John Gibbons asked a group of reporters around the batting cage Tuesday which team was the most important team in the American League East. He didn't wait for an answer.
"This team right here – us," the Toronto Blue Jays manager said.
Tuesday's 2-0 win over the New York Yankees at the Rogers Centre marked the first of nine games the Blue Jays have remaining against teams that are contending for the AL wild card berths. That run includes three games against the Baltimore Orioles and three to wind up the season at home against the Tampa Bay Rays.
And in this season of small mercies the Blue Jays would very much like the Boston Red Sox and former Toronto manager John Farrell to wrap up the AL East title before they get to Fenway Park on Friday. That's one celebration nobody much wants to see.
The Blue Jays (69-81) are hardly loaded to play out the string. Already without Jose Bautista (hip) and unfortunately still with J.P. Arencibia, the team announced before Tuesday's game that Edwin Encarnacion will undergo surgery for damaged cartilage in his left wrist – it was a daft idea to bring him back last week to begin with – and left-hander Brett Cecil will also be shut down, awaiting the results of an MRI exam on his elbow.
Yet, Gibbons wisely refuses to mention his team's injuries. Not when he sees what Yankees counterpart Joe Girardi has gone through. Girardi blistered his squad after it was swept by the Red Sox last weekend, calling a team meeting and then publicly stating his team "stunk" at Fenway Park.
On Tuesday, it was back to the usual grind: Finding out that reliever Boone Logan, second on the team in appearances, has a bone spur in his elbow but will pitch through it; putting down catcher Austin Romine's name on the lineup card, then making him a late scratch.
Romine suffered a concussion last week and told Girardi he felt good after some drills and concussion-related tests.
"I was under the assumption he was ready to go," the Yankees manager said with a shrug. "I should have asked him.
"The number of injuries … you just kind of get used to it," he said.
The Yankees (79-72) will be without their captain, Derek Jeter, for the rest of the season, and it seems a shame Jeter won't be at his usual shortstop position in a series that will be Mariano Rivera's final series in Toronto.
The Blue Jays will fete Rivera on Thursday, part of the closer's retirement tour. Rivera has recorded 53 of his 651 saves against the Blue Jays, and Tuesday was two years to the day in which he picked up his 601st save at the Rogers Centre – at that time, tying Trevor Hoffman for the all-time career lead.
This has been a joyous windup to a career. Rivera has arranged private meetings with fans and team employees at each stop, and has been presented with gifts such as a chair made out of broken bats and a silver broken bat sculpture – a tribute to his bread-and-butter cut fastball.
"That's God," Rivera said, more matter-of-fact than with any intent of proselytizing, when he was asked where he developed one of the game's true signature pitches. "No one taught me. It happened for a reason. That's what I attribute it to."
Rivera has also taken time during the season to talk to opposing pitchers and players – something that did not happen to him when he was breaking into the game. "I had a lot of help from the coaching staff, but not players," he said with a shrug. "Maybe back then, it was a little bit different."
No other Yankees pitcher has had Rivera save as many games for him (72) as Tuesday's starter, Andy Pettitte. But the narrative didn't materialize.
While R.A. Dickey (13-12) and two relievers held the Yankees scoreless on five hits, Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis hit solo home runs, leaving the Yankees very much in keeping with the music that blared out of Alex Rodriguez's head-phones as he walked through the clubhouse before the game: Livin' on a Prayer.