Said it before, say it again: All the Blue Jays need is to get out of the American League East and the time-space continuum.
The All-Time Jays have captured the division flag, holding off the Arizona-Colorado D-Rocks to win by four games, with an underwhelming 79-75 record.
It's the most which could have been hoped for, especially after they began September by losing eight games in a row to fall three games back. However, from that point forward, they won 15 of their last 25 games, clinching on the penultimate day of the regular season when Roger Clemens hurled a three-hit shutout to beat Seattle. That sets up a first-round playoff matchup vs. the Cleveland Poz Buttons, the Midwest division champions (94-60 record). It will be best-of-5, with Clemens, Roy Halladay and Jimmy Key set to start, since they're about the only viable options.
It was tense (well, not really, it is imaginary baseball). One of the tendencies of the Out of The Park baseball-sim franchise is that players will go in the tank just randomly. The pitching staff more or less fell apart and whatever shuffling and shuttling of players that would have worked is, frankly, beyond my ken. Jonah Keri coaxed the Montreal Expos to an 83-71 record (the 'Spos went 46-32 from July 1 on, nearly .600 ball), but he's a lot smarter than this general mangler.
It looked doomed on the night of Sept. 9 after an 8-2 shellacking in Kansas City, where David Cone (who could have helped the Jays based on his two partial seasons in Toronto) threw a complete game and George Brett went 4-for-5. The next night, was the breakout game of all-time. It was 1-1 in the second when David Wells, validating the LaRussian strategy of having the pitcher bat eighth, smacked a two-out single, which snowballed into a nine-run rally, bookended by Wells (lifetime average: .129) getting his second hit of the inning to bring in the ninth run.
Ernie Whitt, who finished the season hitting a superb .293/.365./.488 while making 117 starts behind the plate, had the big blow with a three-run homer. (Amusingly, that prompted the Royals to bring in the Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky, who immediately plunked Joe Carter.) The eventual 17-3 win, followed by a 10-5 blowout the next night, got everything turned around. The story of the stretch drive, in brief vignettes.
- Halladay and A.J. Burnett came through Sept. 17-18 in a two-game sweep of the Orioles, 6-2 and 5-2, trimming the lead to one game entering a four-game set at the 'Dome vs.the D-Rocks. Devon White hit a game-winning home run off Jim Palmer in the second game.
- The All-Time Jays then took the first three games of that series, 10-3, 8-1 and 4-2, with Halladay throwing four-hit ball over eight innings in the tense third game. Doc has had a rough season, but is going into the playoffs having won three of his last four decisions.
Arizona won the last game of the series, 12-3, leaving town only a game off the lead after coming in up one, but the damage had been done.
- From April to August, Joe Carter accumulated more Air Miles and splinters than RBI, shuffling between Triple-A Las Vegas and a seat on the bench. He came to life over the final five weeks, slugging .500 in 126 times at bat with nine homers and 22 runs scored, including a go-ahead grand slam homer in the win that clinched a tie for the division.
Earlier, Carter raked during a six-game stretch following the D-Rocks series. The Jays only had to face the Yankees and Whitey Ford, the Red Sox and Cy Young, and the Twins and Walter Johnson, but they managed to go 3-3, all one-run wins.
Carter homered, doubled and drew a leadoff walk off Ford to set up the winning run in a 5-4 win, on Sept. 24.
B.J. Ryan, a late-season saviour of out of the bullpen, was a deserving winner after facing the minimum six hitters over the final two innings, getting Derek Jeter, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle in order. (Ryan walked Gehrig to start the nervous ninth, but got Mantle on a liner and then picked the Iron Horse off first base.)
The next night, Carter doubled in the bottom of the ninth and came in via a passed ball and a ground ball, clinching a 4-3 victory for Jimmy Key. The left-hander's valiant effort seemed to have gone for naught when he gave up a Ruthian home run that put the Yankees ahead in the eighth inning.
However, in the home half, Robbie Alomar beat out an infield hit on a grounder between third and short (although one can only imagine Jeter showed outstanding intangibles on the play). The Yankees couldn't turn off a double play off a Tony Fernandez two-hopper (again, despite the Captain's outstanding intangibles). That kept the inning alive for Troy Glaus to smack a game-tying double.
- Glaus also started the club back when it beat the Big Train, 7-6 on Sept. 29. Johnson, who was going for his 25th win, had a 5-3 lead, but Glaus touched him up for a leadoff double in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Fred McGriff won an eight-pitch battle with a RBI single that cut the margin to 5-4, and Devon White, Lloyd Moseby and Carlos Delgado followed with run-scoring hits off one the imaginary-baseball incarnation of one of the game's greatest all-time pitchers. Johnson ended up finishing 25-8.
