Kendrys Morales was the turning point.
On April 15th, the Jays had lost seven in a row. They had firmly cemented themselves as the worst starting team in franchise history at 1-9 and had dropped the first four games of their opening homestand.
Marco Estrada pitched seven scoreless innings, but the game was extra tight thanks to the Blue Jays’ listless bats. The Jays floundered against the Orioles’ Alec Asher, he of the 15 major-league appearances, going one for six with RISP. They managed to squeak out a single run on an RBI single from Darwin Barney in the seventh to take a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the ninth, Roberto Osuna blew the save, leaving the game tied 1-1. The mid-inning break was heavy with impending doom. You knew what would happen: the game would remain tied, the Jays would burn every man standing in their bullpen, and they wouldn’t be able to score a run. They would lose. Again.
Then Kendrys Morales took the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth deep to right center field.
And as you watched the Jays fly out of the dugout to greet Morales at home, saw the smiling faces you’d seen so little of thus far in the season, you knew that this was the turning point. This was exactly what they needed: their first home victory, a walk-off after a dazzling pitching performance was almost squandered. But it wasn’t squandered, not this time. This time, they won. The losing streak was over. It was the moment, looking back in September, that you would point at and say: That was when it all turned around. That was when it all changed for the better.
The next day, J.A. Happ broke. The Jays got pummeled 11-4. They lost the series to the Orioles.
Jose Bautista was the turning point.
Honestly, did you really expect the Jays to win this game? After all, Mat Latos was starting. Mat Latos, starting for a major league team in 2017. Only bad things could happen.
Sure enough, when the Jays took an early 2-0 lead, the Angels responded with an Albert Pujols bases-clearing double and a Mike Trout solo homer, putting them ahead 4-2. Later, Troy Tulowitzki walked straight off the field after sliding into third. You read his lips through the TV screen as he talked to Luis Rivera. Hamstring.
You’d seen enough 2017 Blue Jays baseball at this point to know that there was no joy to be had from watching any further. Thanks to shoddy defense, pitchers with poor command, and so, so many runners left on base, the late West Coast game was dragging on well past a reasonable person’s bedtime. You strongly considered calling it a night.
Justin Smoak made sure you couldn’t. One RBI on a groundout and an error in the sixth, then two on a double in the eighth to give the Jays the one-run lead.
The lead was, of course, promptly surrendered by Dominic Leone in the bottom of the inning. But not enough for the Angels to win the game and for your suffering to end. No, they only tied it. The game would go on.
Buck sounded like he was falling asleep; Tabby didn’t speak for minutes on end. Around the 11th inning, the cameras began zooming in on people blissfully asleep in the stands. God, you wished you were them. Winning was immaterial. All you wanted now was for the game to be over. You began to pray for a home run every time Mike Trout came up to bat. And eventually, every time anyone came up to bat.
In the top of the 13th, with two out and facing Jesse Chavez, Jose Bautista – who had entered the game batting .109 without a single home run to his name – heard your prayers.
That’s what you were staying awake for.
But this being the 2017 Jays, they almost managed to blow it in the bottom of the 13th. Two errors and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out. Trout and Pujols were looming in the Angels lineup. You cursed yourself for staying awake this long just to have your heart broken.
Joe Biagini, through some inexplicable wizardry, worked them out of it.
The Jays survived the game. You survived the game. Jose finally had his home run, and you just knew it was surely the first of many. This was where his hoped-for revenge tour began. His struggles, as a microcosm of the Jays’ struggles, were now over, blasted away over the centre-field wall in Anaheim.
You went to sleep exhausted, nerves fried – but hopeful. The hope made it all worth it.
The next day, the Jays lost.
Chris Coghlan was the turning point.
Chris Coghlan, backup infielder. Chris Coghlan, who was DFA by the Phillies mere days before the beginning of the season. Chris Coghlan, only on the team because the entire left side of the Jays’ infield was struck down by God.
The Jays were tied in St. Louis when Chris Coghlan did this.
It was magical, like nothing you’ve ever seen happen on a baseball field. It was one of those moments that seem bigger than just your team. One of the moments that reminds you not only why you love baseball, but of the vastness of life – of the endless possibility of the world we live in. You’ve seen thousands of plays at the plate, you think you’ve seen everything, and baseball will still surprise you, still give you more than you ever thought you would get.
Then the bullpen blew the lead.
Then the Jays regained it.
Then they blew it again.
Marcus Stroman saved the game in the 11th with the first-ever pinch hit by a Blue Jays pitcher, and it was only the second-most amazing thing that happened – in a game where Russell Martin played third base.
The Jays got rained out the next day, and for over 24 hours, you loved baseball in a way you hadn’t since the season started and the Jays started losing. Everyone in baseball was talking about the Coghlan slide. You watched it over and over. You couldn’t keep the smile off your face. This was the moment. You’d been wrong the other times, but this was too extraordinary not to mean something. You couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning and watch the Jays win take the series in the double-header. Everything was different now.
Blue Jays 4, Cardinals 8 (F/11)
Blue Jays 4, Cardinals 6
Rays 7, Blue Jays 4
We want baseball to make sense. We want good things to signify the coming of more good things, for past success to indicate future success, for the process to unfold in a linear, satisfying narrative. We want each game to be a piece of the puzzle that, when put together, shows our team crowded onto the infield, celebrating their World Series victory. And just outside the frame of the picture – us, at the game, or at home with our family, celebrating just like the players, basking in their reflected glory.
It doesn’t always work that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. At the end of the season, for most people, the puzzle ends up not looking like much of anything. You try your best to make sense of the image, but the 162 pieces, give or take, that are lying in front of you – they just look like pieces, nothing more.
The Jays won their penultimate April game. There was nothing particularly notable about it. They didn’t hit much, but they hit enough. Liriano was fine – not mind-blowing, but fine. The bullpen held on. Osuna pitched a clean inning.
They won the next day, too, despite the great return of Aaron Sanchez lasting only one inning, and despite Chris Archer pitching seven scoreless. And yesterday, they won again, the first easy win of the season. They had the lead for the entire game. It almost takes you by surprise – watching a Jays game without a feeling of either creeping dread or dull nihilism.
April is over. The Jays have a win streak.
It feels like – maybe – something is different.
And maybe it is. Maybe that game, that bland, normal game on April 29th, will end up being the turning point. April 29th might end up being that day we all point to in September – the day everything changed.
Or maybe it was just one baseball game out of 162.
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