As I walked into the Rogers Centre for the Toronto Blue Jays’ series finale with the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, there was real energy and excitement around the building. It was Mark Buehrle Bobblehead Day, and many fans, sporting the Blue Jay brand, were out early to collect their keepsakes. The sun was shining, the roof was open and everyone seemed geared up for an exciting game. Even the guy next to me seemed upbeat, at least at first. Drew Hutchison pitched well, as did the bullpen. But, the wheels eventually fell off, resulting in a very disappointing 2-1 loss, in 10 innings.
Now, I have attended many sporting events, and never before have I had to endure the negativity of the guy beside me for all 10 innings on Sunday. He criticized everything from fans making fools of themselves to get on the video board (though he did this himself later in the game), to umpires not understanding the rules for video replay, management not knowing what they were doing when evaluating players, and even the food vendors (they really need to rethink having only two sizes of popcorn, apparently). My favourite was the criticism of the players, particularly their inability to hit. Apparently, he is quite a good hitter in his slo-pitch league, and could have had a multi-day against Chris Archer yesterday. I had to hold back my laughter, as I thought of the WestJet commercial with R.A. Dickey: “Why don’t you go out there and catch me a few?”
While this guy drove me nuts, I have to admit that he did make some points that reflected the game, and the recent performances of the Blue Jays.
First of all, the Toronto Blue Jays continue to struggle with situational hitting. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting timely home runs, or even singles. They struggle to put the ball in play where it needs to go. A great example is the final inning yesterday. Somehow, Toronto was fortunate enough to have Tampa make back-to-back errors, and put runners on second and third, with nobody out, and the top of the line-up coming up. A flyball, average depth, would have scored Juan Francisco from third and tied the game. Jose Reyes: pop-up in foul territory on the first pitch. Melky Cabrera: shallow fly ball to right (Rivera wisely held Francisco). Nolan Reimold: strike out. Game over. Winning teams can’t continue to leave runners at third with less than two outs. It happened three times on Sunday, ultimately resulting in a loss.
The next point I partially agreed with my annoying neighbour about was defence. He was frustrated that so many “easy plays” were being missed in the game. Juan Francisco missed a dribbler at third, off the end of the bat of Ben Zobrist, that went for a double. And, of course, there is that terrible misplay by Nolan Reimold on Logan Forsythe‘s double in the tenth inning. Later, Francisco barely moved on a the hit to left by Evan Longoria that gave the Rays the lead. All good points – plays that probably should be made and they definitely hurt the Blue Jays, as they resulted in runs. In their defence, though, Francisco made solid plays on balls that didn’t require him to demonstrate much range, and Reimold made a perfect throw in the top of the seventh to gun out Matt Joyce at second, trying to stretch a single into a double. Maybe Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista make those plays, but Lawrie is hurt and Bautista got himself ejected for arguing a borderline third strike in the sixth inning.
Which brings me to the final point I supported from “Mr. Negative”: Jose Bautista has to stop arguing with umpires. He is right in that Bautista needs to be in the game, as the team’s best player and leader. However, my neighbour continued to berate Bautista’s inability to keep his mouth shut on any call that was close. This is not fair. This is the first ejection for Bautista this year (or for any Blue Jays player, for that matter). He has done an admirable job biting his lip and keeping himself in games, at times when he probably had a much stronger case for an argument than he did on Sunday. But reputations are significant in baseball, and Jose has the reputation of complaining about calls. Whatever he said to home plate umpire Bill Welke on Sunday (Bautista won’t specify what he actually said), was obviously enough, given his reputation, to get him tossed. He needs to remember that, and keep his anger in check. Manager John Gibbons gave Bautista a public reminder after the game, saying “Bottom line we need him in the game.”
Now, I don’t mean to pick on the fellow (I never asked his name) next to me, but I do owe some thanks for giving me the material to discuss in this article. I know his negative attitude towards everything Blue Jays is not a representation of most of the fan base. But if they continue to play the way they have been, it is going to show up more frequently in the coming months. Fans, like the players, are growing frustrated. The end, sadly, is drawing is near for the playoff dreams we were all so excited about back in early June. They aren’t done yet, but the proverbial fork is in hand.