Oh, good mercy, have they been waiting for this.
The Labatts are cold. The poutine cheese is curdling. The Zambonis are armed and ready.
The Texas Rangers, wounded and down 0-2 to Canada’s beloved Blue Jays, are headed back to Toronto.
Back to a Rogers Centre that is certain to be filled to the brim and calling for Rougned Odor’s head.
Back to the scene of last October’s crime — the throw back to the mound that struck Shin-Soo Choo’s bat, the bottle-throwing riot that followed, the Jose Bautista bat flip, the seventh-inning three-error meltdown.
For two games in Texas this week, manager Jeff Banister watched his two best starting pitchers fail to do the job. He had to listen to his hitters snore while runners waited on base.
He saw the Blue Jays bludgeon the Rangers’ starters and seize the first two games of this American League Division Series.
Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday, and for Blue Jays fans, there’s blood in the water.
And all of Canada, it seems, has been waiting for this.
“We have to win,” Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said after Friday’s 5-3 defeat. “There’s not a tomorrow. We have to win.”
The sharks will be circling. But as Beltre reminded, the Blue Jays were faced with the same two-games-to-none deficit 12 months ago.
“Yeah, we’re up against it,” Banister said. “But we’ve been in situations before where we won three games in a row.
“We’ve got to come out, get a clean game from the starter, play good defense and capitalize on run-scoring opportunities. And we’ve got to do it one game at a time.”
Clean games by the Rangers’ starting pitchers, though, have been a problem. A day after Cole Hamels failed to get out of the fourth inning in a deflating 10-1 defeat, starter Yu Darvish was hammered Friday for four Blue Jays home runs.
Colby Lewis will start Sunday’s Game 3 against Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez, who was 15-2 in 30 starts during the regular season.
“It’s an uphill battle, one that is going to be a challenge,” Banister said. “But I think our guys will continue to play. You saw it today. They continue to play all the way through.”
Banister had a point. The Rangers had an MLB-leading 49 come-from-behind wins during the season. They fought off challenges from the Astros and Mariners to win the AL West, and then they surged in late September to better the Indians and Red Sox for the league’s best record.
But that was the regular season, and whenever a brief losing streak befell the Rangers, they could count upon Hamels or Darvish to hoist them back into the saddle.
This hole, however, has a different feel, a different smell. Hamels and Darvish both fell victim to uncertain pitch command, which led to early deficits. Hamels thought he was guilty of trying to be “too fine” with his pitches. Darvish felt the Blue Jays were waiting for his fastball.
In the Rangers’ first ALDS, circa 2010, it was Cliff Lee who stepped up, winning two games.
Where in the name of October is this staff’s Cliff Lee?
“It’s a challenge,” Banister said of his two best pitchers’ performances, “but you’ve got to fight through it. They’ve been able to cover each other all year long.”
Instead, Hamels and Darvish handed the bullpen 10-0 and 5-1 deficits on successive afternoons.
The Rangers’ bats responded by going 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position. Officially, they left 13 men on base, while outhitting Toronto 13-6.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Beltre said. “We had a lot of them. Almost every inning, we had a couple of guys on base, and we couldn’t find a way to get them in.”
As a result, the Rangers headed to Toronto after Friday’s game, bruised and bloodied.
The Rogers Centre crowd for Game 3 Sunday figures to be ear-ringing and unruly.
Blue Jays fans are going to be hollering for Odor’s head on a stick. They’re going to be hockey-crazy.
They’re going to be circling like sharks.
There’s blood in the water, and it smells like the Rangers’.
Rangers vs. Jays
(all games on TBS)
Gm 1: Blue Jays 10, Rangers 1
Gm 2: Blue Jays 5, Rangers 3
Gm 3: at Toronto, 6:38 p.m. Sunday
Gm 4: at Toronto, noon or 5 p.m. Monday*
Gm 5: at Texas, 7:30 or 8:30 p.m. Wednesday*