The other day, someone asked Yankees star Aaron Judge about one of those last-gasp wins New York isn’t famous for.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” Judge said. “You’ve got to enjoy the ride.”
Like most banal statements by pro athletes, this was celebrated around Major League Baseball like Plato doing a live reading of The Allegory of the Cave. Roller coasters? But aren’t roller coasters scary? Fascinating, fascinating stuff. Tell us more.
In this rare instance, Judge was onto something about the Yankees, the Blue Jays, the American League East and the wild-card race.
Roller coasters break. Very, very occasionally, they kill people. The appeal of a roller coaster isn’t excitement (Judge’s point). It’s that in riding one, you are cheating death.
Two of Boston, New York and Toronto are not going to excite their way to the AL wild card in the next 18 days. Instead, one of them is going to attempt to cheat playoff death, and fail.
If you took your rooting interest out of it, who would you bet on right now?
And a month ago?
Clearly, not Toronto.
So this would not be a good time to start trusting our civic gut.
From the vantage of Wednesday, it is difficult to imagine the Jays pooching a straight-up sprint to the finish.
Over three games, they put the Tampa Bay Rays in a headlock and squeezed, winning two.
There is now a look non-elite starters who have to face the Jays get. It isn’t fear. It’s more like resignation. Something born of the awful thought that however it turns out, it’s just a matter of how bad it will be. “Embarrassing” bad or “you may have noticed the clubbie has packed your bag and put it in a cab” bad.
On Wednesday afternoon, it was Michael Wacha’s turn.
Wacha is a tall person who has survived in the major leagues because he looks like a ballplayer and because he’s cheap.
But he’s spent most of this year being worse than mediocre on one of the best teams in baseball. You know how that goes.
Wacha got onto the mound looking wan and only got moreso as his team futzed around behind him.
First inning – Marcus Semien walk; Vlad Guerrero Jr. double; Bo Bichette home run.
Third inning – Semien single; Guerrero double; Bichette sac fly.
And that’s all it took. The game ended 6-3 for the Jays.
By the time Wacha was going through the Jays’ lineup for the third time, he was somewhere beyond wan. He looked like all the fluids had been drained from his body.
On the flip side of this offensive swagger, Jays starter Robbie Ray used his Wednesday afternoon to make himself another few million in free agency this winter. Seven innings, 13 strikeouts, no walks.
If you are a person who likes to prepare for the worst – and who can blame you? – there was Toronto’s Joakim Soria.
Soria came on for an inning of relief in the eighth. He gave up two runs in seven pitches. He did work out of his troubles, but in the manner of someone hanging onto the bumper of a moving truck.
As Soria came off the field, an official stopped him and checked his hat. For what? Krazy Glue? The only sort of substances Soria could possible have had on him were performance disenhancing.
That’s how hot the Jays are right now. Not so hot that they can’t be stopped. But so hot that their own players can’t stop them.
It’s the most glorious time to be a Jays fans since 2015, and that includes the playoff runs that followed that season. Because you’re starting to get the feeling that, y’know, this might actually be possible.
The only bad feeling the Jays are giving off is the sneaking sense that they might want to save some of this stuff for October.
Except that it is October.
After a breather on Thursday, the Jays playoff run starts at home against Minnesota on Friday.
As of early evening on Wednesday, the Jays (82-64) led the Yankees (81-64) and Red Sox (82-65) by a half-game in the wild-card race.
They’ll play the Yankees once more in the penultimate series of the season. But aside from that, they are untethered from their opponents. They aren’t playing anyone, so much as playing themselves.
How many of the 16 games left does Toronto have to win to get a wild card? History isn’t much use here. But you’d guess they’re probably safe if they play .600 ball from this point on. So, 10 wins from 16.
Eleven or 12 would be better. Eight or nine might be doable. Less than eight, and you are in all likelihood the roller coaster that left the track.
What’s left? Seven games against Minnesota (who are bad); three against Tampa (who are good); three against New York (who are your guess is as good as anyone else’s on a given night) and Baltimore (who is taking the year off to pursue hobbies outside baseball).
The season ends at home against Baltimore. In all likelihood, it won’t be decided until then.
So how exactly does one go about competing in such a high-intensity environment?
“I think it’s just sticking to the process,” Ray said. “Not letting outside noise get to us. Take care of what we need to take care of in the clubhouse, and get your work done every day, and go about your business, and prepare for the way you need to prepare for every day to come out and give your best.”
Amazing. This man is not just a contender for the Cy Young of pitching. He is a solid contender for the Cy Young of motivational bromides and run-on sentences.
By my count, that is seven shopworn platitudes in less than 17 seconds. Sure, it’s no “enjoy the roller coaster ride.” But a winning team spouting clichés at this advanced rate must be a shoo-in.