- Another great piece of two-out lightning came in a 9-2 win over the Dodgers on Oct. 3 (a day that lives in Blue Jays infamy). It was a one-run game through six. Hershiser got the first two outs in the seventh, before being bled drier than a kosher chicken by six straight singles, including a two-run single by Halladay on an 0-2 pitch, no less.
- Nevertheless, the lead was still a very shaky two games heading into a season-ending four-game set vs. Seattle. For one game and 5½ innings of the second, it seemed like a choking situation.
A.J. Burnett failed on two fronts; his Toronto self couldn't stop the spoiler-minded Mariners, who won 8-5. while his Florida self took his 20th loss of the season at the hands of the D-Rocks in an 8-0 curbstomping.
Seattle built a three-run lead vs. Jimmy Key the next night, on early homers by Raúl Ibáñez and Alex Rodriguez.
It was white-knuckle time heading into the bottom of the sixth. Robbie Alomar, though, waited out a leadoff walk off Erik Hanson, who suddenly reverted to form. With the bases loaded and two out, Carter crushed a full-count fastball off Windows restaurant to stake the Jays to the lead. Key, who went the distance in the 5-3 win, and Clemens, with his shutout, took it from there.
Playing the Clevelands will not be easy. Poz's pounders scored 885 runs, most in the league and were second in on-base-plus-slugging (.806).
Albert Belle had a massive year, 36 homers and 125 RBI, while four players on-based in the .400 range: Jim Thome (.409), Tris Speaker (.407), Joe Sewell (.406) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (.396). Their catching tandem, Johnny Romano and Sandy Alomar Jr., combined for 21 homers and 103 RBI.
They had three players with at least 100 runs scored and 200 hits: Jackson, Speaker and leadoff man Napoleon Lajoie. This merely proves that they played their regulars way too much and will be tired, far as this Eastern Ontario country boy is concerned.
Most impressive of all, GM Posnanski managed to get Duane Kuiper his one at-bat. He swung at the first pitch and grounded out, but the fact he got to do that was victory enough.
"This is very important, I’ve got to get Duane Kuiper at least one at-bat. There is absolutely no point in even being in this league if I’m not going to get Duane ... his at-bat." -- March 11, 2009If this wasn't totally for fun, one would treat that as an act of arrogance. You didn't see the far less famous GM of the All-Time Jays putting Rob Butler on his 40-man roster and trying to sneak him into a September game.
Cleveland isn't so formidable on the mound. Their top three starters are Addie Joss (3.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), left-hander Sudden Sam McDowell (4.57, 1.50) and ol' Rapid Robert himself, Bob Feller (4.83. 1.64). It seems wise to bank on those three getting the call over Hall of Fame fourth and fifth starters, Gaylord Perry (4.22) and Stan Coveleski (4.25). Cleveland is so stacked that Bert Blyleven and CC Sabathia are middle relievers, for crying out loud.
The Jays can counter with Clemens (3.35, 1.31 WHIP 248 strikeouts, fourth in the league), Key (5.17, 1.38) and Halladay (4.47, 1.37).
Offensively, it seems best to dance with what got you here:
- White (.336/.384/.578) stays in the leadoff spot despite the temptation to move him into the middle of the lineup to take advantage of his power. Don't mess up a good thing.
- Alomar (.298/.348/.417, 100 runs, 38 steals) probably hits in the 2-hole. Tony Fernandez (.289/.340/.373) has been in a funk for a while.
- It's a tough question to figure who should hit third. Delgado led the league in slugging at .618, on-based .408 and led the team in the Triple Crown stats (.316 average, 40 homers, 114 RBI). Putting him third, with either the red-hot Carter (four homers in his last five games) in the cleanup spot) or lefty-masher Glaus (11 of his 17 homers) batting cleanup keeps the two lefty power threats apart.
- Speaking of which, Ernie Whitt may have to stay in the lineup because his bat is so valuable. Platoon partner Pat Borders hasn't been much with the stick, but he saves the team a lot of runs.
Whitt, as noted, had a great year. He was second on the team in homers (17) and on-base percentage (.365), slugging percentage (.488) and OPS (.853). There was some reluctance to hit him in the 5-hole, but it worked out well.
- Lloyd Moseby cooled off in the second half of the season (he OPSed about .600 after Sept. 1). He started every game, playing at all three outfield spots, and scored a team-high 110 runs. Still, he might have to be dropped down to balance out the lineup.
- Neither Orlando Hudson (.290 on-base, .348 slugging) or Rance Mulliniks (.338/.333) has offered much as a platoon third baseman. Mulliniks will probably get a chance in the playoffs after delivering some key pinch hits late in the season.
- Tom Henke had a couple blown saves down the stretch. B.J. Ryan is the club's hottest reliever, but do you change the closer this deep into the season? The mind reels.