Game 14: Toronto Blue Jays
Kitty and I decided to use the very efficient Ontario public transport system, aptly named the GO system to travel into Toronto. It was a very short drive from our lakeside accommodation to the train station and then a pleasant 45 minute train ride which took us to within a ten minute walk to the Rogers Centre. It is very easy to find your way as it is located next to, what was until 2007, the tallest free standing structure in the world, the 1,815 foot tall CN Tower. We had time for a tour of the stadium which convinced me of one thing. This stadium was not really built for baseball.
The tour guide was a knowledgeable chap on the Rogers Centre, but not on baseball. He explained that the field was one of ten current MLB parks which were using artificial turf. Even I knew that this was a porky and that Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida was the only other artificial field still in existence. The Rogers Centre is also used extensively for football, soccer, music concerts and anything else that wants to use it. It is definitely not a dedicated baseball stadium and this distracts from its aesthetic appeal. While the retractable roof was open on this day, the whole feeling was one of sterility and no baseball hoop-la which we had become used to.
The artificial turf looked somehow tacky, as though it had been laid in a number of pieces. There were no gardens or water features and no kids play areas. I had to be impressed however by the three story high Jumbo Tron scoreboard and would also have loved to book into one of the 70 rooms in the Raddison hotel which is built right in the stadium. It would be nice to be able to watch a game out of your bedroom window in your pyjamas.
As I outlined the Blue Jays have been struggling over the last few years in a tough division but they are currently staying in touch with a .500 record for the season. The Washington Nationals have been playing some effective ball and are leading their division, the NL East.
Washington Nationals………….020 201 010 – 6
Toronto Blue Jays…………….……002 000.000 – 2
Let me go through this game innings by innings. The Blue Jays starting pitcher, Kyle Drabek got the first three batters out in order. I must mention here that the artificial pitcher’s mound is constructed on a fiberglass dish in a holding chamber. The dish is filled with water and the mound rises to field level where it is then locked in place for the duration of the game. After each game the water is drained and the mound lowered. It did not appear to bother Drabek at this stage. The leadoff batter for Toronto, Brett Lawrie hit a slow rolling groundball that was bobbled by the Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, allowing Lawrie to get on base. The Washington pitcher is their ace, Stephen Strasburg, and he closed the door, including strikeouts on Colby Rasmus and Edwin Encarnacion.
The Nationals began the second with a single and a walk. After a groundout, Tyler Moore, who to date had no career home runs of RBI’s, slammed in both runners with a ground rule double when he powered the ball over the centre field fence on the first bounce. A couple of great fielding plays though stranded Moore, but the Blue Jays went down quietly with both designated hitter David Cooper and J.P. Arencibia striking out. The Blue Jays defence helped Drabek out in the top of the third as short stop Yanel Escobar turned an innings ending double play to strand Bryce Harper after he had doubled with one out. The Jays squared the game up after Rajai Davis led off with a very well hit and run triple and scored on Lawrie’s ground out. With two out, local hero Jose Bautiska skied a long homer to left field, his 19th home run of the season, and third most in the league.
The defence could not help Drabek out in the top of the fourth as he gave up a two run shot to Moore, the happiest man in the park having driven in all four Washington runs. In the bottom half, Strasburg was in a groove, with two groundouts then a great fastball to strike out Kelly Johnson looking. After watching it on replay, the pitch started inside then swung back over the plate at 96 mph – unhittable stuff I would say. Nationals 4 Blue Jays 2.
Drabek injured his elbow and was replaced by Aaron Laffey and there was no scoring by either team in the fifth innings. Moore in just his 16th big league game slammed his second homer of the day. When the Blue Jays came up, Rasmus struck out for the third time of the day to begin another no run innings for the home team. In the seventh innings, Washington pitcher Strasburg left the game with a blister on his finger having only thrown 89 pitches: six innings, five hits, two runs, one walk, eight Ks (strike outs). The Blue Jays though still went down meekly. Ian Desmond hit a big solo home run for the Nationals but in the second half, after a promising start including a double by Rasmus, Cooper struck out swinging with two men on bases to finish the afternoon for him with 0 for 4 and two strikeouts. Toronto showed nothing in the ninth to complete their sixth loss in their last seven outings and to drop below .500 at 31-32. They will be looking forward to their lay day tomorrow.
