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Blue Jays Sweep Mariners, Save Their Season

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For the Blue Jays, it was revenge, pure and simple. Unlike the last time Toronto and Seattle completed a three-game set, the mood in the Toronto clubhouse – the swanky, air-conditioned Rogers Centre clubhouse – was jovial.

“I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t talk about that April series before game one on Tuesday night,” said manager John Farrell. “They ended our season after, what, 10 games? I hope they lose another 12 in a row.”

The unofficial end to the Blue Jays season came after only 11 games, actually, but that hardly mattered Thursday afternoon, in the glow of victory. After blowing a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning, the Blue Jays rallied to win 7-5, sweeping the reeling Mariners out of town, and, in the process, salvaging what was, up until then, a lost season. Now a game above .500 with just over two months left to play, Toronto’s right back in the thick of the playoff race.

“Eight-and-two in our last 10, and only eight-and-a-half games back in the Wild Card,” Farrell said, beaming. “It’s on. This is what it’s all about. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.”

So is Travis Snider. While he went hitless on Thursday, he continues to look confident at the plate; like he’s now able to leave his poor at-bats behind, instead of dwelling on them. Since his recall, Snider’s put up a .384 wOBA, along with a 145 wRC+, while driving in 17 runs. And he’s playing centre field, and playing it well.

“The food’s a lot better in the Major Leagues, let me tell you,” Snider said, seated at his locker, enjoying a post-game rack of lamb. “But everything tastes better when you’re winning, and when you’re contributing.”

He didn’t even have to say it, before I did for him: “Meats don’t clash.”

Mike McCoy walked by, and I asked him if I could have a word. He came up big in Thursday’s matinee, hitting two clutch doubles, and scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th, to make sure Seattle’s losing streak continued.

“Sure,” McCoy said. “But I want to ask you a couple of questions first. I saw you talking to Farrell. Did he mention me at all? Say he needed to talk to me?”

I told McCoy Farrell hadn’t.

“Excellent. I’m still here,” McCoy said. “You wouldn’t think you could get tired of hearing, ‘We’re sending you to Las Vegas,’ but you’d be wrong. I try to stay away from John, you know? Alex, too.”

“Well, you could always hide behind Jon Rauch,” I told him.

“That’s actually a pretty good idea,” McCoy said, clearly thinking about it. “Shit, Farrell’s coming this way. I gotta go.” And he took off; a departure Nyjer Morgan would have been proud of.

As I was making my way to Ricky Romero’s locker, where he was pulling a crisp $100 bill out of his wallet and handing it to Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind stopped me.

“You know who I just spoke to on the phone? John-Michael Liles,” he said. “Yeah, the new Maple Leafs defenceman. He’s from Indiana! Like I told you last time, man, it’s just a great state. Ask him about it. Lets go Hoosiers!” he yelled, and walked away.

Lind’s a little bit crazy.

I finally got to Romero, who was now alone at his locker, writing the letter “W” over and over again on a notepad. I looked down and caught “WIN” written a few times, too, but mostly there were only Ws. I made the decision not to ask.

“Uh, Ricky, hey, I know it’s none of my business, but I saw you handing Edwin a hundred dollar bill a few minutes ago. What’s up? He win a bet?”

“Yeah, actually he did,” said Romero. “We’ve got a bit of a wager, you know, between millionaires, when he’s on the field when I’m pitching. You know as well as I do it’s a circus when he’s out there, especially at third base. So any play he makes, error free, I have to give him $50. If he makes an error, he owes me $100, and $200 for the second error, and $300 for the third error, and so on. I know he hasn’t done it yet, but I think Eddie’s probably capable of making five errors in a game. He’s got it in him to do that. Just depends on the bounces, and the guy keeping score.”

And this is how ball players keep a 162-game season interesting, I thought.

