020 and most of all, they have the grit to come back from the improbable. It was only a few days ago when the Jays fans lamented their team’s playoff odds as the Rangers swept the feeble Jays. It didn’t seem possible for this team to insert itself back into the playoff picture, but they did just that as they won seven out of nine games in the past nine days. They are finally a team that can out-pitch, out-defend and out-hit the Rays; that’s how they finally flipped the script on the cursed Trop narrative.
The 2023 Blue Jays are far from what the fans envisioned. This team was supposed to be a massive offensive power everyone feared with a great rotation. Instead, this has been more of a gritty team that inexplicably secures necessary wins while never making things appear easy. At times, this team has been excruciating to watch when their struggles snowballed, but one thing for sure was that this team never gave up. In spite of countless blunders, they made sure to grind it out every single second.
And look where they are now: the Jays are now in charge of their own destiny and are in sole possession of the second Wild Card spot in the American League East. Their grind and grime are paying off and they will continue to as long as the Jays have the grit to keep the momentum. Maybe, just maybe they are the buzzsaw.
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