TORONTO (Oct. 7) — The brave talk… the anticipation… the media cheerleading.
It all could be over. Seemingly before it begins.
Such is the nature of the Major League Baseball playoffs.
And, dare we say, professional sport here in the Big Smoke.
Local fanatics are familiar with a group of cold–weather heroes that soars heavenward during the regular season… and plummets to earth when it matters. Perhaps the Toronto Blue Jays caught Maple Leafs fever. If so, medical science had best develop a vaccine before Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, it’ll be two–and–out for the Rogers hype machine. Not that the Seattle Mariners were ever incapable of knocking off the Blue Jays in their best–of–three American League Wild Card set. It’s more about the visitors barely warranting a cautionary word in the days and hours leading up to Friday’s opener, which ended after the first half–inning. Seattle won the match, 4–0, after easily winning the Major League trade deadline by acquiring starter Luis Castillo from the Cincinnati Reds. In Game 1, at Rogers Centre, Castillo needed but a single run to dust off the home side. Instead, the Mariners provided him an insurmountable cushion by putting up a three–spot off God–like Alek Manoah prior to Manoah’s teammates entering the batter’s box. Before anyone could say “what the f–k!”, the no–names from the northwest had fouled up the scrip. Another such act on Saturday, and the silence around here will be deafening.
To be frank, Toronto rooters didn’t have a chance. Whether perusing the local newspapers or tuning into the Rogers–owned airwaves, casual baseball fans may not have been aware that the Mariners were in town. This was a team from many thousands of miles away that backed into the post season after sliding through the final week of the regular schedule. How could it possibly match up against Alek and the Fun Bunch? Better yet, who were they? On Thursday, I looked around for some detailed information about the team that played Toronto only twice during the 162–game season. It wasn’t the Tampa Bay Rays, who seemingly invaded Rogers Centre on a bi–weekly basis. After failing to learn anything from the Toronto media (save for one columnist), I turned to to Ryan Divish, baseball writer at the Seattle Times. And, I realized that the Mariners sweeping the Blue Jays out of T–Mobile Park in early July may not have been a fluke. Even with all the noisy snowbirds having flown south from Vancouver and other parts of western Canada. Four road games for the Fun Bunch. Four consecutive losses.
The columnist I referred to, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, who had the gall to suggest that Seattle and the Blue Jays were razor–close in composition. Everywhere else I looked, or listened, offered me nothing but hype and flag waving. This, of course, was expected (perhaps mandated) on the Sportsnet TV stations and the flagship radio outlet for which I worked from 1988–2011. It was called The FAN–590 during most of that time. It should be called FAN–of–the–Blue Jays–590 today. Perhaps I would learn something about the Mariners while watching Tim & Friends late in the afternoon. Fat chance. Though I have immense respect for Tim Micallef and often enjoy his show, there was nothing but “yay team!” all week after the Blue Jays clinched a playoff spot. Even the host had little chance with Sportsnet scribe Ben Nicholson–Smith in studio on Thursday. When Micallef blithely asked Nicholson–Smith about comparing Kevin Gausman to the Cy Young Award winner Gausman replaced (Robbie Ray of the Mariners), good ol’ Ben offered a sincere preference for the former.
A more compelling subject would have been jeans or slacks.
Luckily for Sportsnet, Shi Davidi heads up Blue Jays coverage, with the character and credibility to present some balance. Davidi, therefore, would have been a much–preferable sidekick for Micallef on Thursday.
I briefly tuned into Rogers–owned CITY TV on Friday morning and found some correspondent for Breakfast Television showering Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro with biblical praise during a one–on–one “interview”… while adorned in, yes, a Blue Jays uniform. “Yay team!” The duo cheerily discussed how the fan–fueled momentum would erupt during the inevitable “deep playoff run” by the home side. Should the Mariners eliminate the Blue Jays this weekend, I wonder if Shapiro will re–connect with the pom–pom–waving “reporter” on Monday? Accompanied, perhaps, by Nicholson–Smith, after Robbie Ray defeats Gausman in Game 2 for a Seattle sweep.
Imagine how that conversation would evolve.
Second chance is Saturday. Another loss and there won’t be a third chance.