Toronto’s agonizing summer of baseball is over

The Blue Jays never really found that promised swagger


Frank Gunn/CP

Jose Reyes, standing 10 feet from third base and itching to score, had the gall to taunt Fernando Rodney. He danced down the line, daring Rodney to pay attention, hoping he’d throw him off his game. Reyes’ team, the Toronto Blue Jays, was down a run. This was the final game of the year. Their shot at a pennant died weeks ago, even months ago, and a win only meant one less loss. Swagger had no place on that field. But there was Reyes, the lovable Blue Jays shortstop, playing mind games at third base.

The crowd of 44,551 was on its feet for much of that eighth inning. Rodney, the Tampa Bay Rays’ reliable closer, seemed rattled. He walked Brett Lawrie, the Jays’ frenetic third baseman, to load the bases with two outs. Moises Sierra stepped to the plate. He fouled off pitch after pitch, unable to find the ball. The crowd with nothing to cheer for tomorrow only cared about today, and prayed for a base hit. Sierra struck out swinging, and today ended with a 7-6 loss to the Rays.

Reyes was supposed to spend a lot more time taunting pitchers from third base. The crowd was supposed to spend more time on its feet. The summer was supposed to be more fun inside the city’s biggest dome. Not this year. The Jays finished dead last in their division, 23 games out of first place, miles from the playoffs.

Robert Ward, a long-time fan, on how the Jays can improve in 2014

There were glimmers, speckled about the season. After a distinctly disappointing 10 weeks to start the campaign, something went right on June 11.

The Jays were a dozen games out of first place. They’d played 63 games, and won only 28. They were losing 5-4 in the top of the ninth, down to their final out. That’s when treasured slugger Jose Bautista, facing two strikes, tied the game with a solo home run. In extra innings, speedy outfielder Rajai Davis stole home and took the lead. The Jays won, 7-5.

They won the next 10 games, too, outscoring opponents 70-27 during the run. Their pitchers couldn’t lose, and their batters couldn’t miss. Fans noticed. On June 17, a crowd of just over 20,000 witnessed a 2-0 shutout of the Colorado Rockies. Six days later, a sellout crowd watched as the home team scored 13 runs in a laugher against the Baltimore Orioles. When the lights went out that night, the Jays sat just five games out of the division lead. The city smelled a winner, and its hopes were up.

Reality hurt. The next day, Toronto headed to Tampa Bay, where an anemic crowd of 11,407 at Tropicana Field watched their Rays win 4-1. Two days later, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched a complete-game shutout that, in another season, might have launched another improbable winning streak. Not this year. The Jays lost 13 of their next 20 games and spent the All-Star break wondering how the hell to fix whatever had gone wrong. The six-game losing streak that followed the break wasn’t much help. Injuries and mistakes piled up, and that was it for 2013.

When second baseman Ryan Goins lined out to left field to end the Jays’ season, the batting lineup barely resembled its distant cousin from Opening Day. Reyes and Lawrie, as well as pinch-hitter Adam Lind, remained. The rest of the names were, like so many late-season rosters in the Major Leagues, riddled with next year’s prospects: Gose, Sierra, Langerhans, Thole, Goins and Pillar. John Gibbons, the manager entrusted with a city’s great expectations, found himself scrounging for pride at the back of the dugout.

“The guys hung in there and we made a run late. They had a shot,” Gibbons told reporters after the last game of the year. “So I’m pretty proud of them for that.”

A big-league manager proud of his team for trying. That’s how the season ends.

As fans filed out of Rogers Centre, vendors hurried to sell merchandise to willing customers. One staffer, arm stuck in the air, waved a copy of the documentary that captured the magic of the 1993 World Series. He was selling it for $1. Anyone who bought it, and hoped to watch it, required a VCR. In that building, at that moment, glory never seemed so far away.

Once again, Toronto’s baseball fans have no team in October. They’re left to dream about the swagger that never really was. Those glimmers, for a couple of weeks way back in June when the Jays forgot how to lose, were real. For a fortnight, all the moments went their way. Until they didn’t. They just didn’t have it.

Tomorrow, the die-hard among those fans, those who can’t help but treasure split seconds of glory, will mark their calendars: April 4, 2014, the next time they come back for more.

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Toronto’s agonizing summer of baseball is over

  1. For me until Gibbons and Andropolis make their exit from the team the Blue Jays will continue to suffer under their tutelage. Neither of these men are capable of managing a winning club. Gibbons proved it before – and was sent packing. The GM was an upstart and really is all talk. Proof is in the pudding – letting John Farrell and the best of our coaching team depart and go to Boston (a now winning team) speaks volumes on just how inept the GM and his staff are. Andropolis is a bozo plain and simple…

  2. Time for the Trawna sports media to discuss among themselves
    just who should be fired and who should be hired. They’re almost
    as much fun as the political media .. and often serve the same purpose.

