There have been bigger sports days in Toronto history, but there has never been a more confusing one than Sunday.
The thing to keep in mind was the Jays needed to beat the Baltimore Orioles, while at least one of the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox needed to lose. The Seattle Mariners were also in there with a shot.
In the newspaper business, only the most notable events get the tick-tock treatment.
On Sunday, baseball in Toronto hit that bar. Maybe it wasn’t the tick tock Toronto deserved, but it was a tick tock nonetheless.
3:07 p.m. First pitch.
3:15 George Springer drives a ball over the left-field wall. 1-0 Blue Jays.
3:26 Teoscar Hernandez check-swing singles into shallow right. Jays lead 2-0. This is already over.
3:27 Orioles pitching coach comes to mound for a pep talk – ‘Listen, no need to wait for the bus. We have a car waiting to take you somewhere, as long as it isn’t the team plane.’
3:31 3-0 Toronto. Orioles pull their starter. Where’s a good place to have a late lunch? We need to be out by 5.
3:39 Red Sox go down 1-0 to Washington. The Nationals’ starting pitcher is a minor-league scrub making his major-league debut. It’s wrong to glory in the disappointment of others, but it’s okay to make an exception for Boston, because it makes an exception for the rest of us.
3:49 Mariners down 4-0. You know that half-caf mocha latte Seattle just ordered? Make it a double bourbon.
3:52 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run, tying him for major-league lead (48). 5-0 Jays. Orioles fielders standing around considering the Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth – life is suffering. Especially so if you play baseball for the Orioles.
3:57 Baltimore homers. Meh. How bad is this team? Even a Toronto crowd isn’t afraid of it coming back. 5-1 Jays.
3:58 After three innings, the Yankees have yet to record a hit against Tampa Bay. That scraping sound you hear is the New York press unsharpening their knives, in order to inflict maximum pain.
3:59 The Orioles BUNT. Their shamelessness is a scandal.
4:05 A long moment of near total silence in the Rogers Centre. With a win in the bag, fans cogitate existence. Do we own the things we buy, or do the things we buy own … then Game Ops starts blasting Blitzkrieg Bop and everything is all right again.
4:09 Seattle back in it, down 4-2. Four-way tie back in play.
4:11 Boston’s US$30-million man, Chris Sale, walks in a run and is yanked in the third inning. 2-0 Nationals.
4:17 Springer’s second home run of the game is a grand slam. 9-1 Jays. That’s what you get for bunting.
4:18 Yankees-Rays still runless in the fifth.
4:19 There are about 38 browser windows open on this laptop and it has started making a noise.
4:26 Everything is going as well as it possibly could from a Jays perspective …
4:27 … until the Orioles’ Pedro Severino lines a ball into the right leg of Jays starter Hyun-jin Ryu. He decides to continue.
4:35 Mid-fourth, there is a score update for the crowd. Sporadic, vaguely confused cheers from people who didn’t realize there would be math on a Sunday.
4:43 11-1 Jays. Right now, you are good enough to be a Baltimore Oriole. Yes. I mean you.
5:02 Boston lets in another one. I’m thinking of that nice stranger at Fenway Park who once told me to do something anatomically impossible because I was leaned up against a wall in a way she found too cheeky. I hope she’s watching.
5:07 Two hours into this egregious blowout and it’s still the fourth inning.
5:10 Huddle on press row to determine permutations of Toronto/Boston/New York tie ends with one person saying, “That can’t be right.” But it is. It is right. (That person is me.)
5:21 Tampa chews up the meat of the New York order – Judge/Stanton/Gallo – for the third time. Those three may not get up to bat again. That game is still 0-0 after seven innings.
5:23 In this instant, there is a world in which the Jays play in Boston on Monday, New York on Tuesday, Boston again on Wednesday, and Tampa on Thursday.
5:39 Thirty-thousand people now just hanging around the Rogers Centre to see what the Yankees do.
5:53 A double by Boston’s Alex Verdugo ties that game 5-5. Yankees game still 0-0 in the ninth. There is now a world in which the Jays fly separately to wherever they all live on Monday and stay there for several months.
5:56 Down in the Rogers Centre crowd, you can see most people on their phones. Which is always the case. But today, at least a few do not seem to be forlornly scrolling Instagram.
6:11 With Yankees on second and third in the bottom of the ninth and one out, Tampa opts to pitch to Aaron Judge. His narbly comebacker up the middle is enough to score a run. Yankees walk it off, 1-0. Things are darkening for the Blue Jays. In the Rogers Centre stands, fans are trying to get the wave going. The poor fools.
6:18 The Orioles’ 28th reliever this afternoon hits Vlad Guerrero Jr. on the elbow. But the elbow is well padded and Guerrero understands that no pitcher on Baltimore’s roster is capable of hitting something he’s aiming at, so no hard feelings.
6:28 Up in the cheap seats, someone starts a “Let’s go Expos” chant. At precisely the same moment, a Nationals (they used to be the Expos) infielder boots a grounder hit straight at him. Red Sox put the leadoff man on in the ninth.
6:29 Toronto wins 12-4.
6:30 Standing O for the Jays, most of whom leave the field in a hurry.
6:33 They put the Nationals-Red Sox game up on the scoreboard. Most of the crowd is still here. They are now fully awake.
6:34 Boston’s Rafael Devers hits a two-run home run. The Red Sox lead 7-5. The crowd in Toronto doesn’t even groan. They hadn’t got settled in enough. If it happened this way in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it. Too awful and too perfect. I was here to see it, and I still don’t believe it happened this way.
6:46 There are maybe a few hundred people left in here to see if the Nationals can come back.
6:48 A buddy who’d jumped two-footedly on the Jays bandwagon this year texts: “I’m done with sports.” Spoiler: he is not done with sports.
6:51 The Red Sox win. Toronto is eliminated. The Jays do not return to the field to say goodbye.
The 2020-21 Jays won 91 games, better than all but one team since this club last won the World Series.
The season was a bit of a tumble cycle – ups and downs very closely spaced.
But we can scientifically identify the moment of greatest hope in the Toronto season – 4:26 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3. That’s when it was all headed in the right direction.
The clock starts again in six months.