An eighth inning HR by Russell Martin rescued Joe Smith and the Blue Jays last night, once again raising their record to one game below the magical .500 mark.
That record – .500 – has been very elusive for the 2017 Jays. In fact, they have yet to reach it! Tomorrow night’s game against the Chicago White Sox will be the seventh attempt to climb to ground zero, a quest that began way back on April 5. On that night Toronto was 0-1 with a chance to get to 1-1. They lost that game 3-1 and have lost five additional “reach .500” games since.
There is something mystical about .500. The figure represents an invisible line separating pretenders from contenders. Rise above it and you have won more games than you have lost, and therefore have a chance for greater glory. Fall below it and all hopes for winning championships are gone.
It is the reaching of that magical mark, however, that is the most important, especially for a team that has struggled for a large part of the season. Reaching .500 can almost be seen as hitting the reset button – anything that came before it is in the past and can be forgotten. The Jays have been scratching and clawing and lunging and reaching and struggling to get to that line, that milestone, since day one.
Somewhat shockingly, in the 40 year history of the franchise, the Toronto Blue Jays have only had one season where they failed to ever reach the .500 mark. No, it wasn’t 1977, 1978, or 1979, the inaugural years in which the team lost over 100 games per season. In 1977 they won the first game in club history, and sat 5-2 through seven. In ’78 they split the first two games of the campaign to begin the season 1-1 before fading away. In the dreadful 1979 season in which they lost 109 times, the Jays were actually above .500 in mid-April.
No, it was the godawful 2004 season where the .500 mark proved to be unreachable. That was a J.P. Ricciardi season; the year when John Gibbons was first hired to replace a fired Carlos Tosca; when Roy Halladay only made 21 starts; when Josh Towers, Miguel Batista, and Dave Bush were in the rotation and Jason Frasor was the closer; when Chris Gomez, Chris Woodward, and Russ Adams split time at SS. It was an awful year, but one that actually started better than this one. Toronto was 1-5 and then 8-17 (compared to 1-9 and 6-17 in 2017), before a 9-20 August doomed them to a last place finish, 33.5 GB.
With Bautista, Donaldson, Tulo, Martin, Morales, Stroman, Osuna, and company, the 2017 squad is surely better than the 2004 team. Yet here we are, about to play game #66 and they still haven’t been able to win the same number as they’ve lost. They had a chance at 0-1, at 1-2, at 26-27, 27-28, 28-29, and 31-32 and failed each time.
One gets the feeling that hitting .500 will be like a collective weight coming off the player’s shoulders; that breaking through that glass ceiling is all the club needs to go on a long and sustained run to the playoffs.
We shall find out if they can get there tomorrow night. Again.
Maybe, hopefully, the seventh time will be the charm.