And now in the shortest of all baseball seasons, it will be up to Hyun-jin Ryu, the $80-million-dollar man, to advance the Blue Jays post-season cause beyond Wednesday afternoon.
It started on Tuesday. It could be over by Wednesday.
And entangled in all of this was the plan, the creative Blue Jays plan, an organization that is all about plotting and planning and altering an instinctual game by removing the instincts.
This is what happens with a Blue Jays team of youth and exuberance — that messed up a double play early and had Vladimir Guerrero Jr. misplay a foul pop fly, neither of which ended up hurting the Jays. This is a team run as much as calculators as people, relying more about the game plan than the game itself.
And when it works, or it doesn’t work — and there was a little of both of that Tuesday afternoon and evening — manager Charlie Montoyo can take pride in the plan, consider how well it worked, while at the same time realizing the Blue Jays are down 1-0 in a best of three series.
The Jays plan in the series is undefeated. The team is winless.
And if they lose on Wednesday, it’s bye-bye to this playoff team you can’t help but be attracted to.
Attracted to the team much moreso than attracted to the football mentality of a game-planning management that has sterilized baseball and taken out the human instincts that make the sport so delightful at any level.
The unlikely Matt Shoemaker started for the Blue Jays in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays and did the unlikely thing. He was brilliant. He was as great as he’s been as a Blue Jay. He made this strange collection of a batting order of Tampa players look rather overmatched through three innings.
And that was it. He was then taken out, not because there was any reason to remove him from the game but because that was pre-determined.
Robbie Ray, the erratic left-hander, replaced the sometimes erratic Shoemaker in the fourth inning and instantly gave up a triple to Randy Arozarena, who scored on a wild pitch to make it 1-0 Tampa.
Shoemaker had been perfect through three innings and looked not at all happy to be taken out of the game after facing just 11 batters.
“Without question, I wanted to go back out there,” he said afterwards.
On television, it appeared as though Shoemaker and pitching coach Pete Walker had words in the dugout.
“The competitive juices are always there,” he said. His way of saying they had words without saying they had words.
He knew that the plan was for him and Ray to pitch a combined six innings and then be in position to win the game.
And at the end of six and a half innings, the Rays led 1-0. The game was right there. And then Tampa did the Tampa kind of thing. The Rays, too, like to plan much of their strategy before the game, but somehow the Rays get these kind of confounded plays to win games.
Somebody named Manuel Margot, who hit one home run this season — that one coming against Baltimore, who everybody hits home runs against — hit a two-run homer in the seventh off A.J. Cole. That was basically it for the Jays in Game 1.
They did just about everything but hit in the opener. And no one plans for that. Cavan Biggio struck out three times in the leadoff spot, before doubling in the eighth inning. Bo Bichette was 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly RBI. Guerrero, batting fourth, where he has terrible statistics, went 0-for-3 in the cleanup spot. And only Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the professional hitter, had two hits for the Jays.
No one batter in the top eight of their order scored a run. One knocked in a run. Two extra-base hits came against the strong pitching of Tampa Bay. And now it’s on to Wednesday.
A playoff that started Tuesday could be over Wednesday. Just like that.
A batting order that looks so one-sided in Toronto’s favour didn’t come up with a home run from a nobody and a triple from a kid just finding his way. It came up with one run. It needed a shutout to win the game.
Nowhere in anyone’s game plan was there a home run for Margot written down. Maybe there should have been an introduction of ‘who the hell are you?’
“Hopefully we go out there (Wednesday) and win the game,” said Shoemaker, who threw 35 near perfect pitches. Three batters later it was 1-0 Tampa Bay.
“I felt so good about it,” said Montoyo, who is certainly being told how to utilize his pitching staff in this series and so many other series. “Great job by both of them today.”
He meant Shoemaker and Ray, even though he gave up a run. He didn’t mean A.J. Cole, who pitched a third of the seventh inning and gave up two runs.
“We had a chance right there to the end. Everything worked out great. That’s what we wanted, six innings from the two of them and keep our bullpen fresh for the next two days,” said Montoyo.
The creative part worked. Sort of. The Blue Jays were smart enough to almost win Game 1. And now it’s Hyun-jin Ryu’s time. The plan now is to give your best pitcher the ball, hold your breath, and hope for the best.
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