The 2017 season was not kind to the Toronto Blue Jays. After back-to-back appearances in the ALCS, the Jays failed to reach the .500 mark at any point. Fraught with injuries and sub-par performances, the year can only be described as a frustrating.
Not matter how disappointing the season may have been, a day of bad baseball is better than a day with no baseball at all. So, I asked Jays’ Twitter to share their favourite moments from the past season. As we get set to usher in 2018 and eagerly await the return of baseball, here is a look back at the ten best Blue Jays moments of the 2017 season in the order in which they occurred. Enjoy!
1. It’s A Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman
Chris Coghlan’s Somersault Dive, April 25th
Only nineteen games into the season, with fans already mired in the frustration of a 5-14 start, an unlikely hero sparked a comeback victory that had fans believing they might have witnessed the turning point in the young season.
Chris Coglan entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning of a tied game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He drew a walk and was at first base when Kevin Pillar hit a ball into the right-field corner. As Coghlan rounded third, he got the green-light from third-base coach Luis Rivera. It appeared to be the wrong decision; Cardinals’ right fielder Stephen Piscotty rifled the ball home to catcher Yadier Molina, who took up position in front of the plate. Coghlan appeared to be a dead duck.
In a split-second decision that defied logic – and gravity – Coghlan leaped head-first over Molina, somersaulting onto the plate to score the go-ahead run. The play was so incredible it was ranked second-best by MLB.com. It may not have turned the Jays’ fortunes around, but for that one brief moment, Coghlan’s heroics made anything seem possible.
2. It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Kevin Pillar
Kevin Pillar Robs José Ramirez, May 8th
We should all be used to this by now.
With two on and two out in the top of the sixth inning, Cleveland’s third baseman José Ramirez drove a ball to deep centre field. Racing backwards towards the wall, Kevin Pillar flew through the air with the greatest of ease, laying out to make one of the best catches of his career. The leaping grab, which saved two runs for sure, was so spectacular it was ranked third on MLB.com’s top 100 plays of the season.
3. Back-to-Back Battery Jacks
Luke Maile’s and Marcus Stroman’s Improbable Home Runs, May 18th
After five consecutive victories leading up to their series in Atlanta, the Jays dropped three straight against the Braves despite scoring fifteen total runs. The team was in need of a little magic.
They say that good pitching beats good hitting, but the Jays got a little of both from starter Marcus Stroman, who took the ball for the fourth and final game of the series. Not only did he pitch 5 2/3 innings of shut-out ball, but he provided a little offense by launching his first career home run, a solo shot to opposite field. A career-first for Stroman was just the second home run hit by a pitcher in Blue Jays history.
What made the feat all the more historic was that it was preceded by another unlikely home run off the bat of Stroman’s battery-mate Luke Maile, marking the first time that an American League pitcher and catcher have hit back-to-back home runs in the designated hitter era.
It may not have been magic, but it sure seemed magical.
4. Bigger Than The Game
Robert Osuna Hugs Russell Martin After Returning to the Mound, June 25th
— Lorraine McMillanG (mom of Otis the parrot) (@bluejaylover49) June 25, 2017
One of the lowest moments of the season was a Friday night loss to the Kansas City Royals, a game in which the Jays held a 4-1 heading to the bottom of the ninth before watching it all unravel. The Royals rallied for three two-out runs off Jason Grilli and Aaron Loup, begging the question as to why Roberto Osuna, who was seen on camera looking morose on the bench, had not been used to close out the game.
In his post-game interview, manager John Gibbons protected his young star by saying that Osuna had not been feeling well. The following morning, Osuna revealed to the media that he had been experiencing anxiety and thus had not been able to pitch the night before.
It was a rare admission from a professional athlete, one that was met with an outpouring of support and empathy from fans.
Teammates rallied around Osuna as well. When he returned to the mound two days later and struck out the side, his familiar knock-knock routine with Russell Martin was replaced by a heartfelt hug and what appeared to be words of encouragement. It was a small but sincere gesture of kindness that resonated with both fans and casual observers, proving that even on the field, some things are bigger than the game itself.
5. Hey Now, You’re An All-Star
Justin Smoak’s All-Star Appearance, July 17th
During his first two seasons with the Jays, Justin Smoak played the role of whipping boy for fans. His subpar offensive statistics and propensity to strike out made him a standout – and not in a good way – on a team otherwise known for its offensive prowess. In fact, Smoak’s major-league career had never lived up to the expectations he set as a prospect who once headlined a trade for Cliff Lee. Thus, when it was announced in July 2016 that the Jays had signed Smoak to an extension, fans asked aloud “why?”
Smoak himself answered that question by slashing .294/.360/.575/.936 and smashing 23 home runs during the first half of the season, garnering his first All-Star nod as the American League’s starting first baseman.
The unlikely All-Star did not disappoint. Smoak knocked an 0-2 fastball from Pat Neshek past a diving Zack Cozart for a single in the second inning. He then walked in the fourth before being pulled from the game.
