Optimism, always an unstable element, can dissipate quickly. Perhaps even in the few seconds that it takes a fleet ballplayer to sprint down the line to first base.
For better or worse, the Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup is fashioned around leadoff hitter Jose Reyes. And so it can’t be anything other than ominous that his participation on Opening Day lasted all of a half-inning.
The first pitch he saw from Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price was a called strike.
Then came a ball. Reyes lashed the third pitch to centre field.
“I saw the guy (outfielder Desmond Jennings) diving for the ball, I thought the ball was going to drop and bounce away from him, I tried to run a little bit faster … I kind of feel my hammy there, so I had to slow down,” said the 30-year-old shortstop, who was hurt two weeks into the 2013 season and missed 66 games.
He jogged back to the dugout without displaying any obvious pain, but he did not return to the game, and the implications of Reyes spending time on the disabled list were clear to his teammates.
“I think everybody took a good, deep breath,” said starting pitcher R.A. Dickey.
After the game Toronto officially placed Reyes on the 15-day disabled list and recalled shortstop Jonathan Diaz from Buffalo.
Before the game, manager John Gibbons referred to him euphemistically as “a guy you don’t want to lose.” If that’s the case, why was Reyes allowed to play a total of 10 innings in a pair of exhibition games last weekend on turf in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium? Should he not have rested?
“I don’t think so,” Gibbons said after his team’s 9-2 season-starting loss to the Rays. “He had a few days off in between, all indications are he felt good. Other than that, we really didn’t know where we were going to test him.”
Reyes, for his part, said he wasn’t 100 per cent in Montreal, but believed he could play through it. Though he has suffered from hamstring issues in the past (among many other ailments), they haven’t troubled him since 2011.
“I worked so hard this off-season just to come ready for spring training and play a good year, and I have to deal with this thing. It’s no fun at all,” said Reyes, who first felt a twinge 10 days ago in spring training.
There are 162 games in the baseball season, so it’s not advisable to go into full freak-out mode on Opening Day. That said, in the past two days, the Jays have lost closer Casey Janssen and Reyes to the disabled list and had their top pitcher, Dickey, get shelled for six earned runs in five innings.
At minimum, Reyes’ expected absence will force an infield re-think. Gibbons suggested his preference is to keep Ryan Goins, who came into the game for Reyes, at second.
Gibbons will hope Diaz can produce like Sunday’s call-up Erik Kratz, whose two-run, pinch-hit homer provided all the Jays’ runs here yesterday.
Gibbons had talked about getting off to a strong start in the tough American League East, and it’s still eminently possible it will happen. But this wasn’t what he had in mind.
Reyes’s exit put a damper on the occasion, but the Jays didn’t lose because of it. “I didn’t give us a chance to win. That has nothing to do with Jose,” said a flushed and frustrated Dickey.
Knuckleballs are inherently unpredictable, but Dickey said “I lost the feel a little bit” and realized he didn’t have his usual velocity – he said his knuckler is at its best when it tops 80 miles per hour, but on Monday it maxed out at 78.
“I was trying to step on the gas like I usually do, but for whatever reason today it just wasn’t there,” said Dickey, who allowed five of his six runs with two outs.
As a result, he was touched up for a run in the first inning when Wil Myers smoked a double to centre (“I got a good one there,” Myers said) and he trotted home on Evan Longoria’s hit up the middle two batters later.
In the second, Myers knocked in two more with a sharp single. By the time Dickey left the game after five innings, he had allowed six earned runs and given up six walks, matching a career high.
“It was completely my loss,” he said.
Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young winner, was in charge from the start, scattering six hits over seven-and-a-third innings and striking out six – he needed 13 pitches to retire the Jays in order in the sixth and seventh innings. Total.
“The great ones, they smell it and they run with it. It’s tough to get to them,” Gibbons said. “We had one shot, early in the game, first and second – we couldn’t put anything across. That’s when you’ve got to make something happen, but it didn’t, so we move on.”