I was about a month old when the Blue Jays last won the World Series. It’s been mostly downhill since.
Cursed with the burden of rooting for Toronto’s teams while growing up around New York and spending my college years in Boston, it’s been two decades of watching everyone else and their teams celebrate various stupid championships. It hasn’t been ideal, and I have the Frank Thomas jersey in my closet to prove it.
Technically the Jays have reached the summit in my lifetime. I obviously have no recollection of the moment. Truthfully, it’d be cheap to count it. It wouldn’t have been earned.
The last two seasons might not have brought the same pinnacle of success but there’s a certain exhilaration that the Toronto Blue Jays have brought to the surface for me. Last season’s first ALDS game against the Rangers was literally the first time that I, as well as hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of Jays fans, got to see playoff baseball in Toronto. Given everything that had preceded it in my baseball-conscious lifetime, it seemed insane. Maybe it was. Maybe it’ll always feel that way because of the way things played out.
They finally put it together after years of collecting interesting groups of players that produced the same third and fourth place results. No season ever goes to plan, and that’s been readily apparent in the wild run that the Blue Jays have been on since 2015. Perhaps it’s the mental conditioning of seeing so many seasons reach the same disappointing end or hanging around in the same division as baseball’s biggest money wielders that set the bar for performance. Regardless, the Blue Jays are set to say goodbye to an era of the unexpected.
It’s tough to pinpoint when this all kicked off, though Alex Anthopulous’s acquisition of Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson seems like a good start. Following it up with reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey only increased anticipation. For the first time in a long time, the Blue Jays were favorites. When the Jays were finally expected to run roughshod through the AL East, they faltered. We zigged, the team zagged. For all the hoopla surrounding the team, the fondest memories may be of Munenori Kawasaki and his cult hero status.
But maybe it goes back before all that. After all the run of success is built upon Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion turning into Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. A journeyman and a salary dump turned this thing around. That’s pretty cool.
Then there’s Anthopolous’ ninja acquisitions of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. My simple mind could barely comprehend acquiring one of the game’s best players, let alone three within a year. A year whose signature moment was built on a throw back to the mound that bounced off Shin-Soo Choo’s bat. And that includes Toronto’s first AL East Division title in a long while, only for the mastermind behind the moves to depart during the honeymoon phase.
This past year gave us more unexpected happenings. The team had just put up an offensive performance that rivaled the best in baseball history. So of course they struggled to consistently put up runs and left games in the hands of a strong pitching staff. A staff who faced tons of questions and merely needed to be “good enough” at the outset of the season wound up being the league’s best on a budget. The perceived weak spot was the thing that saved Toronto’s season. Even the staunchest believers in Estrada, Happ and Sanchez wouldn’t have banked on that kind of collective performance.
We’ve heard about Michael Saunders defying expectations. There’s also Joe Biagini, the Rule V pick that actually panned out. All the moves made to bolster the bullpen last offseason made a fair amount of sense, and yet the new arrivals failed spectacularly. The team sought out fixes and nailed every single one. Then there’s the fact that one of those fixes tore his calf running into a brawl. You can’t predict baseball, truly.
Despite that, the safe prediction is that at least one of Bautista or Encarnacion will be reporting to someplace other than Dunedin when camp opens. Placing the baseball decision concerns aside, that stinks. It almost certainly doesn’t make sense to fork over the money it would take to keep the band together, which is something that everyone seems to have accepted. From an emotional standpoint, it’ll be a strange sensation.
For the nebulous timestamps that mark the beginning and ending of this part of Blue Jays lore, I’d be remiss to not recognize this as Bautista’s team or Edwin’s team. It won’t be the same next year. It’ll be a new look team in a few ways, and they should be fine going forward. There will be fewer big bats, the Blue Jays have completed a quick turnaround and will now remain competitive on the back of a truly phenomenal pitching staff. Who would’ve guessed that a year ago?
That’s great. A lot of people thought the Jays might need to reset a bit following the ravages of the upcoming offseason, but it’s looking more and more like Shapiro and his management team have found a way to cut the line and get right back into things. I can’t wait for next season to start, but, sentimentally, I don’t think I’m ready for this version of the team to be finished. I don’t think I’m alone in that corner either.
No team’s good fortune ever comes solely from a plan coming together. Every successful season has a few good bounces. It just feels like Toronto’s have come from a crazy confluence of events. I suppose that deep down, we all assumed the Blue Jays would compete eventually, but not like this, on the back of so many unforgettable personalities and unbelievable stories. Riding this roller coaster, even if it ends just shy of the World Series, has been worth the price of admission. The Jays’ success feels earned this time around. To have experienced the full climb to relevancy makes this part of Blue Jays history extremely special, perhaps even more so because of all the pleasant surprises along the way.
As for truly unexpected, the Blue Jays are now a baseball thing. Something to talk about. Something to be loved and hated in equal measure, depending on where you’re from. Toronto is a baseball destination. The next wave is looking just fine, but the unexpected era authored Toronto’s baseball revival. This era, even if it’s seen its conclusion, has been something to remember. Not like you could forget it if you tried.
Lead Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports