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Good riddance to Blue Jays’ lost season: DiManno

For Josh Donaldson, it's over while he's at his absolute best and the future pivots around him — something to hold onto.

Manager John Gibbons goes through the Jays' final post-game routine of 2017 with Darwin Barney and Justin Smoak after Sunday's win at Yankee Stadium.

AP

Manager John Gibbons goes through the Jays' final post-game routine of 2017 with Darwin Barney and Justin Smoak after Sunday's win at Yankee Stadium.

NEW YORK—There are many to pick from. But Taylor Cole just may have had the worst 2017 season of any Blue Jay.

Consider: Making his major-league debut on Aug. 9, the 27-year-old gave up four runs on six hits in his single inning of relief work in Toronto’s 11-5 loss to the Yankees.

His right baby toe was broken on a comebacker off the bat of Didi Gregorius.

On Aug. 10 he was put on the 15-day DL.

On Aug. 14 he was released by the Jays.

Waited seven years to make The Show — as a Mormon, he’d also fulfilled his two-year obligatory mission, sent to knock on doors in Canada, of all heathen places — and it was over in a quarter of an hour or so, albeit thoroughly documented by wife Madilyn running up and down the steps at the Rogers Centre, videotaping.

Cole spent a month in a boot cast. Was re-signed by Toronto, but by the time he was fit to play the farm-team seasons were over. Went to the instructional league in Florida and Hurricane Irma hit, everybody sent home.

An ERA of 36.00, perchance forevermore.

And yet here he is, restored to the majors on the final weekend of the season, clad in Blue Jays threads. Would not get a ’pen summons in the Bronx, however, as the hours ticked down on his four-day major-league contract.

Absolutely and assuredly worth it, insists Cole — even if all he got was a sniff of his childhood reveries. Even if his lone MLB appearance was a horror. Even if he never stands on a big-league bump again.

“It was unbelievably emotional for me and my family, to finally reach the pinnacle. To reach your dream of playing in the big leagues was awesome. I think I took a lot of those emotions into the game. As you can see, the game spit up on me a little bit.

“Do I wish it had gone differently? One hundred per cent. Was I happy after the game? No, I wasn’t. But looking back, nothing will take away from how powerful that moment was.’’

Players forget, sometimes, why they do this, why they set their cap on baseball.

Money takes over. Contracts take over. The grind of a 162-game season takes over. Personalities that were sunny in the salad days of spring training, their first time ’round, can turn cranky, even snarly. Teammates fall out with each other. Reporters are viewed dimly where once rookies were thrilled to be interviewed.

In truth, I will not be so sad to see the last of this squad. It was an unlovable, pinch-faced team.

Maybe, after back-to-back playoff autumns, the wonder of it all had simply faded, the awe of it dwindled. Until they realized, when baseball is suddenly gone, what they’ll be missing.

A sentimentalist would assume that was top of mind on Sunday — last day of baseball for the Blue Jays, 2-1 victors over wild-card-game-bound New York, finally clawing out of last place in the AL East. “Only took us 162 games to do it,” snorted skipper John Gibbons.

Surely there must have been regret, if not worn on anybody’s sleeve, but of course they’d seen this moment coming for weeks and weeks and were psychologically braced. If they give a toss because this was a weirdly smiley so-long clubhouse.

If there’s an emotional lodestar to these Jays, it’s Josh Donaldson. And he wasn’t in the lineup Sunday.

But the former MVP is as good a place as any to start in the ending of it, in search of explanations for what transpired this year and whither the Jays from here.

“Honestly, I think we need to make little improvements to each and every part of our team. That doesn’t always mean bringing people in.

“Baseball is something where something that is very small . . . like maybe moving a guy over or covering a base, can ultimately allow you to lose games. It’s kind of where we got the ball rolling in the wrong direction early on in the season. We weren’t able to stop that, like we were able to in years past. That’s where we need to be better next year. So where we do get into ruts, we’re able to stop that and come back and get a win the next day.”

Little things? This is a team that grounded into 152 double plays, second-most in baseball. A club 23rd in slugging percentage, 25th in runs, 27th in hits, offensive categories that can’t be blamed on an injury-ravaged starting rotation.

“Little things end up turning into big things,” Donaldson continued in his candid out-go scrum. “Hitting into double plays, not being able to cover bases at times, not being able to control the running game at times, those ultimately put you into positions where you’re not going to have success and where the other team is going to capitalize. Especially for some of the guys that we have in our rotation who are sinker-ball guys that live on the ground, it’s important to keep runners on. It’s important for a lineup that we have that’s not a bunch of blazers to stay away from hitting into the double plays. Those are the things I really feel we need to focus on going into next year — even if there’s not any moves.”

For all their professed self-confidence, emerging out of a ghastly April, their longest winning streak extended just five games. The Jays never got a groove on. They went through 14 starters on the bump.

Toronto Blue Jays' slugger Jose Bautista.

Getty Images

Toronto Blue Jays' slugger Jose Bautista.

“Part of the reason why we weren’t able to go on a significant winning streak was just because every time we started getting some momentum we would stub our toe in some way, whether it was an injury, whether maybe not swinging the bats the way we’re capable of, or not playing defence or not pitching.”

Inconsistent. Or consistently mediocre but having a higher opinion of themselves than the record merited. Still do.

“That boils down to where we are today,” said Donaldson of a squad that went 0-9 on swing-and-a-miss chances to reach .500.

Only in the last month or so of the campaign did Toronto seem to find any of its missing mojo — no coincidence that this period coincided with an at-last healthy again Donaldson (24 home runs, .276 average, .992 OPS after the all-star break) — even as Brand Blue Jay slugger Jose Bautista spun off into a K-trench and the feel-good Justin Smoak home-run story fizzled out into a two-jack September.

“The last month of the season, last month and a half, I saw a team that really started to gain some chemistry, leading to some wins,” said Donaldson. “I’m glad we were able play well because, honestly, there wasn’t a lot to play for except your own personal pride, maybe trying to damper somebody else’s day a bit.”

Gibbons insists the club has “a core group” to build around in 2018. What core might that be? I see a core of three, maybe four tiffany players. Pitching aside, it all pivots around Donaldson.

Ownership/management would be stupid not to grasp that. Ownership/management has a long record of stupidity.

Taylor Cole on his blink-and-you-missed-it major-league baseball experience: “It’s very cool.”

Josh Donaldson, Jays stud: “Most frustrating for me right now is that I’m feeling my strongest that I’ve felt and now it’s about to end.”

At 5:36 p.m. on Oct. 1, the Blue Jays season ended.

Nobody waved goodbye.

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