Friday, June 20- Cincinnati
After a record setting May, the Toronto Blue Jays played June showing that May just may have been a bluff. This would be an all too familiar narrative for Jays’ fans to see their team drift far from midline of a playoff berth. Just last season, the team was loaded by extreme expectations that were unrealistic (Las Vegas, always quick to catch a buck, set them as favourites to win the World Series. However, that’s how they make money: put the buzz-team of the moment as favourite so to entice people to put their money down).
This year seemed different though … as it usually does. After sputtering mediocre out of the gates, they emerged on fire. They swept two other division leaders in the same week, including MLB-leading Oakland (and Detroit), and the Jays had a stretch of 24-7 from May 4 to June 5. This placed them atop the once bulletproof AL East, which houses the powerhouse New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox as well as recent playoff teams in the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles.
Doubters kept saying they wouldn’t believe it until they sustained the pace, and although the majority were believing, a letdown was inevitable. They held a 6 game lead at one point during the hot streak, but after a rough stretch culminating in getting swept in New York (where the Jays have lost 14 straight) that lead shrank to 1.5 games.
Losing 7 of their last 10 games, they finally left New York, heading to the Midwest, across leagues to Cincinnati starting Friday for a welcomed serving of interleague play (anything to get out of New York was welcomed). However, before long, the Jays wished they had never left New York … as they found themselves down 8-0 in just the second inning.
The next inning, Edwin Encarnacion– in the first series against the team who drafted him and threw him in in a trade to Toronto– continued to do what he did that made him the American League Player of the Month by striking a three-run blast. In the sixth inning though, he stranded the bases loaded, leaving Jays fans thinking that they missed their chance (Encarnacion, above, feature image).
In the seventh, after making a few substitutions that appeared irrelevant, Juan Francisco went deep the other way on what looked like a pop-up to left field, making it just a one run game. In the bottom half of the inning, last year’s breath of fresh air, Munenori Kawasaki, made a sparkling play at second for the Jays to preserve the one-run deficit.
After Jose Bautista hit into a double-play in the eighth, the Jays had two out and no one on base. Conventional wisdom told fans to add another one to the losing streak. However, hold the singing, Fat Lady, queue the two-out rally! Encarnacion walked, but it still felt harmless. Dioner Navarro brought his .260 average to the plate and drove a ball deep to the alley in left-centerfield to the wall! We had a tie game! The first since 0-0.
The Reds brought in closer Aroldis Chapman, their flame-throwing lefty. Colby Rasmus forced a walk for the Jays, putting the go-ahead run on base. Enter another sub, Erik Kratz, who in the year prior, had homered off Chapman. He smashed a fly ball deep to the wall. Rasmus scored. Jays 10, Reds 9.
Edwin Encarnacion added another three-run jack to give the Jays 14 runs, almost twice as many runs than they had in the entire series versus New York. This marked the second largest comeback in franchise history. Four homeruns tonight gave the Jays more homeruns than in the last nine games combined!
The Jays bullpen is the unheralded hero of this contest. After Liam Hendricks got destroyed in less than two innings, John Gibbons went to his bullpen early, risking their availability for the rest of the series. However, Chad Jenkins, Sergio Santos, Dustin McGowan (WP), and Casey Janssen (S) threw one inning each of shutout baseball.
Ultimately, if this season holds the success of making the playoffs (for the first time since 1993– a whole 21 years), we may look back at this game and realize that it was this game that saved the season.
Or, it could just be the old Blue Jays, bluffing us along, tricking its fans that this season is different (yet again), when all they really are is the same old Jays, who will inevitably miss the postseason. Many around the country hope for the former.
Who do you think is gonna end up winning the AL East? Is my article in vain? You tell me in the comments!