Looking back on it when 2011 is complete, it could very well be seen as a season saving inning.
Going into the bottom of the eighth on Sunday, trailing 4-3 to Cliff Lee and the Phillies, the Jays were on the verge of finishing their six-game homestand against the Keystone State a dismal 1-5.
Losing two of three to the Pirates is never a good thing, no matter the fact that Pittsburgh is a much improved squad this year. Then to follow that disappointment up by blowing a 6-5 lead in the 9th to lose the “most winnable” game against the Phillies? Devastating.
After Halladay shut down the Jays on Saturday and Cliff Lee effectively shut them down through 7 innings on Sunday, the Jays looked to be in shambles. This was the kind of homestand that brings teams down, contender or non-contender.
But then something magical happened. The great Cliff Lee blinked first, not the young Blue Jays. Thames, Bautista, and EE bombs swung the score from a one-run deficit to a three-run lead, and breathed life into a team that was heading backwards.
Season saver or not, it was definitely a good end to a tough week.
Here are three things from week 14:
Week 14: June 27 – July 3
Record: 2 – 4
1. Happy Return, and Happy Trails
Jays fans had circled the Canada Day weekend on the calendar as soon as the schedule was released. And as soon as the Phillies rotation was made official, Saturday July 2nd became Doc Day – the return of Roy Halladay.
Jays fans turned up in droves on Friday for the Canada Day game, and were treated to a nice gesture – former hero Roy Halladay out to hand the lineup cards to the home plate umpire. The enormous standing ovation he received lead to another rare treat – a Halladay smile.
But it was all business on Saturday afternoon. After fans gave the pitcher another nice ovation in the first, they became loud and hungry for a win. For a while it looked good – a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning after a mammoth Jose Bautista HR off Windows restaurant in CF. But Luis Perez gave up a 2-run HR to Chase Utley in the 7th, before Philly tacked on an insurance run in a crazy 9th inning. That inning saw Jon Rauch go all Hulkamania on home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez after the big reliever was seriously squeezed out of a few strikes.
At the end of the day, the game will go down in the record books as a simple, plain loss. And though it was nice to see him, I’m sure we can all agree on one thing: Happy Trails Roy. Get out of town and take your complete game throwing right arm with you.
2. New 1-2 Punch
For most of this season Toronto’s offense has relied on a 1-2 punch of Bautista and Lind in the three and four slots. Well…the time’s they may be a changin’…
A new 1-2 punch emerged last week: Eric Thames in the two hole, Bau in the three. The numbers for the week were outstanding, a great sight for a team stuggling for secondary offense.
Bautista: 7 for 19, .368 average, 1.605 OPS, 4 HR, 7 RBI
Thames: 10 for 25, .400 average, 1.240 OPS, 3 HR, 5 RBI
But the super two saved their best for the weekend, combining to go 11 for 23 with 5 HR. The pair went back-to-back in the afformentioned 8th inning off of Cliff Lee to steal one from the Phillies, and Bautista homered in all three games on the weekend.
The weekend performance wrapped up a big week for J-Bau, as the Toronto RF now 3B set a major league record for votes received by the fans for the All-Star game – over 7.4 million. He became the first Jay to lead the league in All-Star voting since Carlos Delgado in 2003, and is set to take a spot in the HR Derby as well.
If last weekend was any indication, might it be in the realm of possibility that one day Thames will join him there? Dream big my friends…
3. The End of An (riv)-Era
When Toronto unloaded Vernon Wells in the offseason, Jays fans practically danced in the streets, excited to be out from under his enormous contract. Juan Rivera, one of the players coming back to Toronto, was an afterthought – a high priced, underperforming veteran thrown in as a straight salary dump by the Angels. He would be gone before April.
It took until July, but finally Juan is gone. For a guy who wasn’t originally wanted and who played so poorly at the beginning of the season that many (well, me for sure) questioned his status as a living person, the fact that he made it this long was kind of a surprise. His season numbers are below average (.243 average, 6 HR, 28 RBI, and a mark of the beast .666 OPS) and his attitude was often in question. If not for a solid stretch where he replaced Lind at 1B and swung the bat pretty well, his DFA might have occurred long ago.
In his place comes the future face of the franchise, the man who was supposed to take a huge step forward this year before falling sharply back. Travis Snider was sent to Vegas to remake his approach at the plate in order to become better equipped and prepared to hit big league pitching. He looked lost in his first go ’round this year (.184 AVG, .540 OPS) that his demotion really was mandatory.
His .333 AVG and .890 OPS in AAA shows that progress was definitely made, but will that transfer to the big leagues?
Stay tuned Monday – that’s when Travis era 2.0 begins anew.