You have to take risks in baseball. In a game where 30% success is considered pretty good, you have to do more than play it safe to get ahead of opponents. The ones who are the most successful calculate their risks and properly execute to exploit them. Yesterday’s game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays had multiple examples of how to take risks and how consequences fall heavy when not calculated properly.
Both teams have been guilty of pushing to hard to achieve their goals, to the detriment of their clubs. The Jays find themselves in a better situation than the Rays in terms of racing for a playoff spot; however, the Jays’ roster continues to try doing too much to win games as opposed to executing each play effectively. Hence why both teams share a proneness to lose games, sometimes by very ugly scorelines.
Tampa’s Jeremy Hellickson and Toronto’s Mark Buehrle started this game, which had everything that could happen in baseball commence. Hellickson’s career MLB record was 40-33 and has pitched with a 2.61 ERA this season, but inconsistent starts and time off have led to a 1-2 record from early July to late August. Considering Buehrle’s 197 wins in his career, including the 11-8 record this season, the wily veteran had the edge in experience when the game started.
It may not have looked that way when Buehrle collided with Jays’ third baseman, Danny Valencia while trying to field a ground ball. Tampa had an issue keeping their feet in the outfield, dropping a ball in the process, and Hellickson was charged with a wild pitch, so both teams had some problems.
Mark Buehrie (56) in the 1st inning. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Both pitchers punched out at 6.1 innings of work. Hellickson gave up 2 runs on 3 hits, 1 walk, and 8 strikeouts. Buehrle gave up 3 runs on 8 hits, 1 walk, and 2 strikeouts. Pretty evenly matched, considering Buehrle likes to get the ball in play. He made short work of 13 Rays’ batters by ground out.
After both starters left the game, the real excitement began. Brad Boxberger replaced Hellickson in the bottom seventh inning and gave Edwin Encarnacion a fat pitch to drive down the left-field line for a ground-rule double. Dioner Navarro, not to be outdone, homers to right field and puts the Blue Jays ahead by a run.
Casey Janssen didn’t get left out of leaving an impact on the game. Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans, it was not the type of mark he wanted to leave. In the top of the ninth inning, he walked Wil Myers, gave a single to Kevin Kiermaier, and let James Loney drive Myers into home on a base hit to left field. Melky Cabrera, playing amazing baseball of late, threw to Valencia to get the ball into the infield. Kiermaier made the mistake of rounding around the bases too early and was out at third base. The Blue Jays got out of the inning, but not before the game was tied again and Janseen had blown the save opportunity.
After a quick bottom nine, Dustin McGowan got three balls hit in the air easily for the Blue Jays to catch and move to the bottom of the tenth inning. There, leading off, Colby Rasmus did the unthinkable: he used his brain.
Seeing how the infield defence was laying back in a pretty standard position for anyone trying to hit for power, Rasmus decided to take a risk and bunted the ball. Tampa’s pitcher, Joel Peralta and the rest of the defence was completely taken off-guard and a throw to first base was late. Rasmus was safe. Risky? Yes. If he got out, would fans have booed him. Yes, but it was calculated. After taking second base, Rasmus was in scoring position with two outs for Jose Reyes.
Sometimes, if you wait to see pitches, you can hit a better pitch for bigger gains. Reyes took a risk and swung at the beginning of the at-bat on a fastball down the pipe. Instead of trying to drive it, Reyes had faith in Rasmus’ speed and slapped the ball simply to get the ball in play. It went to left field and Rasmus rounded the bag, on the risky signal by third-base coach, and aggressively slid into home. The maneuver made Rays’ catcher, Curt Casali jump and drop the ball as Rasmus touched the plate. The Blue Jays won the game.
Or did they? Rays manager Joe Maddon signaled to umpiring “crew chief Bob Davidson during the fourth inning that his team was playing the game under protest because he felt a rule was not properly enforced” (BlueJays.com). The play was Wil Myers being picked off by Buehrle and yet was called safe by the first-base umpire. John Gibbons challenged the call, asking for it to be reviewed. However, a play cannot be challenged if the pitcher steps on the rubber and the next batter steps into the batter’s box, making the next play live. Both Buehrle and former Blue Jays’ shortstop, Yunel Escobar did so, making Joe Madden’s case. The umpires immediately went to the review, without noticing that technical aspect of the rules, and called Myers out. The MLB rules state that if an umpire unfairly utilizes his discretion, the victimized team can protest the call and, if overturned, can have the game replayed at the point in which the infraction took place. They would have to get both teams to play the game again at the fourth inning.
Colby Rasmus (28) stretches to make first base after bunting. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
As I try to withhold a sarcastic, upstart tone to my words here, as we should all respect and honour our blue hands of fate, umpires should be allowed to make mistakes if the truth of the game is upheld. The fact is that Myers was clearly out; the right call was made. If this were in the opposite direction and Jose Bautista was called out by the replay, I would say the same thing. The replay is supposed to be for getting the calls right. Yes, the umpires should not have used it by the technicality of the rules, but who is to say Myers would have scored anyways? He might have. We know that he should have been out. Justice was served, even if not done properly. You want justice for that slip? Go have the MLB brass have a talk with the crew chief who committed the offence. Gibbons and the Blue Jays should not be punished by officials making a mistake. Good try, Maddon. We respect your right to protest, just as long as the call stands and real justice is served.
The Blue Jays reaped the benefits of calculated risks. These calculations need to continue if they wish to win more close games. The team is in third place in home runs with 144, behind the Baltimore Orioles and the Colorado Rockies. Interestingly enough, the Jays are fifth in RBIs with 547, yet Baltimore is not ahead of them. The Orioles are a good 8 games ahead of the Blue Jays in the American League East standing without hitting as many runners into home as the Jays.
Maybe the Toronto media should cool their jets about how important it is to hit home runs and start promoting smart play when the game is on the line. It seemed to work in this game. Who would have thought the Jays could win like that?