Anybody else impressed with the Toronto Blue Jays?
I thought so.
That thunderous roar and those straight-line winds that you heard and felt at the ballpark over the past three days?
Those were the visiting Blue Jays, blowing past their division rival New York Yankees, probably never to look back.
For the Texas Rangers, the three games with red-hot Toronto were a treadmill test, a chance to check their oil and see if they could keep up with the big boys.
The Rangers did ... OK. Only a squandered ninth-inning lead in Game 1 kept the home team from winning the series.
“I think you always want to play the best ballclubs and play against the teams that are hot and playing well,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said after Thursday’s 4-1 victory. “They are a challenging ballclub and I felt like, other than yesterday, we played very well against them.”
Perish the notion, Banister seemed to say, that the Rangers were this week’s Washington Generals — straight men for Toronto’s big-top act. Before Thursday, the Blue Jays had outscored opponents by 70 runs since the July 31 trade deadline.
“We feel we’re also in that group that everyone wants to talk about — the elite teams,” Banister said.
“This is a group of guys that all feel the same way about themselves. We had our backs against the wall today, and there was no doubt in my mind that they were going to play well, put a foot down, and make a statement about themselves.”
The statement has been formulating since April, when the Rangers began the season by winning only seven of 22 games. Some of us suggested that the ominous start aside, it may take until August for general manager Jon Daniels and his staff to decide whether their team was fish or fowl.
At the deadline, Daniels added a blue-ribbon starting pitcher coveted throughout the league, lefty Cole Hamels, and solidified the bullpen by adding relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson.
Their statement may well eventually fall short. The Astros began Thursday with a 5 1/2-game lead.
But it’s folly to suggest that Daniels and owner Ray Davis and Bob Simpson were wrong to assess that the No. 2 wild-card spot wasn’t worth going after.
The second American League wild card still makes the postseason field. A winner-take-all, one-game wild-card playoff showdown against, say, the Yankees would thrust the winner into the real postseason — the league’s final four.
At the discounted price for Hamels — which importantly included a big rebate on the Matt Harrison contract — Daniels would have been a fool not to bite. If you’re a Rangers fan, since when do you want the owners to zip their wallets shut and not “spend some money and get some pitching in here?”
Beginning Friday night, the Rangers have 27 games remaining against AL West opponents. The three remaining nondivision opponents were a combined eight games below .500 beginning play Thursday.
An elite team? I would suggest the manager tap the brakes — for now — on that.
But Hurricane Toronto just passed through town, and the Rangers are still standing. Over the months since April, they have become healthier, deeper — they now even have a bullpen.
The statement was made. What is left is the exclamation point.