It was the business-like nature of it all that should have resonated - an adult, self-assured pre-game ceremony at a home opener that seemed to hit all the right pre-game tones until Sergio Santos blew his second save of the young season.
Cue a crisis of confidence with the closer. Not the flashback you wanted, is it Toronto? Yet there you have it: Baseball is back, with all that it entails.
The locals finally had a chance on Monday night to see what the fuss was all about. Put to the wayside were the jilted romances with Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder that were in reality little more than one side batting eye-lashes at another side that wasn’t even looking its way. In the meantime, the next 10 days in Toronto will be turned into properly affixing the blame for the Maple Leafs squalid season – full-page newspaper apologies included – and beginning the process of putting the Toronto Blue Jays 24-win Grapefruit League schedule into proper context. Relax: Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox is just part of the context, folks.
There was the usual media feeding frenzy of the home opener, but manager John Farrell set the tone before the game when he put up the lineup card. Edwin Encarnacion was in the cleanup spot against Red Sox’s left-hander Felix Doubront (Adam Lind was dropped to fifth) and right-hand hitting Rajai Davis was in left field in place of Eric Thames. That ensured there was actual baseball talk, as opposed to simply the usual blather about intentions and predictions. Farrell reiterated something he’d said often during the spring: the Blue Jays lineup is composed of an upper third, middle third and bottom third and there will be some movement within those parameters including games where Brett Lawrie might find himself hitting fifth.
Farrell has said he will let Lawrie hit himself up in the order, which is appropriate given the comet’s trail being left by the Langley, B.C., native’s career path. Lawrie and Jose Bautista received essentially equal ovations during pre-game ceremonies – Bautista had an early taste, being feted during a video-board ceremony for his Hank Aaron Award – but again there was something measured about the length of the ovations.
It really did seem as if it was time to play baseball, didn’t it? To have a shot at that extra wild-card spot, the Blue Jays will have to vault over at least one of the Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. That will not happen if Toronto is once again The City Where Saves Go To Die, as was the case in 2011. Santos was a mess: 18 strikes in 33 pitches, three walks and a single and a double allowed. After Colby Rasmus’s triple, hustling play at the plate and diving catch, the fans have a new goat.
As is often the case with closers, Santos’s psyche will concern most fans this morning. Do not fall in line with them. Santos had a decent feel for his change-up and slider but was over-throwing his fastball. It happens. It’s correctable.
There was a subtle subtext to Monday’s game that reveals the direction of the Blue Jays off the field. The game was one of 60 that will be telecast in Quebec on the French-language TVA network, with Jacques Doucet and Rodger Brulotte handling the chores. The Blue Jays also honoured Mitch MacLean and Tanner Craswell and the families of the two players from the Prairie Baseball Academy, both of whom were shot in Alberta this winter in a triple murder-suicide. The Blue Jays brought back the maple leaf and put it in a prominent place on their re-jigged jersey and now they’ll try to twin the re-awakening of a national identity with meaningful September baseball.
Lawrie is of course very much a part of that awakening, and came out after the game and made clear that he had Santos’s back. “He’s a teammate of mine,” Lawrie said, shrugging. “Sergio will be all right. He’ll be there for us.” Thank goodness he wasn’t wearing a Red Bull hat and repeating “We win as a team, we lose as a team,” or talking about how “we have a good group in here.” Been enough of that in this city, no?
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