In Close Games, The Toronto Blue Jays Are Far Away

Jeffrey RobertsCorrespondent IJuly 12, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 10: Manager Cito Gaston #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on against the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game on May 10, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Last night I looked up, and through the foggy haze caused by alcohol and poor lighting, I watched the Jays enter extra innings.

That's when I stopped watching.

What happened? Were all my years of staring at the sun coming back to haunt me? Did the Lasik I never got, not take?

Unfortunately, it was none of those things. I chose not to watch, because I knew how it was going to end.

In a tight game the Jays fold like an origamist on methamphetamines.

The Jays were swept in Tampa by a combined total of four runs. In two extra inning games, Toronto failed to pull away from the pesky Rays and were forced to stomach two walk-off celebrations.

When we look back on the season, I'm pretty sure you'll see that this is where the hearts of Toronto broke. It was a complete mind-fudge; and that's also why I'm trying to keep this PG-13.

Last night in Baltimore the Jays watched Melvin Mora's home run with an uncomfortable familiarity. The team accustomed to blowing it, blew it.

The Jays are a team that thrives on the blowout. They like to put up crooked numbers and sail through games with no pressure. In a perfect world they'd all be blowouts for the Jays, and I could go back to my life as Superman and drop the whole mild-mannered reporter bit.

When things get tight though, Toronto has a flair for failing.

Consider this: In one-run games the Jays are 11-15. When they go into extras Toronto is only 4-8.

When the pressure is on the Jays have crumbled, it's been the theme of the season.

Great teams have a sense of the moment. They respond in clutch situations and win games that they aren't supposed to, breaking the spirit of their opponents. The Jays just don't have that going for them.

There's a stat for everything in baseball now. There's even one that calculates how well players respond while hitting in "clutch" situations.

It calculates how much better or worse a player is while hitting in a high-pressure scenario, as opposed to playing in an empty stadium with nothing on the line.

Example: Vernon Wells is -0.92 while hitting in a clutch situation. That means that when Vern steps to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a man on third, odds are he's grounding out. Unless of course, the Jays are already winning 7-2. Or if a meteor strikes the Earth.

Only Rod Barajas (0.09), Joe Inglett (0.01), and Casey Janssen (0.01) have a positive clutch stat. Yes, that is the same Casey Janssen who makes his living as a pitcher. Is he the next Babe Ruth? Better start eating Casey. And drinking. During games.

Great, so the Jays aren't clutch. That means the only hope we have of winning a game is solo home runs, or if that meteor finally strikes the opposing team's dugout. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

In blowout games (five runs or more) the Jays are 18-12. They are a team designed to put up big numbers that doesn't do it enough.

In a league where teams need to manufacture runs with speed and sacrifices, the Jays are fossils. Not actual fossils, not until things get desperate and Rogers Center is excavated, but the remains of another era of baseball.

The Jays championship teams of 1992-93 played the kind of baseball that was managed until the lineups were handed in. Then the players did the rest and that was that.

Watching Tampa Bay, you saw a team that gets on base and creates even when not at the plate. The Jays are not quite sluggers, but not quite small-ballers either. They're stuck in the middle and that's fittingly made them a .500 ballclub.

So with the game on the line that means relying on players to make plays. That doesn't sound unreasonable does it? Does it? Hello?

I'm not criticizing Cito Gaston. I think that he's done a fantastic job and kept a team together that long ago would have exploded under someone else. He's doing the best with the cards he's been dealt.

His managerial style is to relieve the pressure on ballplayers. All Cito wants to see is a guy go to the plate with a plan and then do his best; and the players love him for it. Cito Gaston is the best thing that's happened to Toronto since Riverdance left.

In close games though, doing your best has cost the Jays wins. The players have taken advantage of Cito's laissez-faire style of managing and applied it to every situation.

I fear the day Alex Rios joins the bomb-squad and is forced to pick a wire. He'd be so loose that the thing would explode while he's still picking out which flak jacket to wear.

Next time the Jays are in a bind, the whole stadium should just cover their eyes, and everyone watching at home should turn off their TV's. It's for the greater good.

No pressure or anything.



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