The Blue Jays Don’t Give Up
Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
It was all too good to be true. Four days ago, the Blue Jays finally won a series at the Tropicana Field and were poised to clinch a playoff spot with three more wins. The Jays were slated to face the New York Yankees next at Rogers Centre, and it didn’t seem like too much to ask given that the Yankees have scuffled most of this season.
This was it: the Jays finally had the chance to solidify their October schedule. But if it all sounded too rosy with this team, that’s because it was.
The Jays’ bats lost their way and fell to surging Yankees starter Michael King by a 2-0 score on Tuesday despite his command issues. It was a demoralizing shutout but unfortunately, they had to face Cy Young front-runner Gerrit Cole the next day. A bounceback was just a nice theory as the Jays got shut out once again by 6-0 on Wednesday and allowed Aaron Judge to demolish baseballs twice. This was the worst possible scenario for the Jays as the teams behind them in the Wild Card race closed the gap.
Such has been the inexplicable pattern of the 2023 Blue Jays season. This was a team that never went on a red-hot stretch even when it seemed like they had the potential to make it happen. If something was going too well, it meant that a downhill was lurking around the corner. This has been the season-long narrative, and the final stretch wasn’t going to spare them from the grime this easily.
It got to a point where most Blue Jays fans reminisced the days when the team could punish the opponents with countless runs. In fact, when Sportsnet producer Chris Black ran a poll to ask Blue Jays fans whether elite hitting or elite pitching/defence would succeed in playoffs, 53 percent of the fans said elite hitting would be critical in a successful playoff run. They do make a good point that consistent offence is an essential foundation for a solid playoff case. But it’s undeniable that the Blue Jays have ingloriously failed to make a successful playoff bid due to their inconsistent pitching and defence in the past two years. Let’s remember how the 8-1 lead went last year when the Jays faced the Seattle Mariners for the second time in the American League Wild Card Series last year. Yes, exactly. Let’s not dwell on that tragedy.
With the clouds of two shutouts hanging in the back of their minds, the Jays needed to prove once again that they deserved to be in the playoffs. They were set to face starting pitcher Luke Weaver of the Yankees who was shaky at best. This was the Jays’ chance to capitalize on their opponent’s weakness and add cushion to their playoff spot. They couldn’t afford to get swept this time around.
The Jays’ offence struggled the first two innings against Luke Weaver while the Jays’s starting pitcher Chris Bassitt masterfully kept the Yankees lineup from scoring. Just when the team looked lethargic, something clicked from the third inning and onward. Left fielder Daulton Varsho and third baseman Matt Chapman each hit a solo home run to give the Jays a two-run lead, and second baseman Cavan Biggio singled to extend the Jays’ lead to three runs.
Three runs were theoretically just enough for the Jays to win a game against the Yankees. It wasn’t a great one but a lead was a lead. And when designated hitter Brandon Belt came to the plate at the bottom of the sixth inning with Daulton Varsho and right fielder George Springer on base, everyone was on the edge of their seat. This team’s runners-in-scoring-position narrative has been plagued with struggles all season, and the luck always seemed to be against this team. Could Belt possibly make something good happen?
The answer was that yes, he absolutely could. When Weaver threw him a fastball right down the middle, Belt didn’t miss a beat and crushed the pitch to the deep right field. He broke open the game and the Jays now lead by six runs. Belt wanted fans to be loud this week because these are important games for the Jays, and he broke the silence with one swing. He finally proved that the Jays were still alive when many were losing hope.
With that lethal three-run home run, the Jays successfully shut out the Yankees with 0-6 on the scoreboard. It was a sweet revenge after being blanked for 20 straight innings. Nothing about this stretch has been simple for the Jays. Adversity brewed after every painless moment, and the Jays had to grind out to find their way back.
Maybe they could have gone with an easy way out. Winning more than 95 games or even 100 games would have benefitted them greatly as they aim to get their ticket to a daunting playoff. Instead, they faced an uphill battle every step of the way in a roller coaster of a season. And even if people counted them out, they always found a way to dig themselves out of chaos.
The Jays have been nothing but infuriatingly perplexing for six months, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. They will test your patience and faith every step of the way. But the funny thing is, they don’t know how to give up. They’ve always roared back with even more grit and persistence every single time. If there’s anything they have to show for this season, it’s their plucky resilience that kept bringing this team back to life.
The Jays’ grit never went away and that’s not going to stop now. They say those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. That’s the story the Jays are writing now.
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