One by one, the players stopped by the locker of Jordan Romano, his eyes red, his face almost expressionless, the Blue Jays standing in their own reception line of sadness and condolence, all of them looking for a hug, a kind word, something to make this night feel better.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” the great closer whispered. “You know, I felt great. I felt like I was making good pitches, and throwing strikes. I had good stuff. And I just got beat. That bloop.”
“That effin’ bloop:” said one of his teammates, walking away, another nodding, each of them heading back to their lockers.
The Blue Jays players were there, not sure where to go, what to say, who to talk to.
This was the Jays clubhouse on Saturday night, partially stunned, partially in shock, players having trouble finding the right words to explain what still seems unexplainable.
Around the room, there were hugs and tears and no real words to make sense of what just happened. You could feel almost every emotion you can think of and probably some you haven’t.
There has never been a loss like this for the Blue Jays, a defeat this painful, this sudden, this significant. They were leading 8-1 in the sixth inning, on their way to a playoff game Sunday against the Seattle Mariners. This looked like a laugher. And then it wasn’t funny at all.
“There’s nothing I can say right now that’s going to make me feel any better,” said Teoscar Hernandez, who hit two home runs and scored three runs for the Jays in the 10-9 loss.
“That’s the game. Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. Today, we lose.”
It was over and it was that unexpected. The game. The series. The season. All of it happening so fast, so wildly.
The Mariners scored four runs in the sixth inning, four more in the eighth, one in the ninth.
All of it changed on a bloop hit, that knocked out George Springer, that came before Cal Raleigh scored on Adam Frazier’s double and left the Jays almost lifeless, turning a seven-run lead turned into a 10-9 loss and series sweep for the visiting Mariners.
This was the Bruins and the Leafs in Game 7, the great collapse, nine years later. Except that this was probably worse for Toronto because that Leafs team was rather ordinary and this Blue Jays team had the talent and the spirit to go places.
And now the only place they’re going is home.
Romano left the mound in the ninth inning, having given up the bloop double to Seattle’s No. 9 hitter, J.P. Crawford one inning earlier. A ball that fell somewhere between shortstop and centre field. Bo Bichette wildly tried to make a catch and, in doing so, made it almost impossible for the hard-charging Springer to reach the bloop that turned into a three-run double that tied the score 9-9.
Springer was carted off the field and the Jays had little life after that.
Maybe this was the John Schneider second-guess. He had a big lead and Jackie Bradley Jr., the great defensive outfielder, on his bench. He could have moved Bradley into centre field, and moved Springer into either left field or right. Maybe Bradley makes that catch and there’s a game on Sunday. That’s why they had him. That’s why they should have had Bradley Zimmer on the playoff roster instead of rookie catcher Gabriel Romero. For purposes of base running and defence.
Or maybe this is just a second-guess, which is what baseball is all about. Usually, we do this on the day after — not always on the night of.
Why weren’t the right moves made? Why didn’t Randy Carlyle call a timeout in the final 10 minutes? Why didn’t James Reimer make a save? Why didn’t a ball sent to centre field get caught and put the Jays in position to have a Game 3 on Sunday?
“Some days, those get caught,” said Romano, brought in for the eighth inning and probably an unlikely two-inning save. “Some days they do, some days they don’t. That’s the game. I gave up the hit. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”
And when he walked off the mound, the relatively short walk to the dugout seemed like it took forever.
A day ago, an afternoon really, Romano was being introduced to the loud fans at Rogers Centre, with probably the greatest of all Blue Jays ovations. Here was the kid from Markham, starring all season long, getting his first playoff introduction.
“Being this close,” said Romano. “This is your job. This is being a closer. It doesn’t always work out.”
Now the Blue Jays season ends, this soon, at least a day early. Maybe a week early. Who knows how long this playoff run could have been with a win Saturday night?
The way Kevin Gausman came out on Saturday afternoon, he deserved better and the Jays deserved better. And somehow, this punch in the gut turned an easy win into a defeat forever to be discussed and debated.
Alek Manoah may not have been his usual self in Game 1 when the Jays lost the opener, but the veteran Gausman was superb in Game 2, giving the Mariners next to nothing to hit. Staying on top of hitters. The statistics in the boxscore lying about the quality of his outing.
He should have won Saturday. The Jays should have won. But Tim Mayza couldn’t get outs coming in for Gausman who stoically watched the final three innings with the same kind of disbelief that all of Canada watched. This was it. This season of promise gone. The wounds partially self-inflicted.
The locker room near silent in the mid-evening. The night the Blue Jays stopped smiling.