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Did We Get Killed by the Cardinals?
Supposedly 'spare parts' the Jays dealt to the Cardinals are part of the reason why the latter team is now enjoying its surprising post-season success.

As the 7th inning stretch comes to a close, it occurs to me that the first 6 1/2 innings of game 2 of the world series have all seemed like a bit of a 7th innings stretch, or a preparatory lull at least. This is all part of the slow pace of baseball. It’s baseball’s gift and curse. But it makes baseball a sport well suited for being played in a series. They do this, of course, all throughout the season with regularity. Playing a longish series (three or four consecutive games) against a particular team is not unusual at all, and it has the feeling of one long storyline being stretched out over the course of a few days. And then the postseason, especially the World Series itself, has the effect of feeling like one long game where everything is on the line, all brought together into the rhythm of baseball, strangely slow in it’s pace but punctuated with bursts of speed, precision and force…

Yes, certain moments of last night’s game two of the current World Series felt quite perfectly like the whole thing was stretched out like one long and dramatic game. One of the announcers called it riveting, and with all of the leveraging for advantage with substitutions and changes, as well as the low score despite the very capable bats of both teams, I agreed. I was surely riveted in spite of, or actually maybe because of, the pace of the game. And then an especially cogent moment when, in the bottom of the 7th when St Louis took a 1-0 lead over Texas on a David Freese run. The Cardinals held a lead in the game that perfectly matched their 1-0 advantage in the series.

Now, watching baseball with rapt attention can easily produce the kind of cognitive dissonance in an outside observer as exemplified by this video clip from the Simpsons. But nevertheless, the controlled pace at which baseball lets its story lines play out gives me a kind of ecstatic opportunity to think. I mean really ponder some of life’s bigger questions (how different is baseball really from guided meditation?). You know, what it’s like when you’re watching the World Series and you catch yourself wondering happily, what’s it all about anyway? What’s the meaning behind it all? Can I ever find it acceptable to support the Texas Rangers when they used to be owned by George W Bush? (More to the point, will he be arrested when he comes to Canada to collect his exorbitant speaker’s fee?) Or, the crux of the matter, did the Jays get killed by the St Louis Cardinals?

This is a serious question for the sports pundits of Toronto because, if we jump back to late July of this year, historical record will show that the Toronto Blue Jays traded Mark Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and others to the St Louis Cardinals. In return, of course, we received the services of, among others, Colby Rasmus. Because Rasmus is perceived as the best individual player involved in the trade, we were commonly deemed to have ‘won the trade.’ It’s a little out of character for us here in Toronto, but we were getting positive, even good reviews for the trade.

Then, sometime in September, the Cardinals decided to get serious about this season, and went on an all-out tear. Well beyond expectations, they clawed their way into a wild-card spot in the postseason, and have now gotten themselves to the World Series, playing for a championship. And it’s noteworthy that one of the players (seen at one point, fairly or not, as sort of ‘spare parts’) who has played an important role in the Cardinals’ success is left-handed reliever Rzepczynski. They call him ‘Scrabble’ (because his name is almost all consonants and he’s worth big points).

Obviously, Toronto is sitting out this postseason. We knew that was going to happen (although arguably St Louis wasn’t thinking any differently about themselves at the time of the trade either). We made the trade to bring in Rasmus because of his potential, because of the part he can play in the future of the Blue Jays. It speaks to the intelligence and overall ability of Tony LaRussa (manager for the Cardinals) that he’s been able to so successfully manipulate these specialized pieces (such as a left-hander like Rzepczynski who has come on twice in the World Series to face and eliminate 4 batters). And that’s not exactly the kind of team we could have fielded this year in Toronto even if we tried. But as has been written, we were playing a large part of this season for the sake of seasons still to come.

Another reason why I don’t want to condemn the trade is because we’ve seen the other side of a trade like this before, and we’ve already learned that it doesn’t always get you anywhere near the postseason. In Toronto we’ve been in the same position as St Louis before (think basketball) and things haven’t really gone our way yet. Do you remember Vince Carter? (You do.) When we traded Carter from Toronto to New Jersey, it was widely taken for granted that Carter was the best individual player involved in the trade. (Rather in character for Toronto the team got lambasted in the media for the deal). We got back an assortment of ‘spare parts,’ namely Eric Williams and Aaron Williams. Neither of those players lasted long here, and we weren’t exactly on the fast track to the NBA finals. This time, with the Jays, I’m pretty satisfied with the idea that we amalgamated (hopefully) some of the talent on the roster by acquiring Colby Rasmus, and thinking rationally, any moves the Jays made this season definitely needed to have been made with the future in mind.

No, I don’t think we got killed in the trade. I don’t even think it was a bad trade for the Blue Jays. I like seeing Rzepczynski playing well for the Cardinals. Anyway, thanks to some top of the 9th inning heroics, the Rangers just pulled out a victory in game two, making the series an even 1-1. The action shifts over to Texas now, and I guess the whole question has been given a bit of a reprieve.

Kyle Buckley is the Sports Critic for the Toronto Standard.

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