The games may be meaningless as the Toronto Blue Jays play out the string on a lost season, but the driving, competitive nature of the players still runs deep.
Witness Randal Grichuk, the Toronto Blue Jays right fielder, who injured himself in Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Indians in one of the more bizarre moments you will see on the baseball diamond.
It started in the fourth inning at Rogers Centre when Cleveland batter Brandon Guyer lofted a fly ball deep down the right side in foul territory.
Grichuk was positioned deep in right, seemingly acres away, but he took up the chase regardless.
So did Justin Smoak, the Toronto first baseman.
As the ball started to fall, it became clear to one of the ushers, who line the walls around the diamond, that he had better get out of the way. He had the presence of mind to grab his heavy, steel stool, lest it might affect the play.
The usher could clearly see Smoak as he was running toward him, but he didn’t count on the hard-charging Grichuk coming up from behind.
Grichuk slid feet-first in a last-ditch attempt to make the catch on the warning track, sliding past the back-pedalling usher and as he did so, his head slammed into the seat of the usher's stool.
As the ball dropped without being caught, Grichuk rolled over and lay still for several moments as several teammates and head athletic trainer Nikki Huffman rushed to his side.
Finally, Grichuk stirred and was helped to his feet. He had an ugly welt on the bridge of his nose and was assisted off the field to the Blue Jays clubhouse.
Along with undergoing routine concussion protocol with the club’s medical staff, Grichuk will also receive imaging tests to his facial area to see if any bones were broken.
The Blue Jays, behind a solid outing from rookie Thomas Pannone, beat the playoff-bound Indians 6-2 to salvage a split in the four-game set.
“I don’t know if he blacked out, to be honest with you,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Grichuk. “I saw him in the clubhouse in between innings … where he was grinning, laughing a little bit. So that’s a good sign.
“He’s a pretty boy. You don’t want to hurt that face.”
Grichuk was not made available to the media after the game.
Smoak said, to his knowledge, Grichuk never lost consciousness on the field.
He said in those circumstances, when players are chasing down a fly ball, they don’t see people such as ushers or police officers, who are on the field for every game.
“Especially here in the dome, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball,” Smoak said. “I honestly had no clue where he [the usher] was. I just peeked at Grich.”
If Grichuk is out for any length, it would be unfortunate for Toronto.
Obtained during the off-season in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, Grichuk’s season began at a snail’s pace, not helped by a knee sprain that kept him out of the lineup in May.
Grichuk was hitting just .099 on June 2, but his bat then slowly started to come around.
In Saturday’s 9-8 loss to Cleveland, Grichuk went 3-for-5 with two home runs. That gives him 21 on the year, the third successive season he has reached the 20-homer plateau.
Smoak, as a reminder that there are other power-hitting first basemen on the team not named Rowdy Tellez, stroked a two-run home run off Cleveland's long-haired starter Mike Clevinger in the first inning to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 leg up.
It was Smoak’s 24th bomb of the season.
Tellez, the September call-up, got the start at designated hitter, but his exceptional run with the bat – seven extra-base hits in 14 at-bats through his first four games – dried up on Sunday as he went 0-for-4.
Pannone, in his third major-league start, lasted 6⅓ innings and allowed two runs off four hits, including two home runs to Francisco Lindor and Jan Gomes.
The effort by Gomes came in the seventh. That cut the Blue Jays lead to 3-2 and spelled the end of the afternoon for the lefty.
Teoscar Hernandez, who replaced the injured Grichuk in the Toronto lineup, then put the game on ice in the eighth when he clubbed his 20th home run, a three-run shot.