Blue Jays 5, (Devil) Rays 2
Wahoo! all right, so that’s what I’ve been waiting for: a win! And now that it’s here the whole two game losing streak thing seems a lot less significant than it did before…as in, it now seems as insignificant as it always truly was. Still, it was a two game losing streak, plunging the Jays to a zero and two start, don’t hit the panic button but ohmigod I kinda want to panic…
But they’ve won one! Take the foot off the gas, settle in and get ready for a long season of this sort of thing.
Weirdly, the win looked a lot like the two losses, which is comforting in a strange way. All the good stuff was still there (an amazing start from Stroman, some very good defense, a solid-if-not-perfect outing by the bullpen) but the not-so-good stuff was still on display as well: just five hits on the night to the Rays’ eight, with eight strikeouts (which isn’t terrible, but also not fantastic) and another eleven men left on base.
So why is that comforting? Because they freaking won, man! Who cares if the strike outs are a bit on the high side and if they’re stranding runners, so long as they’re getting those big hits when they count. Which, “oh my goodness that was 444 feet!”, did they ever. Welcome to the Blue Jays Kendrys! I already liked you fine (even though you did play for the Royals, but nobody’s perfect) and I was deeply impressed with you during spring training, but this cements it. Who’s the man? Kendrys. Kendrys is the man.
But even with that—even with the first home run of the season for both Morales and the Jays being a game-busting grand-slam—the thing that most caught my attention (and, if what I heard on Blue Jays Talk is any indication, a lot of other people’s attention) was nothing less than Barwin Darney’s seventh inning RBI-producing bunt single. So much to love about that, and so I’m going to give it some love…
But first: no, I do not subscribe to the idea that the Blue Jays need to play “small ball” (whatever the heck that is) instead of going for home runs (which wins games: cf. the Orioles in the first two games of the season), nor do I think that bunting is easy, strategically smart in every or even in most cases, nor do I believe—as many, strangely, would appear to—that bunts are in some way better or purer or more entertaining than the long ball. But…they do have their place, and that was absolutely one of them.
It doesn’t happen often that you have a hitter at the plate who is, a) capable of laying down a bunt and, b) not really capable of hitting it out of the park, when there is also a left-handed pitcher, runners at first and third and less than two outs. It’s so rare that I’m willing to bet my vintage Jays’ cap that it happens a whole lot less than having a power-hitter at the plate with the bases loaded. But when it does happen, and it did, then you absolutely bunt: with the lefty pitcher falling toward third and the first baseman covering the runner, there’s a nice patch of grass (or, in this case, green-tinted polyethylene) just waiting to gobble up that ball.
(This has been true for a good century, by the way, in spite of Joe Maddon’s (apparent) claims to have “developed” the play—but I don’t know if it’s even fair to fault Maddon on this, since this was the claim of Joe Siddall on the radio.)
So, anyway, what I really love about the play isn’t that it justifies the “need” for more “small ball” (it doesn’t) or that it somehow redresses the imagined shortcomings in the Blue Jays’ power-focused offense. No, what I love about it is that even with a four-zero lead in the seventh, when Gibby saw the chance to squeeze in another run, he took it.
After the game, Gibby (being Gibby) said that he called for that play simply to “appease the fans” which got a nice laugh from the press (which it should). But that’s Gibby playing the folksy card again and being all shucks-I’m-from-Texas-and-charmingly-self-deprecating. The truth is, he called for that play because he was doing what good managers do: they identify the best way to score in a given situation and then try it. Actually, with that bunt he did two things that good managers do: he identified the best way to score, and then he called for it even with a comfortable lead. It was a brilliant, cut-throat, high-risk with low-potential-reward move and he made it without hesitation. That’s why I liked the bunt so much, and that’s part of the reason why this first win was so sweet.
Well, that, and the 444-foot monster-slam by Kendrys. Who the man? Kendrys. Kendrys is the man.
But also Gibby.