BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH: BLUE JAYS 9 (6) – 9 INDIANS
Unbridled swagger has come home to roost in Toronto, Ontario. A municipal token of cultural pride, soon to be distributed at retail establishments: an a-side image of Drake at a Raptors game, the b-side the hybrid mullet-‘do of Josh Donaldson, pocketed and hung like medallions, in a city-wide fad—from Centre Island to Bloor Street, Oshawa to Mississauga.
The roof is open at the Rogers Centre. Cheers pouring out from the upper decks like an English soccer stadium—a moaning, chanting refrain of inscrutable noise, and then, a collective cry funneled right into the ears of the Indians’ pitcher. “…You suck!!”
— Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 2, 2016
Dan Otero gathers himself, half-stumbling with echoes of disdain rebounding around him, and Darwin Barney steps up to the plate for Toronto. The swagger of 40,000 voices at his back. And in three quick pitches, it’s gone quiet—the roar stopped by a typical Barney out, a strikeout looking on a curveball down the middle.
Otero digs back in on the mound, setting up again with the game all tied, his name, if ever famous enough, a perfect crossword-puzzle answer (on or above par with OTERI—“S.N.L. star Cheri”).
He lets slip a four-pitch walk to Ezequiel Carrera. In comes Tommy Hunter from the Indians’ pen, Otero walks off from the mound.
Hunter delivers, the hefty might of an overweight windup, and Travis lofts the first pitch into center—a corkscrew swing and curling line drive lined over second base.
Two Jays on base, one out. The game tied. Josh Donaldson strolling in from the on-deck circle. Fresh off a game-tying home run an inning earlier.
The crowd stands, a stadium-wide show of intimidation as Hunter bluffs confidence on the mound. Donaldson mutters something under his breath, just loud enough for Hunter to hear: “You’re mine, homie.”
Trouble again on the first pitch, with the long Cleveland win streak lodged even further now into the past. Donaldson slaps at it, rocked off balance, as the bat slides under the ball like a spatula, flipping a pancake single into center, a burst of rubber pellets spraying up off the outfield turf—and the Indians’ centerfielder charges in with jumbled momentum, with mustard on the ball like a backspun tennis shot. Tyler Naquin fields it, Carrera is sent home, rounding third. Edwin Encarnacion jumps around in the on-deck circle, waving him home.
The throw comes in hard from center. Carrera slides. Bending and contorting, legs together launching into a superman dive for the plate as Chris Gimenez gloves the throw and whips around on a pivot for the tag.
“Out!!” the home-plate umpire calls. “Out!!” screams Tommy Hunter. “Safe!!” shouts Encarnacion.
Carrera pops up and screams at the ump, protesting, pointing to the higher-ups peering out from the dugout shade—that he’s in the right, he’s safe, he worked some magic maneuver no one else saw, that he got under the tag, brought in the winning run. Challenge, he says. Challenge! Challenge it!
A broadcast camera zooms in on Donaldson standing on first, standing on the bag after watching the play at home. “Hey!” he shouts, to no one in particular. “Hey!” again, barking mad as if intimidate the call into his favor.
The Rogers Centre riles up into a vocal den of protest. Heads turn to the jumbotron, watching and rewatching the play, contesting its result. And the words of Josh Donaldson go answered and repeated, with arms all in the air: “Hey! … Hey!”
Jays’ manger John Gibbons gets on the phone, consults with the video crew, calls for the challenge.
Play under review.
In Spanish, la carrera: the race. And one Ezequiel Carrera dashing home, the race for a winning run, the race between throw and sprint, ball and runner, Jay and Indian—with the bang-bang finish up in the air and an entire ballpark awaiting a game-winner.
The umpires don headsets and call in to the MLB head replay center, listening to what the rest of us see now on TV: a clear slide called the wrong way.
Carrera dives as if laying out for an deep outfield catch, both legs parallel in the air, flying past Naquin’s glove and onto the plate, with one hand darting low toward the ground, just swiping the corner as the rest of his body crashes down into the dirt behind it.
Gimenez missed the tag. Safe at home.
Carrera sprints up and down through the dugout, veins throbbing in his neck, all muscles flexed and a dozen rounds of high-fives from the team as Toronto takes a one-run lead. 7-6 Jays.
— Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 2, 2016
The inning goes on, with Encarnacion striking out on a fastball up and in, no swing. And it’s down to Michael Saunders, up with two men still on, two outs, and Hunter delivering home with a hittable fastball.
Saunders swings, connects, and the balls slices down the left-field line, curving inside and out, off the wall on one bounce. Two men score. 9-6 Jays.
The inning ends with the camera, once again, on Donaldson—talisman of collective Toronto swagger, jump-starting the league’s best offense each day of the season—grinning in the dugout, with the image of a first-place AL East finish glinting in his eye.
The inning ends, with Carrera belly-bumping the bench coach, pumped up with the fire of ten Marcus Stromans.
There’s a swagger deposit being mined on the shores of Lake Ontario, tapped deep into a vein of blue-and-white ore. A winning ballclub, a surging confidence. An endless quarry of pride.
A Blue Jays flag on top.