We wanted it. We demanded it. We waited patiently for it for years - decades even.
And now that it’s here, it’s proving to be gut wrenching, exciting, and devastating, all rolled together.
By ‘it’, I’m referring to meaningful September baseball, something not seen in this city for a long, long time. And while it is certainly exciting, the gut punching, dramatic losses that the Jays experienced Friday and Sunday hurt that much more because the games are that much more important.
There are 14 games left. The Jays need to win at least 10 of them.
There is still a pulse.
Here are three things from week 24:
Week 24: September 8 – September 14
Record: 4 – 2
1. The Damn, Pesky Rays
It doesn’t seem to matter what month it is, where the games are played, are where each team is in the standings, the Tampa Bay Rays have a knack for killing the Blue Jays. We were hoping that this weekend would be different. Toronto had already won a series in Tampa for the first time in forever to get that monkey of their back, plus the Jays were in contention and the Rays were not.
But that’s not what happened. Toronto was shutout by a no-name kid making his Ray debut on Friday, then wasted a stirring comeback to lose in extra innings yesterday. Brandon Morrow, pitching out of relief, lost his control for about 7 pitches in the tenth, which was long enough to put the eventual winning run on third.
The series loss damages the Jays playoff hopes, but doesn’t crush them as they didn’t lose any ground to the Wild Card leaders. The biggest enemy now is time. Only 14 games left to make a difference, but thankfully no more against the Rays.
When you think about Blue Jay pitchers, what comes to mind are usually two groups. You have the crafty veterans in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, going out and generally giving you 6 solid innnings each and every start. You also have the young and exciting kids, the dynamic arms of Hutchison, Stroman, Sanchez, and Norris. Very rarely does the name J.A. Happ come to mind.
Maybe it’s time that it does. Though his season numbers aren’t spectacular (9-10, 4.74 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), Happ has been quietly effective, even outstanding, recently. On Friday night he might have turned in his best start of the season, in the heat of a pennant race. He held the Rays to just two hits in seven innings, walking only one and striking out seven. Unfortunately one of the two hits allowed was a solo HR, the only damage in a 1-0 loss.
Going back across his past 10 starts from July 22 Happ has been one of the Jays best and most consistent pitchers. Despite a 2-5 record, his numbers look really good: 3.50 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 55 K in 61.2 IP. That even includes a 3 inning clunker in Milwaukee.
He doesn’t have the biggest name, the brightest upside, or the most decorated past. But Happ is making a case that he just might deserve to be here in 2015.
3. One of the Best Moments of the Year
It’s a bit odd to say that one of 2014′s best moments occurred in a Blue Jays loss, but it’s true. Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, with 2 out and nobody on, the Jays turned to John Mayberry Jr. off the bench. After falling behind with two strikes, things looked bleak. But Mayberry got a pitch he could hit, turned on it, and lasered it over the fence for a game-tying home run.
What was so great about it was the reaction from the bench. Watching them go crazy as the ball clears the fence and breaths new life into the team was a joy.
That, my friends, is the beauty of a pennant race. And that is why nobody is giving up.