The Toronto Blue Jays have been punched in the mouth many times since Joe Carter touched em’ all. In recent years, the Blue Jays haven’t always punched back, haven’t always climbed back up off the mat. On Sunday afternoon against the Royals, with tensions boiling over and benches clearing, Toronto delivered the collective uppercut that we’ve been waiting for. The thump to the chest that we’ve forgotten about.
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It began early, with Royals starter Edinson Volquez hitting Josh Donaldson high in the back of his shoulder in the bottom of the first. I saw this as a retaliation to Donaldson stealing signs from Johnny Cueto the night prior during a Jose Bautista at-bat, something that is fairly common in Major League Baseball.
With benches immediately warned, Donaldson was also greeted with chin music early in his next at-bat. Soon after, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki took a pitch high and inside off the elbow before Donaldson, again, was brushed back by a dangerous pitch in his next appearance. Were all four intentional? We can’t go down that road without an unfair influence of bias, but I won’t be fooled into thinking these were four coincidences.
The issue here, and the idiocy of it all, is that a first-inning warning from home plate umpire Jim Wolf resulted in no ejections until Aaron Sanchez hit Alcides Escobar in the eighth inning. This lit a fire in Sanchez, who got into a heated exchange with Wolf, and cleared both benches. Even John Gibbons, ejected earlier in the game, came charging out of the tunnel disguised as “John Gibbons without a hat”.
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That was playoff baseball. A packed stadium on their feet with the Toronto Blue Jays finally punching back. With Josh Donaldson tip-toeing the line of ejection all game long, Jose Bautista calming his comrade just in time to mash an RBI double to centre field. This new Blue Jays roster does not crumble in the grand moment, it expands into it. Fills it whole.
After Roberto Osuna, one of the league’s youngest players, honed in for a shutdown ninth inning, the fireworks continued post-game. Edinson Volquez called Josh Donaldson a “little baby”, and even expanded the intellect of his insults to suggest that the Bringer of Rain was “crying like a baby”. Diverse and thought-provoking prose. Donaldson soon countered with a walk-off shot.
Game over. Even the quiet and unassuming Aaron Sanchez stuck his foot in the ground after the game when speaking with media. After a 2014 season that saw half-efforts even on the best of days with players moping their way through the heart of summer, this 2015 group has done a 180 and hit the gas. It’s been a relief, really. One that comes long overdue.
Outside of the comical excuse for an umpiring crew, I think we should hesitate to label a “right” or “wrong” in this game. If we’re Kansas City fans right now, then we’re likely in the middle of a conversation that buries the bat-pimping Josh Donaldson, one that calls out the fresh-faced reliever that “intentionally” hit our batter in the eighth. Kansas City is a team that’s easy to love as a Royals’ fan, just like Toronto has become the same from our perspective. The fire makes sense from both sides, and that is what makes this game special.
This must be what playoff baseball feels like. I’ll admit that I wouldn’t remember the last one, but if this is it, don’t let the ride end. To top it all off, David Price makes his debut tomorrow afternoon for the Blue Jays against the Minnesota Twins. Buckle up. Toronto is coming.