There is something special about these Blue Jays.
It’s been fairly obvious over the past three weeks that the team is really, really good, but it took the last two games for it to really sink in that they are a special group.
On Tuesday night, Mark Buehrle didn’t have his good stuff but still found a way to grind out six innings and keep the Jays in the game. Coming into the ninth inning they trailed 5-4 and put runners on first and second with one out. For Jays fans who have been around for a while and are used to being punched in the gut and kicked in the nuts time and again (as in for the past 20 years), the situation was primed for a classic game ending double play or back-to-back strikeouts. The classic Blue Jay syndrome: provide hope, get agonizingly close, and then fall just short. Even after the clutch hit by Tulowitzki tied the game and the Jays eventually took the lead, there was some back-of-the-mind foreboding that a Texas walkoff homer was waiting for us in the ninth. Of course, that didn’t happen and the Jays held on for the win.
Last night the team got off to a horrible start, with David Price surrendering a single, home run, single to start the first inning. I have been so used to watching Jays teams from the past decade simply roll over and die when faced with such early adversity, that I almost half expected a Rangers blowout. Of course, that didn’t happen and the Jays came storming back to win 12-4.
Obviously the trades made by Alex Anthopoulos have played a major factor in Toronto’s turnaround, but there is something more than just a few new faces fueling things. To me it goes back to the chicken and the egg, with confidence and winning: does winning breed confidence, or does confidence breed winning?
There is no question that the Blue Jays are an incredibly confident squad right now. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are behind by a truckload of runs early (like they were on Sunday in Anaheim), or behind by a single run late (a la Tuesday night), to a man they truly believe that they are going to win each and every game.
Not to pick on anybody, but that sense of confidence and belief wasn’t here earlier this year, last year, or even the last 3-4 years. Whether it was Adam Lind whiffing against left-handed pitchers to kill rallies, Lawrie throwing helmets, Reyes making costly errors, or guys like Casey Janssen, Frank Francisco, Kevin Gregg, or Miguel Castro blowing late leads, there was always a sense of doom circling around the team. Although nobody came out and said anything, it was clear that fans were not confident in the players, and that certain players weren’t confident in their teammates (or even themselves). Guys were trying to do too much and nothing was working. There was no sense of calm – everybody was pressing.
Maybe it’s the veteran presence and leadership of guys like Price, Tulowitzki, Martin, and Donaldson, or maybe it’s simply the fact that the team is winning games (both close games and lopsided games), but that sense of urgency and panic is gone. You can see it when Ben Revere makes a circus catch and winks about it with Pillar. You can see it when Ryan Goins draws multiple walks in a single game. You can see it when Edwin Encarnacion actually smiles, as he did last night after his grand slam. You can see it when Bautista trades jerseys with a fan before the game starts and takes BP with a too-small Messi jersey on. You can see it when R.A. Dickey and David Price sit and laugh together in the dugout.
There is no longer a sense of fear, a sense of underachievement, a sense of disappointment.
Every player is on the same page.
This is quickly becoming a special group.
These aren’t the Jays we are used to.
These are winners.