About an hour after Saturday’s ALCS Game 2, a Clevelander walked slowly down the 100-yard boulevard that serves as the city’s downtown entertainment district. He was holding a placard over his head, ‘Say Anything’-style.
Walking behind him, you couldn’t see what was on it. What you registered were the looks of frozen disbelief on the face of every Blue Jays fan who caught sight of it. People on patios swivelled and pointed. Forks stopped halfway to mouths and stayed there. One woman in blue ran up and yelled, “Really? Really?!”
At that point, he did a little pirouette. The sign was a fairly professional printing job showing Toronto’s most infamous pugilistic scene – Rougned Odor cold-cocking Jose Bautista.
But over Odor’s face, this guy had pasted team mascot Chief Wahoo’s maniacal leer. He looked pretty pleased with himself. And even more pleased when several equally well-refreshed Cleveland fans stood up from their dinners to give him a long, slow ovation.
This series felt friendly on Saturday afternoon. By the evening, after a few drinks, it didn’t seem quite so friendly at street-level.
Cleveland has taken notice of Canada’s offence and is offended in return. Not in a Mark Shapiro ‘Hey, I’m personally offended (though I didn’t want to actually do anything definitive about it)’ way. But in a seething ‘stay in your lane, Canada’ sort of way.
Having knocked the Jays around for a couple of days, the reactionary elements of the Cleveland fan base (i.e. the ones wearing gear with Wahoo front-and-centre) were emboldened. There were a lot of shirt fronts popping around Progressive Field once the sun went down.
If Canada would like to shut them up, let’s suggest that the best way to do that would be winning on Monday evening. Maybe not winning it all, but winning just one thing for a start.
Obviously, Toronto doesn’t have to take Game 3 to remain alive. But if it doesn’t, a lot of bad things you wouldn’t have thought likely a few days ago suddenly become possible.
A comeback to win the series is already doubtful. Twenty-seven teams have gone down 2-0 in a league championship series. Only three have come back to win. That suggests the Jays have an 11-per-cent chance of advancing to the World Series.
But many of those eventual losers fall while fighting (the Jays managed this themselves last year, pushing the series against Kansas City to six games after losing the first couple).
Three-games-to-none is a different story. Once you get in that hole, the next move is surrender. Thirty-five teams have gone down 3-0 in either an LCS or a World Series. Twenty-eight of them were swept. Those are not good odds.
This year is different than the 2015 run in several ways, most of them perceptual.
Last year, it was all new. Every victory was huge. Coming back against Texas – especially the way it was done – felt just as big as a World Series.
In the next round, Kansas City was billed as the better team, and evidently was. There was no shame in losing there.
There would be a great deal of chagrin in being swept at that same stage this time around.
For starters, it doesn’t feel new any more. It kinda feels old. Anything short of meeting the 2015 standard is a de facto regression.
Unlike the Royals, nobody believed Cleveland would win this. On and off paper, Toronto has a better rotation and a more glamorous lineup. All Cleveland has is decent defence and a great bullpen, the baseball equivalent of good personality.
Everyone understood that the wild card against Baltimore was a coin toss. Had Toronto lost at that point, it would have been disappointing, but not existentially meaningful. All it ‘meant’ was extra baseball.
Everyone agreed the Rangers were the better team this time around.
Steamrolling Texas in three games created an expectation that had not previously existed. This Jays team wasn’t just decent. It was arriving. Even the bookies noticed it.
The Jays were very careful not to be seen looking past Cleveland, so other people did it for them. Wouldn’t a Toronto-Chicago World Series be dreamy? Think of the history. Never mind the story lines involving the most loved team in baseball versus the most hated.
Even Cleveland played into this with its ‘oh, shucks, we’ll sure give it a try’ attitude and their drone mishaps. What was missed is how loose the players seemed once they’d been freed of the favourites tag.
It’s a purely subjective observation, but over a few days, Cleveland’s players just seemed to be having more fun than Toronto’s. And that was long before they had won a game or taken a lead.
It’s no fun for anybody now. Cleveland is favoured again. Toronto is in real danger of pooching what only days ago seemed like a dream season.
If that happens, there won’t be any cries to keep the band together. People – and many of them inside the club – will want some measure of change. Not total turnover, but a hunt for what went so badly wrong when it really counted and a subsequent attitude readjustment.
If you’re one of those who’d like to see, say, Jose Bautista (3-for-21 in the postseason) back, that would be a wrinkle in your plan. Or maybe Joey Votto starts to seem like a better medium-term bet than Edwin Encarnacion? Maybe neither. Maybe you start over.
That gets harder to do if the Jays make a series of this. It becomes close to impossible if they slog their way to Chicago (let’s not even pretend that’s going the other way).
Moving back in that direction starts with one win on Monday. If it goes the other way, it’s time to get a start on sharpening the knives.Report Typo/Error
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