Relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins has been around for a long time, so there is not much he has not seen or experienced first-hand on the baseball diamond.
His longevity, along with an unflappable nature, makes the league's oldest player such a valuable commodity on a Toronto Blue Jays team going through the rigours of a pennant race for the first time in 22 seasons.
With a sweep of the New York Yankees over the weekend in New York, the Blue Jays have electrified the Canadian baseball fan base and pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the Yankees for first place in the American League East.
The team gets back at it on Tuesday night in Toronto where the Oakland A's will begin a three-game series. After that, the Blue Jays will lock horns once again against the Yankees in a weekend set that is already sold out.
The Blue Jays have won eight in a row since general manager Alex Anthopoulos reshaped the roster with the likes of Hawkins, pitcher David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Hawkins, 42 and in his 21st big-league season, was seen by many as simply a throw-in in the Jays' trade deadline deal late last month that landed Tulowitzki.
Heading to the Colorado Rockies in that swap were shortstop Jose Reyes and three minor league pitching prospects.
But as much as Tulowitzki has solidified the left side of the Toronto infield with his steady glove, and provided some added punch to an already potent offence, Hawkins, too, has emerged as a key and calming figure in the Toronto bullpen.
"That's one of the reasons we got Hawk," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "You're not going to rattle him. If he makes his pitches, you're going to get out of there. And he's been really tough on left-handers."
Hawkins has become one of Gibbons's go-to guys out of the bullpen since he joined the team July 28, seeing action in six games. The right-hander has been used twice in the ninth inning, once in the eighth, twice in the seventh and another time in the sixth.
And Hawkins's numbers – he has given up five hits and no runs through 5 2/3 innings of steady work, with a save and two holds – has justified the manager's faith.
"He's got that good cut fastball, and he's still got pretty good velocity on it," Gibbons said. "You figure at his age you start losing that a little bit. It's not what he was as a young kid, but he's turned himself into a pretty good pitcher."
"He's been through many of those things; he's closed some games," Gibbons added. "He comes in, he's not always going to get the results you want, but he's not going to be distracted or intimidated or anything like that. And that's key in those big innings."
Hawkins showed his worth again on Sunday when the Blue Jays shut out New York for the second consecutive game, this time by a score of 2-0.
The Yankees appeared on the verge of a comeback after wriggling off the hook in the top of the seventh, escaping unscathed after Toronto loaded the bases with none out.
With one out and Yankees runners at first and second in the bottom of the inning, Gibbons called on Hawkins to replace starter Marco Estrada in the game's key moment.
New York's Didi Gregorius lined out on a nice grab by Josh Donaldson at third base, and then Hawkins struck out Stephen Drew to help preserve the Blue Jays' two-run lead.
"You've got to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that was kind of an uncomfortable situation," Hawkins said. "One thing, it ain't like it's my first time there. I've been there before."
"I'm sure he's used to this, obviously. Having that many years beneath your belt, you know how the game is, you know how it works," Estrada said about Hawkins. "You're not around for that long not knowing how this game works. Obviously the mental aspect of it – he understands the game, he's very confident. And other guys feed off of it. Just having him in the bullpen, that presence, it means the world to everybody."
The Blue Jays are exuding confidence, and the atmosphere in the clubhouse remains light. While in New York, where Price pitched Toronto to a 6-0 win on Saturday, the Jays' new ace convinced about 10 of his new teammates to purchase electric "e-bikes."
The players were having a blast zooming around on them in the hallways at Yankee Stadium until stadium staff asked them to stop over fears there might be an accident.
And the Blue Jays' recent success has been recognized by MLB – on Monday, the league announced that Donaldson and Price were co-winners of the AL player of the week.
Donaldson batted .385 (10-for-26) with nine runs scored, two doubles, five home runs and eight runs batted in more than seven games. Price went 2-0 with a 0.60 earned-run average and 18 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched in his first two starts as a Blue Jay.
Jays vs. the A's
Fresh off their excellent adventure in New York, the Toronto Blue Jays hope to keep the momentum rolling when they welcome the Oakland Athletics to town for a three-game series beginning Tuesday night. Interest in the Jays is high after they swept three from the Yankees, part of an eight-game win streak that has moved Toronto to just 11/2 games out of first place in the American League East. There are still tickets available for the first two games against the A's, but the third one, with an afternoon start time, is a sellout. The series will mark the first time that Brett Lawrie, a native of Langley, B.C., will play in Toronto against his former team. The third baseman was traded to Oakland in the off-season as part of the deal that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto. Righthander Kendall Graveman, a prospect who accompanied Lawrie to Oakland in that trade, will take the mound for the A's in Tuesday's opening game. Also returning to Toronto is Danny Valencia, who was picked up by Oakland on waivers last month. Valencia stroked a walk-off single for his new team on Sunday in a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros. "We got a gift-wrapped present from Toronto, I promise you that," A's starter Chris Bassitt was moved to say about Valencia. "My goodness. How he got [designated for assignment] is shocking to every single person on this team, including coaches. I don't know how we got him, I really don't. He is unreal."
Aug. 11, 7:07 p.m. (EST): Toronto RHP Drew Hutchison (10-2, 5.42) vs. Oakland RHP Kendall Graveman (6-7, 3.90).
Aug. 12, 7:07 p.m. (EST): Toronto LHP Mark Buehrle (12-5, 3.34) vs. Oakland RHP Aaron Brooks (1-0, 2.41)
Aug. 13, 12:37 p.m. (EST): Toronto RHP R.A. Dickey (6-10, 3.93) vs. Oakland RHP Sonny Gray (12-4, 2.06).
All games at Rogers Centre