TORONTO — Tuesday night was really a desperate night for the Blue Jays. They needed to win against the Red Sox.
Team morale was low. The Jays, the team the majority of prognosticators chose to win the American League East, the pennant, and the World Series, had gotten off to a nightmare start. The words “bust” and “pathetic” had started to make their way into the vocabularies of those pointing fingers.
One Jays player said before the game, “We have to start winning right now. Against this team, against this pitcher [Jon Lester].”
And sure enough, despite the many missions the Blue Jays attempted and failed in April, this one succeeded in a 9-7 win over the Sox.
Nobody, including manager John Gibbons, has an idea what to make of Toronto’s poor start. The team that was supposed to win it all has been awful, and the team that had a host of questions (Boston), has had most of them answered in the first month, going 18-8.
Sox manager John Farrell really has had the last laugh on the team Toronto fans believe he deserted. That didn’t sit well with Torontonians, who gave Farrell a big “ha, ha” after general manager Alex Anthopoulos traded half of his farm system in separate deals for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Emilio Bonafacio with the Marlins and for National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey with the Mets.
Farrell was booed ferociously by Jays fans the first time the teams played here in early April, feeling Farrell was a traitor for leaving the Jays with one year remaining on his contract in a deal with the Red Sox for Mike Aviles.
Gibbons could almost cry about his team’s 10-17 start, but he found a moment of humor before Tuesday night’s game when he said, “Tell Farrell if he brings out the lineup card and I bring out the lineup card, the boos aren’t directed at him.”
“It’s only one month,” is the Toronto mantra. There’s plenty of time for the Jays to rebound and plenty of time for the Sox to collapse.
“That team, they have good players,” said David Ortiz following the loss in which he drove in four runs with a three-run double and solo homer. “They get some of those hitters like [Edwin] Encarnacion and [Jose] Bautista, and [J.P.] Arencibia on the same page, they’re going to be tough.”
Encarnacion did his part, with a pair of two-run homers, including the key shot off Junichi Tazawa in the seventh inning.
But the talent-laden Jays haven’t held a candle to the chemistry-driven Red Sox. And with Reyes out of the lineup and Dickey and Johnson battling injuries, it’s been a struggle.
The biggest problem, according to Gibbons, has been the defense. The Jays have made 17 errors, and it’s put a lot of pressure on the pitching staff, increasing pitch counts and extending innings.
Tuesday night was living proof. Gibbons brought in shortstop Munenori Kawasaki in for defense and what’d he do? On what should have been Daniel Nava’s inning-ending double-play grounder in the seventh, Kawasaki threw errantly to second base. Everyone was safe. Ortiz then smacked his three-run double to give Boston a 7-6 lead.
Then again, third baseman Brett Lawrie did make an incredible play on a hot shot by Will Middlebrooks to start a double play and save runs in the fourth inning.
So this win was huge for Jays morale. Huge that they beat the red-hot Red Sox and Farrell.
As one Blue Jays player asked sarcastically, “Is the season over already? People assume because we haven’t got going yet that we’re never gonna get going and that’s just [expletive]. Listen, we have to play better and start believing we can play better. We need to go on a roll, there’s no doubt about that, but for people to declare this over already is just ridiculous.”
What else can people say?
Farrell was a prophet before the game when he said, “We’re going to have three tough games here and we know that. They have players in their lineup who can turn things around very quickly with one swing of the bat. I managed those players so I know what they’re capable of. We aren’t taking anyone lightly. We have to keep doing the things that have put us in this position.”
Catch the ball, pitch the ball, and hit the ball.
The Red Sox have done it as well as any team. The Blue Jays have misfired as much as any team.
Farrell has been able to do in Boston what he couldn’t do in Toronto — straighten out problem pitchers. Ricky Romero, once the ace of the Blue Jays staff, is now in the minors. Farrell and his staff were not able to turn him around, but in Boston the hope was he could do so with Jon Lester (who hasn’t pitched well in his last two starts) and Clay Buchholz, and he has.
That success has enabled the Red Sox staff to fall into place and create a confident feeling throughout the rest of the team.
When Farrell walked around before the game, it was much different with the Jays crowd. There wasn’t nearly as much vitriol.
Farrell has handled the Toronto situation well from the start of the offseason. He met the situation head on, realizing he would receive backlash for his escape.
Farrell and the Red Sox have handled the situation exactly right. Downplay their success and let their record do the talking. Show respect for the opposition, but then clobber them. That’s what the Sox did the first time in, taking two by scores of 6-4 and 13-0 and losing, 5-0, when J.A. Happ mesmerized them. In the first game of this series, they endured the Blue Jays’ wrath.
The sluggers — Bautista, Encarnacion, and Arencibia — have hit 24 homers between them. Conspicuous by his lack of power has been Melky Cabrera (no homers, 6 RBIs), who last season served a 50-game suspension while with the San Francisco Giants for elevated testosterone.
The Jays’ pitchers have been erratic and haven’t lived up to expectations.
After one month, Farrell has gotten the last laugh. But the Blue Jays will give Boston April if they can take May and June and maybe September.
“It’s very big for us,” Encarnacion said of the win. “The way we’ve been playing the last month, it was very important.
“It’s been a couple of games where we’ve been playing great. So having a win on the opening of the homestand is very important for us. Keep the head up, keep working, keep going.”
Gibbons stood at the podium Tuesday night before his postgame news conference and the first thing he said was “Phew!” He knew he easily could have been up there lamenting another Blue Jays loss, but instead he knew this could be a turnaround game.
“The guys showed a lot of guts today, a lot of heart,” Gibbons said. “We gave up that lead there, the way things have been going . . . but they hung tough. Just a big win, something we needed.”
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.