“How many plays did Edwin make today?” I asked, while thinking that it was funny that we were still talking about Encarnacion’s defence. Other than Jose Bautista, Encarnacion’s been Toronto’s best hitter in July, putting up a most impressive slash line: .328/.394/.500; a .400 wOBA! Believe it or not, Edwin’s walked seven times in July; he walked only nine times in April, May and June combined.

“Only two plays,” Romero replied, as we got back down to business. “Both in the 2nd inning. Luckily for Eddie, Seattle didn’t hit another ball his way.”

I feel for the Mariners right now, from Ichiro to their fans, the team in the midst of a soul-crushing 12-game losing skid. You know they had to have been trying to hit the baseball at Encarnacion. Towards him, in his vicinity. It’s the right game plan. It’s just that nothing’s working for Seattle these days, except for Eric Wedge’s mustache.

Usually when a team’s caught up in a losing streak the likes of Seattle’s, you figure they’re bound to win a game, thanks to a lucky bounce, or an error-filled game from Encarnacion. Something. Anything. But not the Mariners. They don’t look like a ball club that’s going to be winning a game anytime soon. Even after Miguel Olivo tied up the game with his grand slam in the 8th inning, and stole Romero’s precious “W” out from under his fingertips, the momentum didn’t feel like it had swung. The Blue Jays were going to find a way to win. More to the point: the Mariners were going to find a way to lose. And they did, with the light-hitting duo of McCoy and Rajai Davis doing the the damage. Now off to Boston, then New York, and then back out west, at home to Tampa Bay, it might be August before the Mariners win again.

But the fate of the Mariners is hardly the concern of the Blue Jays. They’re off to Arlington, Texas to face the Rangers, who play the opposite of Mariners baseball, and who own the American League’s best home record: 31-18.

“They ought to get a roof down there,” said Jose Bautista. “What baseball fan wants to pay to sit in that heat? That ain’t beast mode.”

Neither is Jo-Jo Reyes, I thought, who’ll be on the mound Friday night, deep in the heart of Texas. But should Jo-Jo and the Blue Jays, against all odds, continue their winning ways and sweep the Rangers, they’re guaranteed three more wins after that, with Baltimore in town after an off-day on Monday. That’d be a nine-game winning streak; definitely beast mode.

Image credit: Getty, via Yahoo! Sports.

Written by Navin Vaswani

July 22nd, 2011 at 10:15 am

Blue Jays lose series to Seattle, season effectively over

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The mood in the visitor’s clubhouse at Safeco Field, after Toronto dropped a 3-2 decision to Seattle late Tuesday night, was somber, as expected. Having lost two in a row to the lowly Mariners, and more importantly the series, the writing was on the wall for the Blue Jays, their season officially over, only 11 games in. Manager John Farrell tried his best to put a positive spin on the results.

“You know, we learned a lot over these last two weeks, and throughout Spring Training. I learned a lot. It’s been a great experience for me, personally, working with the staff, and getting to know the guys. Now we’ve got, what, 151 games to prepare for 2012. I’m excited, to tell you the truth.”

Farrell’s troops had a harder time accepting their fate. Travis Snider, enjoying his customary post-game filet mignon, was crushed to have his season end at home, in his native Washington.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was still thinking about Monday night’s collapse up there against [Michael] Pineda,” Snider said, between bites. “How the hell do we blow a 7-0 lead against the Mariners? Meats don’t clash, man.”

Snider shook his head in disgust. Hitless in the first two games of the series, and batting .147 on the season, Snider was brutally honest when it came to himself, and his teammates.

“I’ve got to be better. Period. I mean, what hope do we have if Corey Patterson’s leading the way, when it comes to driving in guys on base? Jesus. Meats don’t clash, man,” Snider lamented, once again.

At that moment, Snider, seated next to the post-game spread, was asked by Edwin Encarnacion, seated at his locker, to toss him a bread roll. Snider obliged, showing off his rocket of an arm. It couldn’t have been more than ten feet, and the roll was thrown right at the numbers, but Encarnacion couldn’t handle it.

