TORONTO (Oct. 5) — It turned out disastrously, but I have no issue at all with John Gibbons allowing Mark Buehrle to start on 1½–days rest in order to extend his career pattern of 200 innings pitched. The reason, to me, is simple: the quality of the people involved. Gibbons and Buehrle are two of the finest gentlemen in Major League Baseball; why wouldn’t one try to help the other toward a milestone?
As it were, the eight runs put up on Buehrle in the first inning at Tropicana Field Sunday became a footnote when Kansas City jumped out to a big lead in Minneapolis. The Royals had to lose in order for the Blue Jays to finish with the best record in the American League. That wasn’t going to happen. So, the No. 1 seeding actually dissipated when Roberto Osuna blew a ninth–inning save on Saturday night. Had Toronto and K.C. finished with the same record, the Blue Jays owned the tie–breaker based on the season series.
It’s a moot point now.
Though errors by Ryan Goins and Edwin Encarnacion contributed to Tampa’s nine–run first inning, Buehrle’s arm — two days after his last start — was dead. Remember, the veteran recently underwent a cortisone shot in his pitching shoulder and he is 36 years old. This was a crap–shoot Gibbons and Buehrle understood beforehand and the result was disappointing for both. But, I doubt either regrets the decision.
It’s also understandable that Blue Jays TV broadcasters Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler wanted Buehrle to get through a couple of innings. They traveled with the guy all season and experienced, first–hand, one of the game’s consummate professionals. There was, however, no balance in their description of the inning, as Martinez and Tabler chose — unfairly — to condemn home–plate umpire Alfonzo Marquez.
Sportsnet deploys a useful “pitch–tracker” on the right–hand side of its screen. All Martinez and Tabler needed to do was check the box and they’d have recognized the margin by which Buehrle was missing. Instead, the following conversation ensued with two out; the bases loaded, and Tampa Bay leading, 2–0:
MARTINEZ: “Buehrle thought that was strike three but Marquez just won’t give him that pitch. Marquez says it’s inside and he’s getting the gears from the bench.”
TABLER: “As he should.”
You can clearly see by the “pitch–tracker” in the Sportsnet image, top–left, that Buehrle’s No. 5 offering (the pitch in question) was nowhere near the strike zone. His next delivery was belted to center–field for a grand slam by Rays designated–hitter Joey Butler that opened the flood–gates (right). Under no circumstance was Buehrle getting “squeezed” by Marquez — as Martinez and Tabler repeatedly accused on the telecast. There’s a distinct line between home–team broadcaster and responsibility to the viewer. I think Buck and Pat do a good job of toeing that line. But, their emotions interfered on Sunday.
SPORTS BUFFET IS ON THE WAY
Two groups of professionals are bound to enjoy a thriving business in the next couple of weeks around the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada — those that sponsor sports programming on television… and marriage counselors. Not necessarily in that order.
Man–caves will be operating on a daily and nightly rotation for the beginning of the Major League Baseball playoffs and the start of the 2015–16 National Hockey League season. Toss in some Canadian Football League and National Football League games and you come up with a virulent concoction for intimacy and partnership. Sports “widows” that can endure such prolonged neglect will assemble massive “IOU” lists.
Those that cannot will book therapy sessions.
It happens around this week every autumn and will be exacerbated by the Blue Jays presence in the post–season for the first time since 1993. Here’s the run–down on man–caving through Friday:
MONDAY (Oct. 5) — Detroit at Seattle, NFL, 8:30 p.m., TSN.
TUESDAY (Oct. 6) — Toronto at Ottawa, CFL (battle for first place in the Eastern Conference; actually a “home” game for the Argos), 7:00 p.m., TSN.
American League Wild Card Game — Houston at New York Yankees — 8:00 p.m., Sportsnet.
WEDNESDAY (Oct. 7) — Montreal at Toronto (NHL Season Opener), 7:00 p.m., Sportsnet.
National League Wild Card Game — Chicago at Pittsburgh — 8:00 p.m., Sportsnet–1.
THURSDAY (Oct. 8) —BASEBALL at 5:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
ALDS Game 1: Texas at Toronto, Sportsnet.
ALDS Game 1: Houston/New York at Kansas City, Sportsnet.
Edmonton at St. Louis (Connor McDavid’s NHL debut), 8:00 p.m., Sportsnet–360.
Indianapolis at Houston, NFL, 8:25 p.m., Sportsnet–1.
FRIDAY (Oct. 9) —BASEBALL (afternoon and evening, times TBD)
ALDS Game 2: Houston/New York at Kansas City, Sportsnet.
NLDS Game 1: Chicago/Pittsburgh at St. Louis, Sportsnet.
NLDS Game 1: New York at Los Angeles, Sportsnet.
ALDS Game 2: Texas at Toronto, Sportsnet.
Toronto at Detroit, NHL (Mike Babcock’s return to Joe Louis Arena), 7:30 p.m., Sportsnet.
Saskatchewan at Hamilton, CFL, 7:30 p.m., TSN.
Good luck to women everywhere.
By sheer coincidence, the Blue Jays will begin the playoffs Thursday exactly 30 years to the night of their first–ever post–season game — against the Kansas City Royals at old Exhibition Stadium on Oct. 8, 1985.
Dave Stieb pitched the Jays to a 6–1 romp over George Brett and Co. in the opener of the American League Championship Series (there were no Wild Card teams or Division Series back then). Toronto would go up 2–0 and 3–1 in the best–of–seven affair before losing three consecutive games. Kansas City went on to defeat St. Louis for its lone world championship to this point. Coincidentally, again, the Royals and Cardinals were top seeds in the American and National League this season. K.C. has home–field advantage throughout the 2015 playoffs by virtue of the American League’s victory in the All–Star Game.
Here are several images from my scrapbook of that first Blue Jays playoff match:
AS YOU READ AND LISTEN TO PREDICTIONS FOR THE BASEBALL PLAYOFFS, TRY TO REMEMBER GAME 4 OF THE 1993 WORLD SERIES AT OLD VETERANS STADIUM IN PHILADELPHIA. IT REMAINS THE HIGHEST–SCORING GAME IN THE HISTORY OF THE FALL CLASSIC AND IT ALLOWED THE BLUE JAYS TO REPEAT AS CHAMPION THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, AT SKYDOME, ON JOE CARTER’S LEGENDARY HOME RUN.