On Sunday, Toronto Blue Jays fans at the Rogers Centre did Josh Donaldson the favour of loudly saluting him every time he came to bat.
In return, Donaldson did them the favour of proving the club was right to let him go. The current Jays roster is no country for old men.
In the old days of not so long ago, the fans would have given the guy a perfunctory greeting his first time up, then set against him once he hit his first homer. If he’d managed to drive the flaccid Minnesota Twins to a sweep, they’d have stoned him in the parking lot.
But this is the new days. Everything is going right in Toronto. The result is endless magnanimity.
Toronto won two of three against Minnesota, including Sunday’s closer, and everything is in its proper place. Even the things that go wrong look from the vantage of right now like something that might be going right.
Before Sunday’s afternoon delight, Toronto announced that sagging ace Hyun-jin Ryu is going on the 10-day injured list. Jays general manager Ross Atkins told reporters that Ryu woke up after his last start with a stiff neck.
Totally believable. Maybe Ryu was scrolling his phone in bed and made the mistake of reading his own stat line. That kind of shock could have produced a violent, involuntary spasm.
The stiff neck sounds a lot like the tweaked back and the tight hamstring. It’s one of those unprovable baseball injuries that sometimes require quotation marks – “injuries.”
Over his past two starts, Ryu looked like he was spiking a volleyball off the mound, not throwing a baseball. Maybe he has become coincidentally injured at the precise moment when he could use a mental refresher. Or maybe, after doing this work at the highest level since he was a teenager, Ryu has hit his mileage limit for the year.
At the same point a year ago, losing Ryu would have triggered a maudlin panic. Why him? Why us? Why not me, God? Why not kink my neck instead?
But nowadays it’s all good, man. Lose a Ryu, gain a Berrios. Just like it says in the Old Testament.
It’s not exactly a secret that trade deadline rental Jose Berrios wasn’t completely delighted to be shipped out of Minnesota. After a boffo introduction, he’s been up and down like a penny stock.
Berrios was so uncomfortable with the idea of playing against his former teammates on Sunday that he required a pep talk from his mother.
“She knows I was playing for them, but now I am a Toronto Blue Jay,” Berrios said, playing both ends of the conversation. “‘Just do your work’. I say, ‘Yes, mom.’”
Based on the results, maybe Jose shouldn’t be the only member of the Berrios family the Jays are looking to sign to a long-term deal. Anybody can clap while you work in the batting cage, but nobody motivates like a mother.
Berrios isn’t the straw that stirs the Jays rotational drink. He doesn’t need to be. Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah are the tips of the pitching spear.
But if the Jays want to start making plans past the next two weeks, Berrios needs to put in a reliable shift every outing. That need is amplified by Ryu’s indeterminate absence.
And because everything that can go right does go right for these Jays, Berrios came through.
Staked to a five-run lead in the first inning, he pitched seven serviceable innings. At points, he even toyed with his former teammates.
After punching out human-strikeout-machine Miguel Sano in the sixth, Berrios gave himself a short round of applause. Because if you can’t cheer for yourself, who can you cheer for?
It didn’t end as auspiciously. The last batter Berrios faced – a sub-Mendoza-Line No. 9 hitter – took him out of the park. That made a game that had seemed comfortable a little tight – 5-3. But that’s how it ended.
As Berrios handed off the ball and walked toward the dugout, the crowd turned the usual round of applause into a standing ovation.
If the new standard for standing O’s is giving up a home run to a guy who doesn’t hit his bodyweight, Ray should be put on the back of a pickup truck and led up and down Toronto’s Spadina Avenue by a marching band after every start.
It’s a funny thing about the reduced Rogers Centre crowd these days – they love everything. They love Donaldson, who made it pretty clear he’d had enough Toronto, thanks very much, as he left. They love quality starts. They love when the other team scores late and makes the end of the game more interesting.
When Twins centrefielder Byron Buxton made a nice, sprawling catch of a dying liner, the fans didn’t just clap politely. They cheered.
There is a surfeit of good sportsmanship and there is a lack of discernment. Toronto is edging out of the former and into the latter.
I guess that when COVID limits eliminated the cheap seats, they also eliminated all the working-class aggro that made the Rogers Centre one of the nastier places to visit in all of baseball. Toronto has never been this nice, baseball-wise.
But it’s hard to blame people for feeling moony about everything going on in and around this team right now.
Everything that can go right is. It’s the sustained aggregate quality that stands out, rather than any individual superlatives (the usual way losers measure themselves).
Sure, they have two guys (Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Marcus Semien) who will probably finish second and third in AL MVP voting. But Toronto hasn’t lost a series in nearly a month. That is remarkable.
The Jays head to Tampa on Monday knowing that if they survive a three-game tilt there, their success or failure will likely be decided against the Yankees in Toronto starting two Tuesdays from now.
By that point, Ryu may be on the verge of coming back. Or maybe not. Who knows. For the first time in a long time, it feels like this team doesn’t need to sweat the small stuff. Or the big stuff. The team just needs to keep on riding this wave of good vibes.