Skip to main content

In five years, you are going to have only one good memory of the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays season: Steve Pearce.

By then, Pearce will be a footnote in Jays' and, in all likelihood, baseball history. But what a note.

On Sunday, Pearce hit his second walk-off grand slam in the space of four games. It completed the biggest ninth-inning comeback in the history of the Toronto organization. In what had been up until that point a miserable whipping, the Jays trailed the Los Angeles Angels 10-4 going into the final frame. They led off with their 7-8-9 hitters.

Seven batters plus Pearce later, Toronto had won it 11-10.

The entire scene was nearly identical to Pearce's game-winning slam against Oakland on Thursday – same stroke, same trot, same pandemonium in the stands, same celebration on the field. If you weren't there, it's possible you caught the ending, again. One of the beautiful things about baseball is that you can see the big moments coming from a ways off.

Afterward, Pearce was just as ebullient and charged with the emotion of owning a small, if significant piece of the game's history. "It feels good to get the win and head into the next series," Pearce said in his rich Florida monotone. "We showed great resilience as a team."

Only three players have ever hit two game-ending slams in a season. In that weird way that baseball has, Pearce happens to know the last guy to do it – Jim Presley – pretty well. Presley did it 31 years ago. He was also Pearce's hitting coach in Baltimore.

So are you going to call him up and give him the gears? Tell him you're coming for the all-time mark?

"I'll probably give him a little shout."

Okay, so Steve Pearce is never going to be mistaken for a raconteur. Most baseball players do not like being interviewed. Pearce has developed an ingenious coping mechanism to deal with the problem – he is as boring as possible, and you never feel the urge to bother him again.

This intense averageness is part of what makes Pearce so likeable. He's the sort of guy who doesn't button and unbutton his dress shirt. Instead, he pulls it over his head both times.

Though he's been in the game for a decade, the 34-year-old has no veteran swagger. He's largely invisible in the Jays clubhouse.

It often feels the same way when he's out in left field. Pearce is not a good defensive player, but unlike a lot of other below-average fielders, he seems to know it.

When he was lured into a mistaken cut-off throw early in Sunday's game, one that needlessly advanced an Angels runner, Pearce bent frustratedly at the waist and gave himself a good talking to. Until a week ago, this was our single memory of him – curled up in the pose of fielder's regret.

He's never been a star or been nominated for any MLB awards or played a complete season at any of the six clubs he's belonged to. He had one pretty good year at exactly the right time and made some money from it.

Pearce arrived in the off-season as one of the cut-rate replacements for a departing star. The thinking was that one Pearce plus one designated-hitter Kendrys Morales equalled one Edwin Encarnacion. The math hasn't worked out.

Since his arrival coincided with the fall, Pearce has become a human harbinger of decline. In the early going, when he was hitting .167 with no home runs in the month of April, Pearce become a particular target of people who weren't happy with the new direction. Every time he ran around in left like a man chasing a squirrel, the impression worsened.

But Pearce continued to plug away. He is a journeyman in the truest sense – he doesn't expect to play well. His goal is hitting the mean. As long as the team puts him out there, he'll try his best.

One day (probably soon) his best won't be good enough and they won't let him play baseball any more. But until then, Pearce has that thing that links so-so players who manage to hang on for a long time – they don't sweat every at-bat or every missed cut-off man or every bad afternoon. They put their faith in the god of averages.

In just four days, that belief has been repaid many more times. Even as Pearce was coming to bat in the ninth, still just hours removed from a game-winner, you thought to yourself, "Where's Josh Donaldson?"

(In what felt like a deliberate jape on the day before the trade deadline, both Donaldson and Jose Bautista were given the afternoon off.)

But it was Pearce, looking as affectless in the batter's box as he ever does.

What's your approach on situations just like that?

"I went up there and looked for my pitch," Pearce said. The man is like a human deflector shield to interest. But he has a sense of occasion.

Nothing is going right for the Jays right now, and nothing is going to in the immediate future. Their starting pitching is a mess and the bullpen is going that way. Steve-Pearce-in-late-July aside, no one can hit when it matters. After tearing a ligament in his ankle, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is probably done for the year. The middle infield will now be manned by a crew of guys who couldn't hit a watermelon if it was lobbed at them underhand.

We're so far in the doldrums that when manager John Gibbons was first asked about Pearce's feat, he could not recall when he'd hit the last one.

"Same week, I think it was?" Gibbons wondered.

Yes, same week. Easy mistake to make. They must all seem the same at field level now.

However bad it is, it's getting worse. By the end of the year, the Blue Jays could be fielding a farm team.

But that's a problem for tomorrow and the two months that follow. Right now, while we can, let's let Steve Pearce's remarkable weekend define 2017.

Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez and Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid helped Eugenie Bouchard promote the Rogers Cup at a charity event Wednesday. McDavid says he plans to attend the upcoming tennis tournament.

The Canadian Press