ARLINGTON, Texas — Down 2-0 in the American League Division Series, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons did not look his normal relaxed self in the visiting manager’s office at Globe Life Park.
A persistent hacking chest cold was no doubt responsible for the grey look. But Toronto’s predicament wasn’t helping. One more slip-up and the Jays’ dream season was over.
“It has happened fast,” Gibbons acknowledged. “I think a week ago today we were sitting down in Tampa taking the Sports Illustrated (cover) picture.”
Two wins later, the series with Texas is even and Toronto can dispatch the Rangers on Wednesday from the comfort of its home stadium.
Gibbons has made some hard decisions along the way in the pressure-filled playoff cauldron where three losses can quickly trump the 93 wins in the regular season.
Prior to Game 3, he was asked whether his first foray into the post-season had proved more challenging than expected.
“I don’t know if it’s harder than you imagine, it’s definitely more intense. I don’t know. I can’t really answer that yet. I’ve loved every minute of it but there’s definitely a different feel in these games than your normal games,” he said.
“But it’s still baseball. You still have to execute, you still have to do your thing.”
In the leadup to the post-season, Gibbons looked after his players.
He let them celebrate the franchise’s long-awaited return to the playoffs. He gave them time off to recover. He handed the ball to veteran LaTroy Hawkins in the game that clinched the AL East title. And in another sign of respect, he gave Mark Buehrle a bonus start in a bid to reach 200 innings pitched for the 15th straight season.
With the season on the line Monday, Gibbons played hardball.
Despite being up 7-1, he pulled R.A. Dickey after he yielded a single with two outs in the fifth, denying the 40-year-old knuckleballer a win in his first-ever post-season start.
He inserted David Price, effectively using up the Game 1 starter in a relief role.
Both players relished the chance to go back to Toronto with the series still alive but neither seemed too chuffed about how they got there.
With Brett Cecil injured and fellow left-hander Aaron Loup unavailable because of a family matter, Gibbons had few southpaw options against a Texas batting order bristling with five lefties.
When he was taken out, Dickey was facing the meat of the Rangers order with left-hander Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre, who had a combined four hits in the game, with lefties Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland to follow with Josh Hamilton on deck.
“What we didn’t want to happen is a couple guys on base,” said Gibbons. “Choo comes up. And R.A. has been known to give up the fly balls, launch it. Maybe if that should happen now they’re right back in the game.”
Dickey was asked whether he thought the move meant his manager didn’t trust the knuckeball.
“I sure hope not,” he answered. “I would hate to think that’s the case. It feels good when a manager believes in you.
“Today was kind of a precarious situation, you know? It’s a do-or-die game, you know. We’ve got a bazooka (Price) in the bullpen, so you try to see both sides as a diplomat.”
Those on Gibbons’ side will argue he made the most of his resources, utilizing Price in the form of a flame-retardant in Game 4 while leaving Game 5 in the red-hot, confident hands of Marcus Stroman.
“That’s the best part about our team,” first baseman Chris Colabello explained. “We don’t have to rely on one guy. We don’t have to rely on one bat. We don’t have to rely on one pitcher. I think that’s what has made us special all year.”
“A team win, that’s what I was looking for,” said Gibbons.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press