There’s nothing quite like beating up on a farm team, and that’s precisely what it feels like with the Oakland A’s. They’re like a competitive Baltimore Orioles team that wants to play for pride while ending up with results worthy of a second-rate team with a first-rate brain trust of sagely advisors and baseball experts, but at least they fundamentally understand the importance of a marketed rebuilding and strategic tanking. The A’s have been 313-233 (.573) over the past four years with one of the smallest total payrolls in baseball (today it sits just over $50m), and that’s incredibly admirable in a league where Yankees and Dodgers walk around like they own the place. But unlike in Toronto where Mark Shapiro took his sweet time dismantling, trading away and reshaping the Jays in his image until they were ready to burst on the scene with media-hyped vengeance, GM David Forst will need to rely on grand poobah and ancient-zen master Billy Beane to advise him on the merits of moneyball-oriented decisions with limited attention span fandom. So far, it seems to be working for a franchise that spends pittance on payroll and has profoundly low-to-no expectations from their fans.
I can only imagine what it was like during September, 1947, as a fresh-faced Jackie Robinson toured the United States with his No. 42 jersey as a beacon for progress against the weight of the world on his shoulders. The chronic harassment, the cruel and relentless abuse, the bewilderment of stone-cold intolerance and incendiary racist bile that he faced every single day of every single week. He may have broken the colour barrier with his sheer presence, but his generational talents were long overdue (he led the Montreal Royals with a .349 average and 40 stolen bases the previous year) and heralded by baseball insiders willing to look past the colour of his skin. But thanks to a potent cocktail of daring base-running and superb clutch-hitting, he electrified baseball fans with raw talent and unflappable poise (pitchers beaned him 44 times in his rookie campaign), and showed us the humanity of diligence and value of perseverance. The sport of baseball evolved with Robinson, and by the end of the 1970’s, half the MVP winners that decade were African-American. Today, they represent less than 7% of all players in the league, down for nearly 20% back in the halcyon days of Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, Roy Campanella, Bob Gibson, and Reggie Jackson. By the time he was done in 1957 with a career shortened by cardiovascular issues, diabetes and partial blindness, Robinson left a mark on the game like none other before him, and no one since – as one of the greatest singular talents to ever lift a bat and wear a glove.
Jordan Romano is now 5 for 5 in save opportunities and has 28 in a row dating backing to the first wave of the pandemic. It’s nice to have a bona fide closer in a day and age where many bullpens are by committees and filled with a hodge-podge of different recycled arms for different occasions. But not for the Blue Jays; this is a team that still savours the memories of Tom Henke, Duane Ward, Billy Koch, B.J. Ryan, Casey Janssen, and
Roberto Osuna. The Terminator spoiled us with his quiet durability and endless poise; it’s a tradition that’s stood out in Toronto for a long time and has returned with a flourish thanks to Romano and his heroics. He’s come a long way from the Markham-raised draft pick that was traded to other organizations that no one wanted, to the dominant closer getting paid pittance to perform epic magic tricks to seal the game in front of 50,000 roaring fans.
Journeyman Ross Stripling did a fine job last night alongside a quintumvirate of relievers. You can’t help but love this Richards-Mayza-Cimber-Garcia-Romano gauntlet of five innings relief that made the victory possible. Early on, this Blue Jays bullpen is leaving its mark as a force to be reckoned with considering Charlie Montoyo’s lack of quality starts from quality starters. Hyu-jin Ryu has an opportunity this afternoon to change that trend, and quickly. Burning out arms in April usually leads to an ash heap of trouble come August.
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