TORONTO -- Good afternoon from the Rogers Centre, where I walked in this a.m. with the Blue Jays' team chaplain. After Friday night's hatefest for John Farrell, I checked to see if he was wearing earplugs.
Maybe he just prayed that the crowd would be on its best behavior this afternoon, instead of resorting to conduct that rivaled Fenway at its worst, but seldom if ever makes an appearance north of the border. And for a visiting manager? Unprecedented anywhere, although this morning's column in the Globe and Mail by longtime baseball writer Jeff Blair mirrored the prevailing sentiment around here.
"This is a unique situation for this city," Blair wrote, "which has seen athletes quit on a team (Vince Carter) and ballplayers who never lived up to expectations (A.J. Burnett) and has never let them forget it. Having a manager quit for a lateral move to a detested rival is something else, especially to a rival whose boozy, self-important fans tend to make jackasses of themselves when it comes to town."
Well, now. Sounds like this may have a shelf life lasting more than just one night. The great news, for baseball fans, is that L'Affaire Farrell appears to have added an intensity to a rivalry that had grown moribund in recent years. This place was rocking last night, and both teams combined for a spirited night of hardball. We're only four games in, of course, but the early returns on these Sox suggest this is their m.o., that Farrell's theme of relentlessness dovetails perfectly with the types of players Ben Cherington brought in this winter.
How many wins that translates to remains to be seen, of course, but whether it was Jose Iglesias turning an acrobatic play from the hole with his right arm practically useless after being hit by a pitch, or an adrenaline-fueled Joel Hanrahan pumping 16 consecutive fastballs, topping out at 99.2 mph according to brooksbaseball.net, the Sox played with passion and energy. Yes, they managed just two hits in 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position, but the Jays were 0-for-10 in the same situation.
Iglesias was not in Saturday's starting lineup; Pedro Ciriaco was in at shortstop, batting ninth. Farrell said he was planning to start Ciriaco, anyway, to get him into a game, and that Iglesias came in this morning saying he was available and lobbying to play.
"Hit me right on the elbow," Iglesias said Saturday. "It was sore. But I'm OK."
John Lackey will be making his first start since Sept. 25, 2011. It has been just over 17 months since Lackey underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He made seven starts in the spring, including two minor league games and a minor league intrasquad game last Sunday, and suffered no physical setbacks.
"I would hope, and I'm sure he will, [Lackey] takes a moment to reflect back on what the last 16 months have been," Farrell said Friday afternoon. "We all feel John has the ability to impact our team in a positive way as much as anyone in our clubhouse.
"Not just from the stuff he took to the mound every day, but the consistency of his command throughout spring training. You're going to see guys go through some arm strength fluctuations that can lead to inconsistent command or stuff, but I think that's a tribute to what he's done with his body in reshaping it. It's given him more consistent body control that's led to more consistent strike-throwing."
The Jays will not be an easy task. They've been tough on Lackey since he came to the Sox; he is 2-4 with a 9.14 ERA against Toronto since coming to Boston, allowing 44 earned runs in 43 1/3 innings. But Jose Bautista, who has two home runs off Lackey, will be missing from the lineup again Saturday after sitting out last night with a jammed right ankle.
There is another new component to this budding rivalry that makes the Jays considerably more formidable than recent editions. Shortstop Jose Reyes had four hits Friday night, including a game-tying home run, and demonstrated what a disruptive force he can be right from the outset, when he bluffed going home on a ground ball to third, then dived back into the bag before third baseman Will Middlebrooks could apply the tag.
"He can do so many different things," Farrell said. "We saw early when he disrupted at third base, just with the threat of speed down the line, drive a ball out of the ballpark, extra-base hits -- he's probably as electric a player as the game has today. He can put a lot of pressure on the defense. He's someone who we're obviously going to have to contend with, probably too many times."
Farrell said that if Middlebrooks had thrown to first, Reyes would have scored. If the Sox third baseman had run straight at Reyes, he probably still would have beaten Middlebrooks' tag. "Just a good baserunning play," Farrell said.