Most Blue Jays’ veterans feel they simply pushed the reset button on the season via an overhyped players-only clubhouse meeting on Saturday morning. What was more important in a 3-2 win versus the Red Sox was manager John Gibbons pushing all the right buttons with his pitching – J.A. Happ, to Joaquin Benoit, to Jason Grilli to Roberto Osuna, for the save, just the way it’s drawn up.
Whatever the true reason for the critical, nail-biting Jays victory, the end result was important for the Jays to stay on the heels of the first-place Sox. Order has been restored. The race for the AL East continues, with 21 games remaining.
“The meeting we had was for certain things of cleaning house,” said the veteran Grilli, a 39-year-old voice of reason. “There’s things, we regrouped. Guys had to say some things, make sure we’re all on the same page. That’s it.”
Grilli pitched the important eighth inning, handling the top of the Sox order, working around a tough error credited to Troy Tulowitzki on a chopper by David Ortiz, handing off the lead to the closer, Osuna. The Jays stuck to the script.
“The names on the jerseys in this room have all had success in the big leagues,” Grilli said of the Jays’ rebound from Friday night’s debacle.
“That’s why we’re all together. I can just speak for when I got here, just excited to go from no shot to an opportunity. If you said at spring training, this is where we’re going to be on this date, everybody would raise his hand and say, ‘I’m in.’ Everyone reset and we’re all in to do what we’re all capable of. We regrouped and we showed that’s the kind of team we are.”
As much as the contributions of the pitching staff, Grilli was equally impressed by the bounce-back in less than 24 hours of Melvin Upton Jr. with an early two-run homer and Devon Travis with three hits and carefully solid defence.
“Melvin got booed (on Friday), a lot by Toronto’s home fans,” Grilli said. “For him to come out here and do that today, what does that tell you? Me and (reliever Scott) Feldman had chills to sit there and go, ‘They were hating on him yesterday and loving him today.’ But that’s the beauty of baseball, isn’t it. That’s what a true big-leaguer is right there because there’s always tomorrow.”
Grilli insists the team pays no attention to any of the raging social media angst surrounding the ebbs and flows of the season. But he is aware of the questions that have surfaced about his own recent performances on the failed road trip. There are doubters that question his age, his durability and his eighth-inning status. The setup man believes fans and media are reactionary and all need to relax.
“None of us read that (crap),” Grilli said of the Chicken Little social media. “If you read every comment … you can’t please everybody. It’s impossible. I don’t care if you’re a cook or a secretary, or whatever. You’re not going to please everybody.
“We were focused on (Saturday’s) game. We can’t change any woulda, coulda, shoulda on a game that we’ve already lost or won. It’s about right now and the urgency to win right now. It’s become not just a three-team race. It’s become a four-team race. Our eyes are on the biggest prize. Nobody wants to just get a foot in the door. We want to win the division and we still have time to do that.”
Sunday, the Jays can tie the Red Sox for first place behind the talented Aaron Sanchez. Grilli insists there is no lack of effort and has not been all season. He feels only the players inside the walls of that clubhouse know what teammates are going through, physically and otherwise, so the rest is simply background noise.
“It’s the latter part of the season, it’s a time when it’s a grind,” Grilli said. “It’s like doing that extra set in the weight, going the extra mile training for a marathon. This is what you train hard for. This is the push.
“I mean you’ve got a guy over there, (Russ Martin) banged up as hell and he’s still diving in the dugout, jumping off the step to get a foul ball. That’s when you sit there and we know who’s in the training room getting treatment. We know who’s banged up and giving all of themselves. It’s not a lack of effort.”
As for his own ability at 39 to pitch deep into October, he can’t win and so he doesn’t try to answer the critics, except when he is handed the ball.
“It’s like an everyday player,” he shrugged. “You play every day, you’re going to feel different every day. It’s just a matter of how much time it takes to recover. That’s the adjustment. That’s the grind of the season. I may have a 92 miles-per-hour fastball instead of 94 (mph), but I’ll figure a way to make it work. I’m not looking at a radar gun, but it’s a game of adjustments.
“I’m pitching how I see it, no rhyme or reason. I’m not going to my laptop and looking up my spin rate or the statistical data. No, I’m not looking at that. I’m watching guys’ swings, I’m looking at scouting reports, I’m watching the game and relishing who I know I’m going to face in the eighth inning.”
This is not the same Jays team as a year ago, but it’s also a deeper, tougher East. The division crown won’t be decided Sunday. It will probably go down to the final week with the Sox, Jays, O’s and Yankees all in the mix. The final three weeks will be a bumpy ride for whoever emerges, but fun for the players and fans.