Russell Martin was sitting casually in front of his locker, his hands draped over the back of his chair and a white kerchief wrapped tightly around his head to keep his curly locks at bay.
It was Tuesday afternoon at Rogers Centre, with the start of Toronto's game against the Oakland Athletics still hours away, and Martin's focus was on one of the many televisions in the room. The Blue Jays catcher's attention was drawn to a recap of last season's epic World Series tussle between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
Martin appeared to sigh as the show revisited Game 7, where the Cubs held on for a stirring 8-7 victory in 10 innings to earn Chicago its first World Series title in 108 years.
Unless Toronto can somehow negotiate a big turnaround over the final nine weeks of the regular season, watching other teams enjoy the playoffs on TV will have to suffice for the Blue Jays this year.
Although they have been in last place all season, the Blue Jays would never admit the playoffs are out of reach before August. And their play in the first two games of their four-game series against the Athletics would reflect that.
Keep in mind, the Athletics are also a last-place outfit.
With Oakland starting pitcher Sonny Gray doing little to enhance the notion he will be a hot commodity heading into Monday's non-waiver MLB trade deadline, the Blue Jays (46-54) struck early and would prevail for a 4-1 victory, their second consecutive win over the A's (44-56).
Cesar Valdez made his first start for Toronto after four relief appearances, filling in for the injured Aaron Sanchez, and the 32-year-old made the most of his opportunity. Playing against his old club, Valdez was formidable through six-plus innings, allowing just one Oakland run off five hits while striking out four to earn the victory.
Before the game, the Blue Jays announced yet another injury casualty, sending reliever Danny Barnes to the 10-day disabled list with right-shoulder impingement. Lefty Matt Dermody was recalled from Triple-A in Buffalo to take his place.
The Blue Jays came to life in a four-run second inning with Gray – who entered the fray with a 4-1 record and a 1.62 earned run average over his past five starts – proving to be his own worst enemy.
This from a right-hander whose name crops up in almost every rumour ahead of Monday's trade deadline, with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves said to be the most aggressive suitors.
After surrendering a lead-off single to Justin Smoak, Gray was able to field a high chopper to the right of the mound off the bat of Kendrys Morales. But his rushed and off-balance throw to second sailed into left centre for an error, allowing Smoak to trundle all the way to third.
A ground-out by Troy Tulowitzki brought in Toronto's first run of the frame. Morales took second on the play and then third on an infield single by Ezequiel Carrera. Carrera would then scamper into scoring position at second on a Gray wild pitch, and both of the Toronto base runners would score when Ryan Goins rapped a double the other way into left.
Jose Bautista then snapped an 0-for-17 slide with a double to right that one-hopped the wall to score Goins and bring the score to 4-0 for Toronto.
All four of the Toronto runs were unearned.
Gray found his groove after that and did not allow a hit over the next three innings, and would finish with nine strikeouts over six innings of work. But Valdez was also holding his own, pitching against the team he started the season with.
Assisted by a couple of double plays, Valdez faced the minimum nine batters through the first three innings before Oakland was solved him in the fourth.
A double by Matt Joyce led off the inning and he scored when Khris Davis did likewise, cutting Toronto's lead to 4-1.
Toronto reliever Joe Smith entered the game in the seventh in his first appearance since July 23 after being felled by a shoulder injury. He retired the side without any damage and was helped just a little bit by a fine running catch by Bautista.
After Tulowitzki made a base-running error to get forced out at second base for an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the eighth, closer Roberto Osuna came on in the ninth to earn his 26th save of the season.