It says something about the odd chemistry of this current Blue Jays team that coming out of a pivotal series in which they were out-hit, out-pitched, out-scored, out-won and out-lucked, it still feels like a decent result.
Toronto lost 11-8 on Sunday. It's worse than that sounds. Toronto lost two of three against Boston over the weekend. The Blue Jays are two games back of the Red Sox in the American League East with 20 remaining.
After a contest that seemed endless and, occasionally, hopeless, they pushed Troy Tulowitzki out to reassure people.
This is another one of those odd things that shouldn't work the way it does. The veteran shortstop has that very specific athletic charisma that might be called 'anti-charm.' The only holes in his robotic demeanour are those times he's looking offended by something he's just been asked.
This was the time for a gentle, hopeful embrace. Tulowitzki is about as touchy-feely as a Rottweiler.
But, like his team, he somehow managed to turn the most depressing clichés into 'once more unto the breach.' "Gutsy," Tulowitzki said, a sporting synonym for 'we stank.' "They scored more runs than us, but I'm proud of our guys. We'll be back tomorrow battling like we always do."
It wasn't what he said so much as how he looked as he said it. Tulowitzki – the Mr. Spock of professional baseball – looked excited. Verging on giddy. He couldn't help but smile slyly throughout.
He had had a day for himself – 3-for-5, including a grand slam. But that didn't seem to be it. If you had to guess, it was the anticipation of what's to come.
The Jays get the Red Sox again for the last three games of their season, in October at Fenway Park.
Right now, you'd guess that three-game tilt will decide the division.
Beyond the standings, what Sunday's game accomplished was setting the dramatic tone of the weeks to come. That tone will be me pressing my lips up against your ear and screaming as loud as I can. It's going to be that for a while.
That sounds good, doesn't it? 'What happened on Sunday to accomplish that?' you'll wonder, if you didn't see it.
The right question is 'What didn't happen?' Nothing. Nothing didn't happen. All the baseball things happened, most of them awful.
There were 18 pitchers in total, meaning that the warm-ups took about as long as an NBA game. With one exception that I can think of – Boston submarine thrower Brad Ziegler – they were all terrible. Actually, since submarine throwing is an aesthetic affront to the sport, they were all just terrible.
There were five lead changes. Boston outfielder Brock Holt tried to steal home (unsuccessfully). David Ortiz passed Jimmie Foxx for 18th on the career homers list.
His presumptive successor, Edwin Encarnacion, had two home runs on the day – the first nailed immediately after he tore off his sunglasses mid at-bat and flung them away, a la the killer in any John Woo movie.
As it dragged to its conclusion – at 3 hours 46 minutes, this was Toronto's longest non-delayed, nine-inning game of the year – there was the danger of a letdown. The crowd was exhausted. The players were, too. This was no way to leave it.
And so umpire Jim Joyce decided to make things momentarily thrilling. A ninth-inning Russell Martin double into the right-field corner was initially ruled fair by Joyce. After consulting with his crew, Joyce reversed himself – despite the fact that, as the man standing at first base, no one had a better view than he.
After video review, it was ruled definitively foul.
If it's foul, it's foul, and a man on second and third is still a long way from a three-run comeback. This isn't ever going to be the play that turned the season one way or the other. But it did feel like the right way to end proceedings – with a little controversy and bile. The crowd was frothing. Jays manager John Gibbons got himself ejected.
This will embolden those paranoiacs who believe Toronto's team (any Toronto team) is always getting screwed by an anti-Canadian bias from officialdom. It wasn't that, but does it ever feel like that to Gibbons?
"Nah, I don't buy that," he said.
And the game?
"It was probably an entertaining game to watch. I guess," Gibbons said wearily. "Not from our angle."
This is where, with respect, he's got it wrong. This was more than entertaining. This was the game that proved Toronto has already processed its slide – seven losses in the past nine games – and come out the other end.
On Saturday, the Jays held a players-only meeting. On Friday, Josh Donaldson repeatedly referenced the fact that "most" of his teammates were doing their jobs. Martin said there had been a reminder that "it's not about individuals. It's about the team."
Plainly, someone had taken it right in the neck from the veterans (that might be another reason Tulowitzki – whose approach to team building is pulled from the Red Army school – looked so pleased).
Whatever it was, it plainly took. The Blue Jays may have lost, but they looked like their swaggering selves in doing so. That they lost largely down to starter Aaron Sanchez's poor outing, which in turn was abetted by a blister/hot spot on the middle finger of his right hand.
(It's hard to say if it's a blister or a hot spot [i.e. recurring irritation]. Rather unhelpfully, Sanchez said it was "kind of both" and kept his hand jammed in his pocket as he said it.)
After giving up six runs in less than four innings, Sanchez was bereft and hangdog postgame. Until someone asked if the team was in trouble. His head jerked up. His eyes widened.
"We're fine," he said emphatically, as well as convincingly.
Tulowitizki used the same formulation: "We'll be just fine."
The Jays entered this series badly needing a win. They didn't get it. But something's changed.
On Friday, it felt like it might be the beginning of the end. By Sunday, it felt more like the end was finally beginning. And that everything was still entirely possible.