Eighty-six games. That's how long the fun and excitement lasted in what was the most fun and exciting start to a Blue Jays season since the team went to back-to-back World Series in '92 and '93.
Sure the 2006 edition was 49-39 at the All-star break and finished with 87 wins but they never held a playoff position, division or wild card, after the first two weeks of the season. Other than that, it's been a long and painful grind for Blue Jay fans over the last 15+ years.
With the emergence of the prospect-loaded Tampa Bay Rays last year, the playoffs went from being an extremely difficult but not totally impossible proposition for Toronto - hoping either the Yanks or Red Sox have an off year and no other team runs away with the wild card, to indeed becoming an impossibility. Beating three teams in your own division that are very clearly better than you, perhaps even the top three teams in all of baseball? Not going to happen.
That's why on May 18th, at 27 -14 and sporting the best record in the majors, Blue Jays fans were varying degrees of delighted, ecstatic, and shocked. The hitters were knocking the cover off the ball, a no-name pitching staff (outside of Doc Halladay) was racking up quality starts, Cito Gaston was baseball's winningest manager in the previous 100 games and the fans were enjoying a different, and foreign, feeling. A winning feeling. A first place feeling.
Boy was it sweet. Continuosly playing with the lead. Repeatedly getting the two-out hits when they mattered. Waking up everyday and poring over another winning box score. Checking and re-checking the standings and always seeing Toronto at the top. It was completely unexpected and altogether unlikely to continue, but it didn't make it any less painful when it stopped.
Following last night's loss to Tampa, the Jays are all the way back to .500 on the season and are considerably closer to last place than first in the AL East. Seven teams are ahead of them in the wild card race and it might as well be all of them. It feels like the wind has been knocked out of me, like my dog ran away. It's nice to see that key positional players, guys like Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, are also taking it personally. (Sarcasm alert.)
The bats predictably cooled off, the rotation features several guys nobody has ever heard of and changes on a daily basis, and the bullpen has completely imploded. The ride is officially over.
Earlier in the week J.P. Riccardi publicly stated his willingness to deal the most dominant pitcher in the game, the same guy who also happens to be the only current reason anyone would bother tuning in to the Blue Jays, Roy Halladay. Every fifth day could be the time Halladay throws the second no-hitter in Toronto history, he's that good.
It just doesn't matter. Halladay could win 25 games a year and throw multiple perfect games and it still wouldn't matter because a middle of the range payroll will never compete with New York or Boston in the AL East. At least not the way this middle of the range payroll team is constructed.
The Rays have provided the blue-print: Stockpile young prospects and then hope they develop.
Until Toronto does, a 41 game start and an 86 game ride back to .500 is the best Blue Jay fans can ask for. But what if we want more?