It's a far-fetched notion but maybe the Toronto Blue Jays can take a page from Mark Buehrle's book now that they helped him break through a long dry spell.
Like his team, the veteran pitcher has not enjoyed a wonderful ride in recent weeks. While the Jays fell out of contention in the American League East Division and then the wild-card race thanks to a frightful August, Buehrle's woes go back farther.
He went into Tuesday's game at the Rogers Centre against the Chicago Cubs looking for just his second win since June 7. In 16 starts since going 10-1 in the first two months of the season, Buehrle had one win back on July 30, eight losses and seven no-decisions. Some of that was on Buehrle, some was on his teammates for a lack of run support and it all added up to hard luck for the 35-year-old.
But one thing Buehrle is good at is hanging around. When he doesn't have his best stuff, like Tuesday night against the Cubs in the first few innings, Buehrle will find a way to scratch and claw his way deep into the game.
That is why he is working toward a 14 consecutive Major League Baseball season with at least 200 innings-pitched. He did it again Tuesday, fighting his way through seven innings, allowing a hit or two per inning for a total of 10 but also stranding a runner or two per inning. Those seven innings brought him within 18 of the magic 200 with three starts left if the season runs its course.
Thanks to the hot bat of Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, Buehrle's perseverance was rewarded. Bautistia broke open a tight game in the seventh inning with a three-run double and the Blue Jays added five more runs in the eighth when the Cubs fell apart (manager Rick Renteria called it their "worst game of the season,") for a 9-2 decision, their third consecutive win.
When it comes to scuffling, "you just try to focus on as many zeroes as you can until we score some runs," Buehrle said. "You always want run support and they're going to come in spurts. You're going to get some at times when you don't need them and you're going to get none when you need 'em.
"I always say you go deep in a game and good things will happen. You go deep in a game, you get more of a chance."
Which is where the Jays can take a lesson from the self-confessed "old guy." While realistically the Blue Jays can't be considered a favourite to grab the final American League wild-card playoff spot, like Buehrle, 12-9, they're hanging around.
Tuesday's win was their eighth in their last 10 games, which brought the 75-69 Blue Jays four and a half games behind the second wild-card spot pending the result of a game between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros. Since as many as three teams – the Mariners and either the Kansas City Royals or Detroit Tigers - stand between the Blue Jays and a wild-card it's unlikely they will get it, especially since it will probably take a 15-3 finish, but who knows? They're hanging around.
"I disagree that the post-season odds are that bad," Bautista said. "I don't think so, not with us having four games against Seattle and [six] against Baltimore. Who knows what can happen but if we end up sweeping all three of those series it will be interesting to see what happens.
"Our destiny is within our control. We just have to play good in every game that we have left but especially in those [nine], and then in the other ones hope for them to lose a couple here and there and for us to keep getting wins."
The way Bautista is wielding his bat these days few people are inclined to disagree with him. His hitting streak hit 13 games Tuesday with eight home runs and 19 RBI in that stretch.
Bautista came to the plate in the seventh inning against Cubs reliever Neil Ramirez with the bases loaded, two out and the visitors ahead 2-1. He worked Ramirez to a full count and then drove a double into the left-field corner for three runs that put the Jays ahead to stay.
"The pressure is on [Ramirez] in that situation with the bases loaded and a full count, so I'm more relaxed than anything, just trying to get a good pitch to hit," Bautista said. "I was able to lay off a couple of close ones that were close to the zone and swing at the one that had the heart of the plate.
"At that point he was basically cornered. He had to make a decision whether to challenge me or try to go with an off-speed pitch. I placed on my bet on he was going to challenge me and he did throw me a fastball and I was able to connect."