Joe Carter is the last Blue Jay to swing at a postseason pitch. Kids, go ask your parents what he did.
Two decades later, Toronto is starving for another chance at October dramatics, another highlight to put alongside Carter’s joyful romp around the bases to end the 1993 World Series.
“It had been a while since we’d been in the playoffs the last time I was here,” said John Gibbons, about to start his second stint as Toronto manager, a job he also held from 2004-08. “I know to some people it feels like an eternity now.”
An eternity dominated by the New York Yankees, who have won 13 of the past 17 AL East championships. No one team has been able to break their stranglehold on the division title, so the Blue Jays are trying a new approach this season: Can two teams beat New York?
That’s what it seems like the Jays have now, having added the core of the Miami Marlins’ roster to their own improving nucleus via a blockbuster trade in December. By sending away some of its top prospects, Toronto added pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes and second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, thus beefing up the top of the lineup, the middle-infield defense and the team’s shambles of a starting rotation, and sending the message that the Blue Jays intend to stay home in October no longer.
“They brought with them an expectation for winning,” Gibbons said of the newcomers. “Our fans should have that, because these players certainly do.”
And not just the proceeds of the Marlins’ fire sale, either. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, sensing that the Yankees are aging and vulnerable, used that trade as a springboard to revamp the rest of the roster, too. He signed free agent Melky Cabrera to shore up the outfield, and then acquired an ace for the pitching staff, sending some of his top minor-leaguers to the Mets for reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
Just in case, Anthopoulos also invested heavily in the bench, signing Mark DeRosa and Maicer Izturis as backup infielders and Henry Blanco as an extra catcher.
Suddenly, said catcher J.P. Arencibia, the Jays have a proven player, and usually more than one, at every position. “There’s a lot of new guys, but everyone has experience. You know what you’re going to get,” he said. “There’s no crossing your fingers. As much as you can in this game, we’ve got some pretty sure things.”
They need them. The Blue Jays were worse than league average in both runs scored and allowed last year, so the roster renovation was necessary and popular.
The three new starting pitchers join holdovers Ricky Romero and flamethrower Brandon Morrow in the rotation, and a deep and versatile bullpen has Casey Janssen — he of the 67-11 strikeout/walk ratio last season — for the ninth inning.
The lineup will be far more dynamic with Reyes leading off, and the kids in the batting order — 23-year-old third baseman Brett Lawrie and 26-year-old center fielder Colby Rasmus — figure to build on dynamic seasons at the plate. Rasmus batted only .223, but he hit 23 home runs, while Lawrie was batting .291 with eight homers before the All-Star break, before injuries cut his production.
Speaking of injuries, Jose Bautista remains the biggest wild card about Toronto this year. After bashing 97 home runs in 2010-11, he managed just 27 in 92 games last year, a season cut short by wrist surgery. He’s showed no lingering effects this spring, Gibbons said.
“I think his excitement over this roster helped him heal,” the manager said. “... He’s determined to hit some big home runs.”
Ideally, perhaps one as big as Joe Carter’s.