June 5th, 2007.
That date, nearly six years ago, now has three things in common with May 6th, 2013:
1. The Toronto Blue Jays played Tampa Bay.
2. John Gibbons and Joe Maddon were the managers.
3. The Jays overturned a 7-run deficit to win a game they had no business winning.
The Blue Jays team that took the field that Tuesday night was an interesting mix of age and youth, of big names and no-names:
– Alex Rios
– Vernon Wells
– Matt Stairs
– Frank Thomas
– Troy Glaus
– Aaron Hill
– Adam Lind
– Sal Fasano
– John McDonald
I remember that game fondly, because I was at the dome to see it. A group of us decided to stick around for the whole game, despite Toronto falling behind 8-1 in the 4th, and 11-6 in the 9th. While many made for the exits, we kept drinking and cheering, and it paid off.
I vividly remember the ninth inning rally, friends and I going mental when they started chipping away at the lead. Aaron Hill walked to lead off the ninth, followed by back-to-back RBI doubles from Lind and Jason Phillips.
After another walk and a groundout, Wells and Stairs went back-to-back with doubles to bring in three more and tie the score. Three more walks followed, allowing Matt Stairs to trot in with the winning run and complete the massive comeback.
There were high fives, there were embraces, and there were huge smiles.
Of the many things that have been missing in this abysmal start to 2013, a huge smile is the one that hurts the most. Baseball is a fun game, and being a fan of a team is supposed to bring fun and joy, not disappointment. Too often this year the Jays have delivered the fan base nothing but heartache and anger, fuelled by bases-loaded double plays, opponent grand slams, and errors aplenty.
Down 7-0 after three innings last night, things were once again bleak. Gone was the momentum the team built by pounding Seattle on Sunday. Gone was the goodwill and the little slice of hope that the team delivered to fans after finally coming through with the bats.
Mark Buehrle was getting pulverized. The bats were quiet. And to make matters worse, the Jays were playing in Tampa Bay, at Tropicana Field, the place where, for the past several seasons, their season has died.
But they started chipping away, bit by bit. A single and a bomb scored two. A couple of walks then a single cut the lead to four. Another HR by big, bad DeRosa brought us ever closer.
And then came two key plays, two plays that would have ruined everything as soon as one week ago. Two plays, for their futility and for the way the team overcame them, that may define the rest of the season.
Bautista’s baserunning blunder in the 7th inning, getting thrown out at the plate for the first out, ruined a golden chance to score. Tell me honestly – if that would have happened in a game last week, would Toronto have overcome it? I think they would have finished the game weakly, too disillusioned to fight any harder.
Then in the 9th, down by one, tying run on third and nobody out. All Rasmus or Izturis need to do is put a ball in the outfield. Anywhere. With Bonifacio on third, he can score on just about any fly ball. But Rasmus whiffed, terribly. Izturis hit a sharp grounder, but right to first. Suddenly, two outs. No longer does a fly ball do anything.
Again, tell me – do you see this team rebounding from that if it happened a week ago? With all the negativity that was surrounding the squad, with the belief that nothing was going to go right, I have a hard time picturing them recovering.
But something was different. Maybe the win on Sunday, with the team finally getting hits, finally scoring runs, and finally overcoming adversity, has changed the mentality. Maybe the belief that things will turn around and that this team is good has returned.
When Arencibia launched the game winning bomb with two strikes, it felt like an enormous weight was lifted – not only off the team, but off the fans as well.
With the first back-to-back wins since April 12-13, we can finally cheer again.
Finally – something to smile about.