Asked if the Jays had faced a more critical nine-game stretch in either of his tenures with the team, manager John Gibbons leaned back in his chair.
Actually, scratch that. He’s always leaned back in his chair. Gibbons spends most of his seated time lying nearly flat. But he did lean further.
“In August? … (laughing, then letting the laugh die off under the weight of serious consideration) … No.”
Someone took a breath before asking the next question, but Gibbons was still in the midst of tilting toward horizontality, so they stopped.
“In July? … (more lengthy cogitation) … No.”
Still leaning. Now in danger of doing the rest of the interview from the floor under his desk.
“Maybe in May.”
He’s kidding. That’s a good sign. The tighter things get for this team at an unfamiliarly late point in the year, the less apt Gibbons is to be serious. You can’t be sure any more when he’s kidding.
After the very small eruption of dissent following Toronto’s failure to make any moves at the non-waiver trade deadline, Gibbons addressed the team in Houston.
“I said, ‘We’ve got a good ball club. Let’s run with it. Remember, when a new guy comes in, somebody goes.’”
With anyone else, that would be a brief summation of a 15-minute speech. Knowing Gibbons, it’s a complete transcript.
He reckoned this was only the second time he’s spoken to the entire squad during this season. Gibbons prefers dealing with players one-on-one. What was the other group oration about?
“Crazy things going on. Dysfunction.”
Everyone in the room stood there, paralyzed by curiosity. Gibbons leaned back, rocked a bit and winked. And we moved on. So … kidding?
I’m pretty sure. Almost positive.
In a better world, Gibbons would now travel to the home of every Jays fan in Canada giving the same speech. “Good ball club. Let’s run with it.”
It’s tempting to say this series against the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles – or pretty much any series from now on – is the turning point.
It’s a bad habit we’ve all developed over the past two decades, when every series was make-or-break. Mostly break. Okay, always break.
Everyone’s having trouble adjusting to the new reality, which is that the Jays will be in this right until the end. The division has fallen off that much, while the Jays’ resilience has earned them some measure of trust.
One-man party Brett Lawrie returned briefly on Tuesday, after missing six weeks with a broken finger.
During pregame, he looked like two Red Bulls on the five Red Bull scale – excited, but not in danger of hurting anyone through excess exuberance.
He said, “Definitely good to be back” four times in the first 30 seconds, which was impressively Steinian.
In his first at bat, he chopped a ball down the first-base line, turned wildly around first, stepped awkwardly on the bag and nearly fell over and/or broke his ankle. Two innings later, he was removed from the game with lower-back tightness as “a precaution,” according to the club.
We’ll see, but we won’t panic.
Lawrie’s versatility makes the infield work. When he went down that day in Cincinnati, it looked as if it were the beginning of the end. Without him and using a patchwork collection of journeymen, the club tread water, going 18-18.
Since Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion went down in quick succession, they’ve been 13-10.
Lind is close to returning from a broken foot. He’ll begin running in the next couple of days, and could be back with the team by the time it heads to Seattle on Sunday evening. There is still no timetable for Encarnacion’s return from a quad injury.
It may have been difficult to watch this team do nothing at the deadline, but this was that rare instance in which chemistry was a non-phony concern. There wasn’t any point in doing something just for doing something’s sake. At least, not for the chicken feed Toronto would have received for anything less than the future (i.e. any one of pitchers Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman or Daniel Norris).
Right now, you’d do worse than surrender to the idea that the Blue Jays either or are they aren’t. Since they’re a playoff team – for the moment – that shouldn’t be so painful.
These Jays are streaky, but in the way good teams are – it all averages out to winning baseball.
It would be good if they took this three-game series with the Orioles here. Their shabby introduction in all phases of game one wasn’t much of a start. But, again, patience.
It would be better if they snuck by the Tigers after that. And they’ll probably have to start pumping downers into the Toronto water supply if they win the series against the Mariners that follows.
It’s understandable that fans are living and dying nightly. It’s been a while for all of us. Since there are two months of this left, it would be better for your health if you took the long view. This is all likely to even out, leaving the season to be won or lost in the final few games.
As he walked onto the field pregame, Gibbons paused for a little chat.
“How’re things?” I asked.
“Same as ever,” he said, and smiled. “I’m always the same.”
I’m pretty sure he was serious. Almost positive.