There’s isn’t enough distance to properly constitute hindsight, but it seems fairly clear the Toronto Blue Jays’ most recent road trip will be remembered one of two ways: Either as the 2-6 stretch where the 2014 season went to die, or the lull preceding the wave that carried the Jays to the postseason for the first time in a couple of decades.
Much depends on how they follow up Wednesday’s hitting explosion against the Milwaukee Brewers – nine runs, 15 hits, two of which left the yard – a rare and precious sight in August.
One win doesn’t really make the Jays’ situation any less grim; a long run of wins is required if they hope to play into October.
For several days now, manager John Gibbons and indeed the whole squad have been looking for an event they can point to as a catalyst.
They may have found one in the sixth inning against a tough Brewers squad.
Down 3-2, catcher Josh Thole and second baseman Munenori Kawasaki hit back-to-back doubles to tie the game against starter Jimmy Nelson. Then the top of the order came up with two outs.
Jose Reyes singled, then Melky Cabrera did likewise.
Up stepped Jose Bautista, who proceeded to clout a three-run homer into the Milwaukee bullpen on a 2-1 sinker.
“We’ve been searching for that thing,” Gibbons said, agreeing that hit gave the dugout a much-needed lift.
Not to overstate the importance of a single inning, but the five runs were the most the Jays have scored in a frame since July 28, and the nine were the most this month; the home runs by Bautista and Colby Rasmus (who smashed a two-run shot to centre in the ninth to seal the result) also lifted Toronto out of the major league basement for home runs in August.
“It’s great to have an inning where you put a crooked number up there. I feel like we’ve been overdue; I think that’s kind of our calling card,” starter R.A. Dickey said. He earned the win but expressed annoyance at his own performance. “This has not been a good road trip for us – anybody would tell you that. To have a community win like that was nice.”
Dickey also alluded to a “collective sigh on the bench” when Bautista’s 24th of the season sailed over the outfield wall.
“It was like ‘Okay, finally, here we go.’ We’re going to try to build on this; we get to go home and we’re not out of it by any stretch of the imagination. We’re going to gird up our loins and go attack,” he said.
Bautista saw it differently: “I wouldn’t say it was a sigh moment, especially against this team … but it was good to get on top and then get ahead.”
And as for the big inning, he added: “It doesn’t really matter to us, as long as we get some wins. I think it’s more important to score a lot of runs in games, not in an inning. But we’ll take it.”
Nothing is easy for the Blue Jays, particularly in the month of August, so when Milwaukee narrowed a 7-3 margin to 7-5 when Carlos Gomez took Jays starter Dickey deep to left in the bottom of the sixth, some scrambling was required.
First, rookie Aaron Sanchez came in to face hot-hitting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who was retired on a grounder to the mound (Sanchez would contribute a clean inning in the seventh).
In the eighth, lefty Brett Cecil ran into trouble, walking Jean Segura, the first batter he saw.
He was initially bailed out as infielder Steve Tolleson, in for Kawasaki, made a scintillating stop on Khris Davis’s sharp grounder up the middle, materializing behind second base, scooping the ball and making an underhand relay to Reyes for a force out. (“The play of the game,” Gibbons said.)
But then Cecil allowed a single to Gomez, setting up a situation where Milwaukee had two runners aboard with one out.
Dustin McGowan entered the game and got Lucroy to hit into a 1-6-3 double play – for the first time in a while, the late innings had the feel of gears meshing together.
After the game, Gibbons was asked whether he gave his players a pep talk to spur them on.
“Oh yeah. Win one for the Gibber,” he laughed. “Or the Gipper. What is it?”
Mirth has returned to the Jays’ clubhouse as they contemplate a nine-game home stand beginning Friday.
For how long is an open question.