Smoak credits a trip to a sports psychologist for sparking his turn-around. Whether or not he can continue to shine remains to be seen. But there is little doubt that his breakthrough performance – and his 1.000 All-Star OBP – was the highlight of the Jays’ season.
6. Stadium Delirium: Part One
Steve Pearce Walk-Off Grand Slam, July 27th
A rare Thursday afternoon game turned into an unpredictably raucous affair that could easily have been one of the most frustrating losses of the season. Instead, it turned into one of the most exhilarating wins.
Trailing the Athletics 3-1 in the fifth inning, John Gibbons was ejected by home plate umpire Will Little for arguing balls and strikes from the bench. A few pitches later, Stroman was tossed as well for comments he was making with regards to the strike zone and, before he could even get a word in edgewise on behalf of his pitcher, Martin also got the boot. The affair was punctuated by an angry Stroman being restrained by DeMarlo Hale. The entire thing was utterly absurd – and seemed indicative of how the afternoon would unfold.
Then the real mayhem ensued.
Trailing by one run in the bottom of the ninth, Kendrys Morales jacked his second solo shot of the afternoon to send the game into extra innings. After a three-up three-down inning by Osuna, the Jays managed to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the tenth.
Up to the plate stepped Steve Pearce. The result? Sheer mayhem.
7. Stadium Delirium: Part Two
Steve Pearce Walk-Off Grand Slam, July 30th
Steve Pearce certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
Just three days after his heroics against the Athletics, Pearce once again rocked the Dome with yet another walk-off grand slam to cap off the biggest ninth-inning comeback in Blue Jays’ history.
Toronto was trailing by six runs entering the ninth when the rally began. After Kevin Pillar hit a two-run homer, Rob Refsnyder followed up with a double. Then subsequent singles by Ezequiel Carrera and Russell Martin cut the Angels’ lead to three. Kendrys Morales drew a walk to load the bases and bring up Steve Pearce.
The result? Sheer mayhem. Again.
It was the first time any player had hit two walk-off grand slams in the same week. It was also the first time a pitcher had given up two in the same week. The unlikely hurler, Bud Norris, had also given up a game-ending slam to former Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion earlier in the week.
8. Slip-Sliding Away
Darwin Barney’s Swim-Slide to Third, September 11th
We’ve all been there – that awkward moment when we’ve tripped or fallen or walked into something and wished that no one was around to see it.
Darwin Barney had a moment like that in a game against the Baltimore Orioles. Barney hit a sure double into right-center field, but when Adam Jones went to throw the ball into the infield, it slipped out of his hand. Barney seized the chance to advance to third, trying to finish off the play by sliding head-first into third base.
Except, Barney didn’t exactly execute a slide. It was more of a belly flop that landed short of the base, leaving Barney to do his best Michael Phelps impression and “swim” his way to third. It is safe to say that Barney won’t be winning any awards for grace any time soon.
9. Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Ryan Goins’ Hidden Ball Trick, September 22nd
In an utterly meaningless game, Ryan Goins provided a touch of magic. Twice.
Yankees’ third baseman Todd Frazier led off the third inning with a double. With one out, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a drive to deep right field, which was caught by José Bautista, who threw the ball into Goins at second. That’s when Goins played a trick.
After pretending to toss the ball back to the mound, Goins hid the ball in his glove and stood around the base, quite nonchalantly. When Frazier stepped off, Goins quickly applied the tag, much to the dismay of Frazier – and the delight of Jays’ fans.
Goins wasn’t quite done awing the crowd. For his second act, Goins launched a grand slam off of Masahiro Tanaka to give the Jays an 8-1 lead.
The win itself may have been meaningless, but it was sure fun to watch.
10. Farewell To A Legend
José Bautista’s Final Game in Toronto, September 24th
How do you say goodbye?
After nearly ten years of magic, the José Bautista era in Toronto was coming to an end. It was not the fairy-tale ending any of us wanted. Our beloved icon – the former home run king, he of the bat flip and hop-skips and chirps down the first base line, one of the most exciting players in baseball when at his pinnacle – was most assuredly playing his last game in a Blue Jays’ uniform at home after enduring an incredibly disappointing season. Though neither Bautista nor the team could state it publicly, they knew his contract option would not be picked up for 2018. The fans knew it, too. And they wanted to somehow mark the occasion. To say goodbye.
On that sweltering day, a sold-out crowd watched Marcus Stroman warm up in a vintage Bautista jersey. They cheered when Bautista – while his teammates stayed back – jogged from the dugout to take his place in right field. They sang “José! José! José José” every time he stepped to the plate with Usher’s “OMG” blaring from the stadium speakers – a throwback to his 2010 54-home run season.
And then, in the top of the ninth, John Gibbons called José back to the dugout, replacing him with Ezequiel Carrera. As he made his way back to the dugout, stopping to hug teammates before saluting the crowd, it’s difficult to imagine there was a dry eye in the house.
That’s how you say goodbye.
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As we say goodbye to 2017, cheers to you and yours. May you – and the Blue Jays – have a fantastic 2018!
Lead Photo © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports