Indians

Under the C: How Jose Stopped a Jay Invasion

Jose Ramirez vs Blue Jays

Playing their first home series in a visitor’s ballpark since the April blizzard of 2007, the Indians (71-51) still managed to take two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays (70-54) in easily the most thrilling weekend set of the 2016 campaign. …What’s that you say? It wasn’t a visitor’s ballpark? That was Progressive Field the whole time? But, on the radio… I very clearly heard the familiar din of roughly 25,000 obnoxious, bandwagoning Canadians chanting “We Da Norf” with merely a smattering of loyal Tribe fans making the trip to oppose them. And you’re telling me that was all going down in The Land?!

And LeBron was there hearing that sh#@?!

For a city that just hosted a big convention largely dedicated to strict, militant border control, Cleveland sure did let itself get overrun with Ontarioans (Ontarians? Cheri Oteris?) this week in embarrassing fashion. They come pouring across Lake Erie, and they’re bringing dumb signs, the French ones all eat crêpes, and some of them, I guess, are good people. Either way, the weirdly upside-down, Skydome South dynamic at the stadium made for an even more electric atmosphere in a way, as three incredible Indians comebacks were further magnified by the actual Cleveland faithful rising up against the infiltrators from Nickelback country.

Jam Master J-Ram

Tyler Naquin launched his own celebrity brand on Friday night with the most inspired, least ironic devil-horns salute since Lemmy died. But the man of the hour—and the year if we’re being honest with ourselves—is Jose Ramirez. What more can be said about this pint-sized giant among men? Where once he was the Tribe’s Dellavedova—a scrappy, skittering chipmunk off the bench—he is now Joe Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Lake Erie Monsters captain Ryan Craig all combined into one: Steady, clutch, and still completely anonymous to the average Cleveland sports fan.

Marla Singer Tyler Naquin

While Naquin’s game-winner will be deservedly remembered for its theatrics and novelty (it was the Indians’ first walk-off inside-the-park home run in 100 years, after all), fewer people will remember that Ramirez actually tied that game in the at-bat before Tyler’s with a dinger of his own. And on Sunday, he muscled up again—this time from the right side of the plate—taking Brett Cecil deep in the bottom of the eighth to miraculously vault Cleveland into a 3-2 lead.

Since Jose got his new Heatmiser haircut on July 15 (the one that has somehow made helmets even LESS likely to stay on his head), he’s hitting .344 with 6 HR and 19 RBI. Some people have advanced from talking about Ramirez for team MVP to LEAGUE MVP. That’s completely insane, but so is a first place team playing a home game in front of a majority visitor crowd, or three one-run games being played without Andrew Miller making a single appearance. In any case, Jose’s Sunday homer was his 10th, as he’s suddenly added a legit power stroke to his seemingly endless offensive arsenal.1

Dumb, Fun Stat

With Lonnie Chisenhall’s big three-run blast on Saturday, Cleveland now has seven players with double-digit homers and two within striking distance (Chiz and Gomes have eight). Lonnie should get to 10 pretty easily, and if Yan comes back and pulls it off, the Tribe would have nine 10-HR men for just the fifth time in team history (the team record is 10 in 2009 and 2013). One thing this franchise has NEVER done, however, is have 9-plus players hit 10-plus home runs AND 5-plus pitchers win 10-plus games. This stat is far more quirky than meaningful, the cynics will all say, but with Kluber, Tomlin, and Salazar already over the mark and Carrasco (8) and Bauer (9) likely to get there, it’d be an amusing accomplishment nonetheless, and a testament to a well-rounded ball club.

Tito Tinkering

Because Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, and Mike Clevinger all escaped their weekend appearances unscathed, there has been very little push back on Terry Francona for turning to those three in critical late-game situations while keeping the Andrew Miller bullet in the chamber all weekend. Three tightrope games, a playoff atmosphere, a first place opponent… and no Andrew Miller? Isn’t this the exact scenario we brought the dude on board for? Well, yes and no. Miller was warming in the pen as Cody Allen sweated through the ninth inning on Sunday, so we can assume his health wasn’t the issue. The only other logical explanation, then, is that Francona—working with a seven-game lead in the division—wanted to give Miller an extended breather with the stretch run looming.

Another factor, perhaps, was getting a better gauge on what the club actually has in Manship, McAllister, and particularly Clevinger, as it concerns the postseason. Bringing the rookie into a bases loaded situation against Edwin Encarnacion, considering his control problems—seemed downright batshit to me if the goal was winning the game. But, after Clevinger showed what he’s capable of inarguably the most high stakes appearance of his pro career, Francona not only got a good result, but invaluable information to put away for later. I suppose it’s possible a guy who’s been in a Major League dugout his entire life might know more than me about at least a couple things.

