June 06, 2007

Defining Moment

There are, over the course of the long baseball season, defining moments for every team.

Rewind to the 2006 Blue Jays season, which saw Toronto finish in second place for the first time since winning the World Series. It was July 19th and the night of the Shea Hillendbrand fiasco. I tuned into the game and learned that Hillendbrand had been designated for assignment, his locker had been cleaned out and he'd been sent home. His career with the Blue Jays was over. Hillendbrand was a solid designated hitter and represented the Jays at the All-Star game in 2005. It was, needless to say, a significant blow to the team, especially with the way it all went down.

The Yankees were in town that night, and the mood around the team was sombre. Word spread about Hillendbrand's antics in the clubhouse and it was clear the Jays needed a win. In a tie ball game in the bottom of the 9th inning, Vernon Wells stepped up to the plate against the greatest closer in baseball history, Mariano Rivera. He promptly deposited Rivera's cut fastball over the wall in left field and gave the Jays a win they desperately needed. As Wells rounded first base with his fist pumped in the air, I knew things were going to be alright.

Tonight was one of the defining moments of the 2007 Toronto Blue Jays season. Toronto staged an incredible 9th inning rally against the woeful Devil Rays and are now one game away from returning to .500.

Let's get one thing clear, if there's a team that can blow an 11-6 lead in the 9th inning, it's the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. What makes the whole situation even more shocking is that Harry Halladay was on the mound for the Jays tonight, and he was lit up by the Rays. Doc only went three and a third innings tonight, giving up 12 hits and eight runs. Not exactly Halladay-esque. But for once, the Jays picked up their ace. The offense bailed out their stud pitcher Halladay, who's stolen his fair share of games for this team over his career.

Even Jamie Campbell and Pat Tabler thought this one was in the bag in the eighth inning. Tabler was calling for Curtis Thigpen to get an at bat in the ninth inning, because Thigpen is starting Wednesday night at first base. Thigpen was called up from Syracuse to fill the roster spot opened up by the injury to Lyle Overbay.

It had been a couple of weeks since a Blue Jay was injured, so I guess they were due. Overbay's the next regular to join the walking wounded and it's just comical the number of injuries the Jays have had to deal with in the first two months of the season. Overbay's left-handed bat will be sorely missed in a lineup full of right-handed sluggers. It's the first time in his seven year career that he's had to go on the DL. Typical. Another one bites the dust.

I've got faith in Matt Stairs though. I thought his signing was insignificant this past off-season but he's proven to be a pretty valuable cat off the bench (no pun intended to the departed Frank Catalanotto). Stairs can play some left field and first base.

Overbay's injury will also keep Sal Fasano with the big club for the next little while. Either he or Jason Phillips is going to have to go to the farm once Zaun comes back in the next two weeks. It would be hard to send Fasano back down as he's already made such a positive impression in only a few weeks. At the same time, Jason Phillips has been a reliable backup catcher who's called great games in the absence of Zaun.

I've got to admit though, I'm a huge Fasano fan. That moustache is just off the hook. He looks like a 70's pornstar. And how about that bunt single he dropped against the White Sox? That was awesome. Nobody saw that coming, and I've got to give him props for pulling that off. Although his batting average (.167) leaves a little to be desired - ok, a LOT to be desired - he's a great teammate and he's got Halladay throwing a new and improved cutter. It's no surprise that a journeyman backup catcher who can't even hit at the Mendoza Line has his own fan club called "Sal's Pals". Where do I sign up? He's obviously doing something right, and it ain't hitting.

Aaron Hill started and finished the rally in the ninth inning tonight. He walked to start the inning, and walked to bring in Stairs with the winning run. Hill continues to amaze me with his patience at the plate. Speaking of Hill, how about his steal of home plate last week? It got lost amid all the controversy surrounding A-Fraud. But that has got to be one of the most exciting Blue Jays plays, and plays in all of sports, I have ever seen. There's just nothing else like a straight steal of home. Great call by the Jays. Hill's dynamite.

Shout out to Vernon Wells who had one of the clutch hits in the rally, a one out double that plated Alex Rios and Jason Phillips and brought the Jays within a run. That's his second clutch hit in a few games, and hopefully it's a sign that he's coming around.

The resiliency of this team is what makes them easy to root for. There's just no quit in 'em. They refuse to lay down and die, no matter the circumstances. Man after man has gone down to injury and Overbay missed his first game tonight, but it doesn't matter, because someone always steps up and does the job. Adam Lind went 4-5 tonight with 5 RBI's, and was instrumental in the ninth inning rally. It's nice to finally see him contributing, and in back to back games to boot.

The bullpen was great once again tonight. They picked up Halladay and only gave up one earned run in over five innings. Josh Towers got the win and struck out four in only two innings. Yeah, seriously, Josh Towers!

A loss to the pathetic D-Rays, with their ace on the mound, and coming off winning three of four against the White Sox, would have been tough to digest. But this team would have none of it. Down 11-6 going into the ninth and seemingly left for dead, they sprung to life and came away with a thrilling victory that underlined the first two months of the season. No matter what the circumstances, and no matter who is on the field, this team will compete until the final out has been made. The Jays are only four games out of the Wild Card, my friends.

Adidas was right. Impossible is Nothing.