Washington looked like a very good all round team with strong pitching complemented by powerful batting. It is not surprising then to see them at the top of the NL East division. The Blue Jays are of course battling a bit in the very tough and competitive AL East division. This inevitably leads me to question why is a National League team playing an American League team and is it a good idea.
Inter league play was introduced in 1997 largely in an effort to renew the public‘s interest in the sport following the damaging players strike of 1994. MLB’s first interleague game took place on June 12, 1997 as the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants at The Ballpark in Arlington. From 1997 to 2001, teams from the AL West played teams from the NL West, teams from the AL East played teams from the NL East and so on. In 2002 the league began alternating this around, changing which divisions played which divisions, and thus in 2002 the AL East played the NL West, the AL Central played the NL East and the AL West played the NL Central. Matchups which had been of particular interest prior to this format – mainly geographical rivals – were preserved. Interleague games are played before the All Star break and most are played in June.
The designated hitter rule is applied in the same manner as it is for the World Series. That is: in an AL ballpark both teams have the option of using a designated hitter. In an NL ballpark, both pitchers must hit (so my good friend Billy Butler gets a night off to do as he so desires). Of course with the current 14 – 16 teams split between the two leagues, all clubs can currently play interleague games on a given day. From 2013 when the Houston Astros will join the AL giving both leagues 15 teams it will force interleague play throughout the season. I understand that interleague games will be played as early as opening day and also during key division races towards the end of the season.
There are a number of factors for and against the continuation of interleague play. On the pro side, according to figures it has definitely increased attendances. (Although I have already noticed that with schools being out attendance seems to be higher in June with the influx of school kids on vacation). Another positive is that fans get to see players that they do not usually see. Chipper Jones for example has played his entire career for the Braves in the NL. Intriguing geographical rivalries are now being seen, which had not previously been seen for generations (e.g. in 2011 the Chicago Cubs travelled to Fenway Park for a series with the Boston Red Sox in what was their first visit to the stadium since the 1918 World Series). Which brings me to the next point, which is that it allows such World Series replays to occur (e.g. 1997 Braves and Yankees). Finally, it allows the relative strength of each league to be measured against each other over 252 games per year, rather than just in the World Series.
Conversely however on the negative side there are a number of series that are just not viewed as interesting by the fans. An example of this would be poorly performing teams in both leagues with no historical or geographical connections. Also AL pitchers generally do not like having to take batting practice or running the bases which can lead to injury or fatigue by doing something that they are not accustomed to. Because of the two leagues having different numbers of teams there have been irregularities and strength of schedule disparities. This will be remedied next year of course. Some teams though can end up playing inter league rivals more than rivals in their own league, an example I found of this was that this year the NL Padres are scheduled to play the AL Mariners six times while they only play the NL Nationals five times. (Of course on current form this would be a very favourable draw). The final argument that I can see against interleague play is that it removes some of the mystique of the World Series and the All Star games. The World Series is historically the only time when the best in the AL. fronts up to the best of the NL for a series.
The Blue Jays of course are in a very tough division and they are one of the teams who have really been assisted by interleague play. If they did not have to battle it out with traditional powerhouses like the Yankees and the Red Sox, and more recently the Rays they definitely would have found things easier going. Having said that, the Nationals are no easy beats either!
After debating the ins and outs of interleague play Kitty and I left the sprawling environment of the Rogers Centre and stumbled upon the Steam Engine Brewing Company right over the road. If you plan on doing a brewery tour they give you a free beer. We plan on doing a tour (some time) so enjoyed a complimentary ale before heading back to Union Station for our rendezvous with the GO system and on to Burlington in time for some refreshments while watching the sun set over Lake Ontario.