They are two men whose names are writ large over the successful seasons of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cito Gaston and Roberto Alomar both work for the team, now, in advisory capacities and if they’re in attendance at a game in the Rogers Centre but sitting apart they will sometimes exchange text messages about signs they’ve picked up or pitches being tipped. Just for yucks.
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They were famous for this as manager and player. It was part of the DNA of the 1992 and 1993 World Series champions. Pat Hentgen, currently the Blue Jays bullpen coach, tipped his pitches when he first arrived in the majors. How did he find out? From Alomar.
So it is no surprise the Blue Jays’ makeshift middle infield has been a little steadier during this period of hesitant steps forward after some pregame workouts with Alomar earlier this month.
In Wednesday’s 4-3, 10th-inning walk-off win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Emilio Bonifacio and Munenori Kawasaki clicked on a 10th-inning double play to erase lead-off hitter Jose Molina. Yunel Escobar scalded the ball and it rocked Bonifacio on his heels but Kawasaki clutched the slightly high flip. The Jays turned four double plays in a 4-3 loss on Tuesday, and TV cameras caught Alomar saluting Bonifacio and Kawasaki by making the lo viste sign as they jogged off the field.
“I know Robbie’s always watching the game, and sees so much,” third-base coach and infield instructor Luis Rivera said Wednesday. “So, I asked him if he’d come down and talk to them. It’s always good to hear from one of the best in anything.”
The greatest beneficiary long-term ought to be Bonifacio. Kawasaki is merely keeping Jose Reyes’s shortstop position filled while Izturis is what he is. Bonifacio needs to improve his defence at second to be fully useful either on a full-time or utility basis, given the organizational depth chart.
“I told him there are more chances to play in the infield,” Rivera said. “He doesn’t need to worry about the outfield, considering who we have on this team. Besides, he can play the outfield. So, in batting practice we’ve told him to forget about shagging flies in the outfield. He needs to worry about ground balls, double plays, stuff like that. This way, he feels like he’s in one regular spot.”
Do not be surprised if the Blue Jays revisit moving Jose Bautista to third base and shifting Brett Lawrie to second once a healthy Jose Reyes returns at shortstop. Second base is an issue, as it was Wednesday, when a Maicer Izturis error (Bonifacio entered the game in the ninth as a defensive substitution) opened the door for a two-run Rays inning. The Blue Jays could bring up Jim Negrych from Triple-A Buffalo but defence, alas, is hardly Negrych’s calling card. At any rate, getting Bonifacio right defensively so that he can play a role when – okay, if – his bat comes around is a useful project.
Alomar stressed the importance of communication between Bonifacio and Kawasaki and started with the basics: the pair would mess up double plays because they were often too far apart when they approached the bag. Alomar had them backhand flip the ball to each other to reinforce the lesson. Wide-ranging, in-depth conversations aren’t likely between the Japanese shortstop and the second baseman from the Dominican Republic but Alomar suggested substitutes: anticipation, and a bit of trust.
Thing is, Kawasaki isn’t an easy double-play partner, because of all his ticks and quirks.
“He has so many mannerisms, that sometimes you don’t see the ball when he’s throwing it to you,” said Rivera. “So, we got him to hide the glove a bit, and make it easier for the other guy to pick up the ball when [Kawasaki] throws it.”
Some of those lessons bore fruit on Wednesday, against a foe that usually wins those one-run games. Be nice if it became a part of this group’s DNA, no?