  3. I hope the new Rogers CEO cleans out the Jays’ front office. Anybody who’d be deluded enough to recycle Gibbons as a major league manager deserves to be cashiered. Ditto for anybody (hello Beeston) who’d let Anthopoulos continue to play fantasy league baseball with this franchise.

    Time to turn the operation over to competent baseball people.

  4. Remember when the Cleveland Indians beat the Jays in the opener. Indians won over 90 games and made the playoffs, Jays finished dead last.Of course Cleveland has a real manager in Francona and the Jays have a bozo in John Gibbons. Gibbons,AA, and the entire coaching staff should be gone

  5. Oh the fickle feelings of jilted fans. I think the only mistake everyone will agree to, in and outside the organization, is the mismanagement of expectations coming into the season. AA and Gibbons should be spared. First for AA, do people remember the Spring and Winter leading up to this campaign? Cabrera was brought in, Dickey was brought in, people were looking at Boston and NYY as being weak this year. It was time to pounce and AA was at the helm to spend the money and he spent it. AA spent money where most people, in March and April, thought he should spend money.

    Gibbons was brought in and Farrell was thrown out. Do people forget that everybody wrote off Farrell as an “unknown” because he had one season as GM. I’m not in the clubhouse but I hear no ‘disunity’ rumours; no in-house fist fights and no egoes blowing up. Gibbons is known to be a hard man but also knows how to manage some hot heads (Lawrie). Is this ALL Gibbons fault? Probably not. Is it easier to replace one GM than 5 players? You betcha.

    Perhaps the axe should go to communications and marketing directors for letting SportsTalk yammer on about how great the Jays are this season. Then again, if fans didn’t pre-order thousands of tickets in March and April then the Jays wouldn’t be in a position to acquire such inspirational talent.

    Or maybe we (fans and paying public) should just accept the fact that when you’re paying for baseball tickets, and TV rights, you’re not paying for the actual results on the field but for the hope of the future.

    • “…when you’re paying for baseball tickets, and TV rights, you’re not paying for the actual results on the field but for the hope of the future.”

      Spoken like a typical fan of any (or all) the Toronto pro sports franchises. You’ve apparently bought all their corporate owners’ excuses for serial, habitual, chronic failure.

      Sorriest city in North American professional team sports, in terms of value for money.

    • I’m not negative on Gibbons all thing considered, but a Jays reporter said, a bunch of the reporters were watching a practice early this year and the players packed up early and wrapped it up. The reporters looked at each other and said “Wow Farrell would never have allowed this to happen”.
      Do you think we all allowed resentment of Farrell to cloud judgements? How many wins did the Jays have last year? How many wins did the Sox add on from last year?

  6. Things turned out as I expected. The deal with the Marlins was never as good as the crazed city of Toronto made it out to be. C’mon. Buehrle, Reyes and Johnson are hardly what you call world-beaters. They’re above average players, nothing more. Dickey? C’mon. Prior to the age of 34, he won a grand total of 22 games. His track record is 3 great seasons following 10 poor ones.

    The team has nobody that can get on base a lot. The pitching is average… Morrow, Redmond and Happ played as well as you’d expect. The relievers were fair.

    So you might expect a .500 team.

    I’d say they didn’t make it to .500 because Gibbons is a sub-par manager.

    AA is a sub-par GM. If they want to win, they’ve got to dump AA and get somebody smart.

    • Dickey is an asset because he is the league’s only established knuckle-baller (unless that kid in Boston is now a regular, I’ll have to check on that). ‘Consistent knuckleballer’ is a bit of an oxymoron, but Dickey has shown he’s capable of being that for long stretches, and he really came into his own late in the season. I’ll admit I’m a huge knuckleball fan and it clouds my judgement, but I’d be sorry to see him go. There are few pleasures in life greater than watching a knuckleball pitcher when he’s on his game. It adds a dimension to the game that you just don’t get otherwise. If Dickey isn’t good enough, then there’s nobody to fill that role. There simply aren’t any other established knucklers out there.

    • There seems to be feeling in Jays mgmt and media that tinkering only is needed say, as Blair argues, catcher and 2 new starters.
      In Am League East some might say big changes are needed or it’s middle or bottom of the pack again.

  7. nicely done, Mr. Taylor-Vaisey. you’ve captured the excitement, the hope and the disappointment of the season. it no doubt says something about the season (or, perhaps, my age – ha!) that the highlight moment in this article, for me, is: “One staffer, arm stuck in the air, waved a copy of the documentary that captured the magic of the 1993 World Series. He was selling it for $1. Anyone who bought it, and hoped to watch it, required a VCR.” i have just such a VCR, waiting to re-watch any and all of 1992 or 1993.

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