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Kelly: Jays are paying the price for pointless peacocking

Joaquin Benoit pitches against the Rays on Sept. 12. The reliever will be out two to three weeks after hurting his arm.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

There is nothing in life so sad and desultory as a baseball fight.

The half-jog into combat. The "Oh yeah!"-ing and schoolyard shoving. That move where you try to climb over a teammate to get at the other guy, when you could just walk around him and start swinging.

A baseball fight is the pantomime that reminds us that while baseball is tough to play, few genuinely tough people play baseball. The only thing that can be said for the practice is that, generally speaking, it's victimless.

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Which is the why the Toronto Blue Jays might either want to reconsider their level of aggression, or take a few lessons on boxing footwork.

On Monday night, they worked hard to be deeply offended by the New York Yankees. Josh Donaldson, who looms over the plate like a vulture, got nicked on his armoured elbow. J.A. Happ responded by approaching the next inning like a carnival booth – three tries for a dollar. First two don't count.

"We're not boring. So boring people have problems with that," Marcus Stroman said later of the ill will this team seems to elicit in so many opponents.

Well, that's one (stroppy) way of looking at it. All this peacocking has been effectively harmless. Until now.

After two pointless Monday-night melees, the Blue Jays are down two key players.

Reliever Joaquin Benoit is out for the remainder of the regular season after tearing his calf muscle while "sprinting" toward the fray. Bad camera angles caught the 39-year-old coming half-heartedly out of the bullpen, catching a cleat and hitting the turf like a sack of cement.

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It's not quite Michael Saunders ripping up his knee after stepping on a sprinkler head. Because this one is just dumb.

Manager John Gibbons described the injury as "the same" as the one that Brett Cecil suffered in last year's playoffs. You may recall that when Cecil's postseason ended, the Jays' postseason went sideways as well.

"It was a weird situation because everybody's coming out and it could have happened even in the dugout trying to just go back to the mound," Benoit said.

This is an interesting line of argument – the "It could have happened a million different ways" defence.

Imagine if it was extended to jurisprudence: "Your honour, while it's true that I did burn the plaintiff's house down by deluging it in gasoline and tossing in a match, I suggest to you that the house could just as easily have been hit by lightning."

Even Benoit admitted he was "full bore" as he exited the bullpen. When you're 39 years old, pushing 250 pounds and do a job that requires little to no running, you might want to limit your "full bore" bursts to zero.

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The Jays estimate that Benoit will be out two to three weeks, by which time he will need some sort of rehab to get back into game shape. Optimistically, that means he will not return until the American League Championship Series.

Second baseman Devon Travis hurt himself when he stuck his arm into the human pile and aggravated the pernicious shoulder injury that cost him huge swaths of his rookie season.

"I should have used my right arm instead of my left," Travis said Tuesday.

How about no arm? Maybe no arm would have been the better option. Or better yet, how about in future they show the Yankees who's who with cutting words?

Travis said he felt better Tuesday and hoped to be back on Wednesday.

"I believe that I'll be okay," Travis said. "I'll be in there. Somehow. Some way."

It was difficult to tell who he was trying to so hard to convince – us or himself. But who knows. Maybe it will be okay.

The team had better hope so.

Since joining Toronto at the July trade deadline, Benoit had quietly become the Jays' most effective reliever. In 19 set-up appearances, he had allowed only one run.

During the team's power outage of September, Travis was the most reliable bat. He led the team in hits and doubles, as well as playing an increasingly competent second base.

Losing that pair at once isn't quite a body blow, but you know you're going to suffer from it over the long term.

It's pointless to complain about the fight now, or ever. The phony bench-clearing brawl is a tradition that compensates for its stupidity by having woven itself deeply into the fabric of baseball. It's a little like the spitting and knee-high socks.

When you really start to think about it, much of baseball is rooted in camp tradition covered up by self-conscious excesses of masculine presenting. These are, after all, men who go to work in their pyjamas.

Monday's excitement was the price that must occasionally be paid for insisting on being silly in public. Toronto wanted to show New York and everyone else. I suppose they showed them.

It won't matter much to the Baltimore Orioles, who arrived Tuesday. Like so many others, they also hate the Jays. The odds of more bench-clearing over the next three days are close to nothing. There's too much at stake.

This series will likely determine if the Jays get the wild card.

The one following, in Boston, will determine whether the game will be played here or elsewhere.

Effectively, this is the beginning of the postseason. You needn't win every game. Just one more than your opponent.

If it gets that far, there will be more provocations to come, especially if this thing ends up in Texas. If nothing else, the Jays proved Monday night that they can be baited into hurting themselves.

It's up to them whether they want to be the sort of team that proves its toughness by grinding out unglamorous wins with a depleted roster, or one that looks tough on TV highlight packages.

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