Blue Jay Migration Patterns

For much of the early part of this century, the West Nile virus devastated the North American Blue Jay population (only 13 percent of which live in Canada, by the way—#NotAllBlueJays). Along with their dwindling numbers, jays are also tough to track anyway because of their confusing migratory patterns. “Thousands of Blue Jays migrate in flocks along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts,” says AllAboutBirds.org, “but much about their migration remains a mystery. Some are present throughout winter in all parts of their range. Young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults, but many adults also migrate. Some individual jays migrate south one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year. No one has worked out why they migrate when they do.”

Well, I may have worked it out. Blue Jays are far more likely to migrate when they’re playoff contenders. It’s an ornithological phenomenon known as “front-runner flight” or “fair weather feathers.”

The invasion Cleveland witnessed this weekend was all too familiar to locals who remember the height of Jay hysteria in the ‘90s, when the maple leaf scourge would take over old Municipal Stadium in a similar fashion. During the West Nile years, or the second Cito Gaston era, those traveling throngs diminished a bit. The Canadian Blue Jay’s bright plumage was dulled in the process, as well, as Toronto fans were forced to look at awful matte-grey and black uniforms, as management snobbily tried to follow trends and sell hip new merchandise. “What color should the BLUE Jays be?! NOT blue, that’s for sure!” went their marketing meetings. Canadians were displeased, the team sucked (except for Roy Halladay), and the migration paths rarely went much beyond Mississauga.

Canadian Blue Jay in natural habitat. Seen here with a mascot.

Then, about five years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were finally through being cool. After a decade or so of denying any correlation between their team name and color scheme, the Jays introduced brand new blue jerseys—which were conveniently also their old blue jerseys. They also brought back the original, less streamlined logo—the passive-looking bird’s head with a maple leaf rudely jammed under its feather crest. Folks across Canada were giddy, suddenly reminded of Joe Carter glories past, but also of other happy ‘90s memories, like Koosh balls, Sega Genesis, and the greatest band of the era, the Barenaked Ladies (remember, this is from the Canadian point of view). Soon, they would begin flocking beyond their borders once more to yell at the world about Jose Bautista’s awesome bat flip that everyone already knows about. The invasive species has returned and is destroying the habitats of other birds and drinking all their beer.

Lloyd Moseby Nesting Habits

Weirdly, way down south in Ohio, I found myself surprisingly pleased to see the Jays re-introduce their old logo and colors, too. Not because I ever spent a single moment of my life caring about Toronto (it’s like Chicago with inferior museums and fewer murders, right?), but because of my own random childhood memories of pre-cable Indians games on WUAB, squaring off against the likes of George Bell, Dave Stieb, and to a lesser but more peculiar extent, Lloyd Moseby.

Lloyd Moseby, if you don’t recall (shame!), was a first round pick of the fledgling Blue Jays in 1978, and wound up being their center fielder for basically the entire decade of the 1980s. He was only a .257 career hitter, but he could steal you 30 bases and hit you 20 bombs, so he was no slouch. That said, it was not Moseby’s on-field production that left a mark on me as a kiddo. In a way, you could say it was his modeling work.

Back in 1988, during the height of my baseball card collecting days (a hobby which proved to be a colossal waste of time from a financial standpoint), I declared no special allegiance to one card-making company over another. I recall knowing even then that Donruss sucked, but nonetheless, my collection included plenty of those shitty Diamond Kings cartoons in amongst the Topps, Score, and Fleer piles. And it was out of this jumble of competing card manufacturers that the greatness of the Blue Jays’ Lloyd Moseby first caught my eye. You see, in 1988, Lloyd was part of a baseball card phenomenon not unlike the aligning of three planets in the night sky. In a masterstroke of unprecedented consistency, he apparently approached each photo shoot that spring with an identical, almost scientifically precise pose in mind. As a result, Topps, Donruss, and Fleer—three distinct companies with their own art departments—all wound up with comically identical-looking Lloyd Moseby cards in their respective 1988 sets.

Lloyd Moseby

Right knee on ground, left elbow balanced on left knee, right palm resting on the knob of a bat, right elbow pointed skyward at a 45-degree angle.

Why, almost 30 years later, would I remember this useless, quirky factoid about a guy who wasn’t even on either of the Jays’ World Series teams? Well, the truth is, I didn’t really remember it… until I saw those blue jerseys again.

Two Cannot Play at That Game

I had a thought of suggesting a big movement for Indians fans to purchase 20,000 tickets to a weekend series in Toronto next year, but you and I both know this will never happen. If we can’t average 20,000 in our own park, I don’t think we’re going to get that many people to book AirCanada flights.

  1. Over the last 30 days, Ramirez leads all of the American League in fWAR with 1.8, ahead of notables like Adrian Beltre, Jose Altuve, and Mookie Betts. []