“E5, you bastard,” Brian Butterfield muttered, as he walked through the clubhouse.

Snider managed a smile, as Encarnacion made the walk of shame to the garbage can. I was hoping Edwin would try to toss the roll into the trash from afar, but he thought better of it. Snider was right, though, I thought. About himself, and especially about his teammates. Patterson himself agreed with the young left fielder.

“What do I got, four hits and four RBIs in two games? If these guys are relying on me to drive guys in, let’s be real, we haven’t got a prayer,” Patterson said.

I asked Patterson about the play at the plate in the 8th inning, when he tried to score on a Bautista foul ball to right field, which Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak ran down. Smoak made the catch on the run, turned, and threw a strike to catcher Miguel Olivo. Patterson was DOA, and didn’t even bother to slide, or try to knock the compensatory draft pick out of Olivo.

“What’s that, Home Run King? Yeah, be right there,” Patterson said, looking back, and to his left. And then he walked away. No one was there. Most certainly not Jose Bautista, who I could see at his locker. Strange cat, that Patterson.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not for the Blue Jays, or their fans. Not after Toronto stormed out of the gate, winning four of their first five games, and five of their first seven. But the team’s problems began on the road, in Anaheim, and followed them northwest to Seattle. And it was staff ace Ricky Romero, who pitched his tail off Tuesday night, who was taking the premature end to the season hardest.

“Losing two in a row to Seattle, and a series to Seattle, is the actual, definitive opposite of Beast Mode. I’m just really disappointed in myself and my teammates right now. Milton Bradley’s out there wearing f–king earplugs, and we’re losing one-run games to these guys? Blowing seven-run leads to these guys? How many runs did they score last year, 73? No one in this room should be happy right now,” Romero said, as he punched a wall near his locker, and screamed “BEAST MODE!!!1″

One-run losses. They’ll kill you. Five of the Blue Jays’ six losses have been by just one run. The team’s other loss was by only two runs, over the weekend, after being dominated by Los Angeles’ Jered Weaver. I asked Jose Bautista about why his team couldn’t come through in tight ball games.

“It’s tough, man,” Bautista said, Usher’s “Oh My Gosh” playing softly, on repeat, from a tiny set of speakers in his locker. “I mean, I joined this team in 2009, when Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were Silver Sluggers. Do you recognize those guys anymore? I sure as hell don’t. I want those guys back.”

Lind, batting .206/.216/.324 against right-handed pitching, didn’t have any answers for me.

“You know, I really think Indiana deserves an MLB team. Great state. Just a really, really great state.”

I persisted, asking Lind about his .133 batting average with runners in scoring position in 15 at-bats, and .143 batting average with runners in scoring position with two outs. Lind, though, deflected, pointing the finger at his lost Silver Slugging cousin, Hill.

“I don’t think Hill’s got a hit in nine at-bats versus a southpaw this season. That’s brutal,” he said, as he began to play with his iPhone, and then put on a rather large set of headphones.

Hill refused to comment, telling me, “What’s the point? The season’s over. No comment. I’ve gotta go tune my guitar.”

Eleven games in, no, it absolutely wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not for Hill and Lind. Not for Brett Cecil. Not for anybody. Not when the Blue Jays were only two games out of first place in the American League East, trailing the Baltimore Orioles, who surely won’t be there in about, oh, a week. Not when the Blue Jays were two games ahead of the dismantled-but-still-apparently-bloody-awesome Tampa Bay Rays. Not when Toronto was four — four! — games up on the 2-9 Boston Red Sox, who would probably kill to have Jo-Jo Reyes in their starting rotation.

“Maybe next year,” Kyle Drabek, Wednesday afternoon’s starter, said, as he walked past me, headed out of the clubhouse, and towards the team bus. “And, hey, have you seen David Purcey? Can’t find that dude anywhere.”

Image courtesy Mental Floss.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 13th, 2011 at 11:20 am