TORONTO – Well, that didn’t last long. The hope, the optimism, the belief – they all died quickly in the Blue Jays’ ALCS Game 5 matinee against Cleveland.
Cleveland scored three times, once in the first, then again in the third and fourth, and the Jays hardly threatened, if ever. Ryan Merritt threw slop that Toronto couldn’t hit, and then the bullpen came in and did bullpen things.
It was another exciting season in Toronto, but now it’s over. An offense that struggled all September reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. Even solid pitching up and down the Jays staff couldn’t help them. They needed to be perfect and they weren’t.
If you’re a Jays fan there’s a lot to bemoan. The team is better than it performed in the ALCS, and certainly better than their 11-16 September. But you also must tip your cap to Cleveland. With two fantastic starters out with injury manager, Terry Francona mixed and matched his way to a World Series berth.
“We grinded. We battled. The other team just did a bit more than us,” Russell Martin said. “They pitched extremely well all the way through the whole series – their starters, their bullpen, everybody, they played good defence. They didn’t make too many mistakes. I feel like they made one mistake and that was the game we won…But overall they deserved it, they played really well.”
With neither offense performing at peak levels it came down to pitching and key hits, and it seemed that more often than not Cleveland found a way to come through at critical times, especially early in games. In fact Toronto outhit Cleveland 32-25 in the series but were outscored 12-8 in an extremely low-scoring series.
The loss hit the players pretty hard. The clubhouse was very sombre after the game. A lot of man hugs and best wishes were given, and players were packing up and putting things into boxes, some knowing they may never be in that clubhouse again. Part of that mood stemmed from the attitude and belief that they were better than they performed, and had a whole lot more fight left in them. None of them ready for the season to be over.
“I wish we were still playing. This team had a lot left in it. Just came up a little short,” Marco Estrada said.
“I wish we were still playing. This team had a lot left in it. Just came up a little short.” – Marco Estrada
“I think not winning games is the biggest disappointment,” Kevin Pillar said. “We were in every game and that’s all you can ask for this time of year we just didn’t come up with a big hit.
“Each and every one of us, you can look at everyone in this room, everyone had opportunities to drive in some runs and it just didn’t work out that way. It’s unfortunate, but everyone’s going to go home, reflect on it, improve, and come back and look forward to doing it again.”
That was the overwhelming silver lining of a season now lost. There’s a returning core for the Blue Jays that should make them a viable playoff candidate regardless of what moves are made in the offseason.
The strength of the team, the rotation, stays fully intact – minus the likely departure of R.A. Dickey – with Francisco Liriano the heir to the fifth starter role. Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar, and Russell Martin are also all under contract, meaning the defence up the middle and a part of the heart of the order will be returning. Lastly, the team’s best bullpen piece, closer Roberto Osuna, will continue to close out games and Joe Biagini and likely Jason Grilli will be there to help get him the ball. There’s a lot to work with even if Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders, and Brett Cecil find work elsewhere. Those holes will be filled, but it all starts with starting pitching and defense, and the Jays should have that in spades entering 2017.
“I’m sure there will be some disappointments and grumbling and complaining about how you fell short again, but that’s not coming from me, because I know what these guys did, and I think it’s a pretty good accomplishment.” – John Gibbons
That, however, doesn’t take the sting out of Wednesday’s loss for fans. But after 22 years without a playoff berth, coupled with back to back trips to the American League Championship Series, there’s a lot to be thankful for too.
“The tough part is getting in (to the playoffs),” manager John Gibbons. “So many good teams out there. In the American League we look at it all the time. All the divisions are good and competitive. To stay on top or get close to the top, near the top, it takes a lot. A lot of things have got to go your way.
“I’m sure there will be some disappointments and grumbling and complaining about how you fell short again, but that’s not coming from me, because I know what these guys did, and I think it’s a pretty good accomplishment. The key is we want to take that next step on of these days, hopefully it’s next year. But these guys, they did a hell of a job.”
That doesn’t make the result any easier to swallow. Everyone wanted more; the fans, the players, the coaches, the staff. Everyone thought this team had more to give, but just like last season they fell just short. An admirable accomplishment, it’s just that they wanted more.
“Both times that we lost it sucked equally,” Martin said. “This sucks. It’s part of the game. Only one team goes home happy. Unfortunately it’s not us.”
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports