Toronto Blue Jays: Baseball Gods and Mortal Men

Oct 4, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) celebrates after hitting a walk off three run home run against Baltimore Orioles to give the Jays a 5-2 win in the American League wild card playoff baseball game at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) celebrates after hitting a walk off three run home run against Baltimore Orioles to give the Jays a 5-2 win in the American League wild card playoff baseball game at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Euphoria is defined in Webster’s dictionary as: a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness, and from the perspective of professional sports in the city of Toronto, it’s a state of mind not normally associated with the Maple Leafs, our antiquated highway system, and municipal purchases of streetcar technology first developed in 1888. But as bandwagon jumpers and grizzled baby boomers are lining up to join the fray, the rest of us are privy to an almost cathartic awakening while we desperately search for answers to the meaning of it all – life, the universe, and baseball.

For unbeknownst to the faithful, something has secretly transpired which threatens the day in and day out lifestyle of even the most ardent of followers – an event so cosmically potent and sublime that it left the Texas franchise and their crestfallen fans stunned in morbid silence while this city erupted with profound giddiness and cloistered mirth.

The Rangers hit a measly .204 during the series and were outscored 22-10. Not only were they unable to find their groove, but it was abundantly obvious to anyone watching at the ballpark or on television that Estrada, Happ, and Sanchez were infused with an unearthly glow normally associated with extra-terrestrial sightings or the aurora borealis.

And that bullpen. That excruciatingly beleaguered mess of a hodge-podge quilt which once-upon-a-time was considered to be the team’s strength…suddenly found itself and re-appeared. After enduring months of criticism stemming from a cacophony of blown saves, untimely injuries, and one-run disasters – the relievers on this team bonded together to produce the kind of clutch pitching reminiscent of the days when Ward and Henke ruled this city.

If you think long and hard about it, there’s really only one superstitiously valid answer for all of this. The baseball gods have arrived. They have invaded the post-season, deliberately usurping the delicate fabric between the unlikely and the impossible, ripping open decades of franchise mediocrity and October absences with jaw-dropping moments and confounding head-scratching plays we rarely, if ever, see – all in favour of your Toronto Blue Jays.

Most likely they probably look like Laurence Olivier and sound like Babe Ruth. They probably came down through a worm hole or materialized in an old telephone booth. I’m not even certain if they’re polytheistic in form or resemble a more familiarized Abrahamic theme. But they most definitely exist, and they can take on many forms during a game. Need proof?

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Hamels, a 10-year veteran, 136-game winner and bona fide ace, suddenly implodes and can’t find the plate in the opener. Unable to use the inside pitch to his advantage – something he did adroitly in the 2015 ALDS – most of what he throws in game 1 is up and outside, extending the arms of the Jays hitters and negating the lefty’s knack for neutralizing right-handed power hitters in the Toronto lineup. Upon throwing 42 pitches in the third inning of his start, the audience is quickly reminded that he’s never thrown that many pitches in a single inning of his professional career.

Ian Desmond, a once-upon-a-time shortstop transformed into an ersatz outfielder, somehow manages to single-handedly sabotage the Rangers momentum by misplaying a ball during game one and performing his best Jose Bautista in September routine during the second game; he also inexplicably hesitates during a bang-bang play at the plate. Meanwhile, his teammate Carlos Gomez makes the type of catch the baseball gods admire.

Melvin Upton, a former 30-30 prodigy once regarded as the best young upcoming player in the game, decides to resurface from his self-imposed career slumber and chips in with a key home run while getting himself on base with a pivotal double later in the game. In what many viewers described as their most surreal experience while watching the game on television, a Quebec-based broadcaster unleashes perhaps the greatest French home run call clearly reserved for the arrival of a massive conquering army.

Marco Estrada transforms himself into an anti-Syndergaard and neutralizes a lineup featuring some of the most feared hitters in today’s game – Beltre, Odor, and Desmond were rendered impotent from a veritable onslaught of really slow fastballs and deceptively quick changeups. When Choo struck out in the 6th inning by what the broadcasting crew describes as a “late swing on an 88 mile an hour fastball” – you just knew something was in the air. And when Marco leers at Gibby with savage intensity and irritation at being pulled after only 98 pitches, it was like staring into the eyes of a man possessed by a spirit that turns baseball pitchers into a knight of the round table.

Jonathan Lucroy, a beloved clubhouse figure and part of the Texas clutch brigade which bedazzled their fans on the way to capturing the American League West, commits the worst passed ball in recent memory on the kind of play that just shouldn’t happen at such a competitive level. Seriously, there are gifts in baseball, and there’s what Jonathan Lucroy presented the Jays during the 6th inning of their finale. The baseball gods have a wicked, wicked sense of humour.

Yu Darvish, a fearsome player the Jays once coveted for his awesome talent and impressive repertoire of pitches, stunningly decides to ignore them all and proceeds to throw an overabundance of fastballs to the one team in the league known for hitting fastballs really, really well. Chaos ensues on every front as he not only ties the MLB post-season record by giving up 4 home runs but reminds everyone that he’s never given up 4 home runs in a start in his professional career.

Russell Martin, a player already venerated for his long playoff appearance streak (6 consecutive years, 9 of his 11 seasons) is interfered with during game two on a strike out/throw out double play attempt, and still manages to make the play with Andrus draped all over him. His framing and pitch-calling during this series further cements his legendary status – this team simply doesn’t work without him. That’s indisputable to anyone who appreciates the value of chemistry and a winning culture generated from leading by example.

Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

And, of course, there was Rougned Odor. The villainous, face-punching, whirling dervish of fantastical talent and chief architect behind the eventual demise of the Texas Rangers. Look, when your starting pitching can’t match the other team’s best weapons, you won’t compete. But when the focal point (see: Odor) behind a team’s quest for redemption against their bat-flip vanquishers from 2015 (see: Bautista) is ultimately the one who makes the most grievous play of the series, it isn’t hard to become a devout follower of the baseball gods.

The theme of biblical revenge and vengeance on the diamond – largely concocted by over-zealous media outlets and half-baked sports journalists, all but disappeared when it became evident that the these Toronto Blue Jays weren’t interested in avenging the bruised vestiges of their pride and ego, so horribly wounded from Odor’s UFC shenanigans and Bautista’s abuse of a new rule.

And when Tulowitzki and Carrera both neglected to advance on multiple wild pitches during the 8th inning as a show of respect to their opponents, it became obvious the Jays understood the importance of appeasing the baseball gods, who are known for always watching, evaluating, and sizing up the scope of their divine wrath. Can’t score with a runner on third base and less than two outs? They remember.  Don’t move the runners up from first and second with nobody out? They remember. Throw to the wrong base on a relay resulting in a runner scoring? They circle your name and wait for the right moment to exact their righteous wrath. That’s why fundamentals in this sport are coveted like an old testament papyrus scroll unearthed from a fertile crescent dig site – you ignore their lessons, you pay the price.

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So the Jays have decided to play their best baseball – fiercely respecting their opponents, dignifying their teamwork, and moulding their burgeoning passion and desire to win with the swagger and true joy of a world champion. The futile echoes of the naysayers and clickbaiting contrarians who once bludgeoned social media with all-too fashionable condemnation for a team that “backed into the playoffs” are now the first to herald their conquests but refuse to offer credit where credit seems due – to a show of indescribable faith from the deepest places inside our hearts where the baseball gods roam freely.