Brandon Morrow was out. Josh Johnson was on the DL. Ricky Romero may well have thrown his last game for the bluebirds, and J.A. Happ is arguably lucky to be alive. With the Toronto Blue Jays rotation falling apart at the seams, the team had all but run out of options.
‘Desperate’ was the term I chose then to describe the situation, and that desperation was materialized in the form of 39-year-old veteran Ramon Ortiz, summoned from the minors to fill in the gap with no expectations of measurable success.
What the Blue Jays wanted was an emergency starter; what they got, however, was a Giant killer.
If you’d guessed that Ortiz would have a 2.35 ERA after 15.1 innings, and that he’d be the catalyst in extending Toronto’s win streak to a season-high four games coming into play on Friday … well, you’d be a liar.
Yet, that’s exactly what’s transpired over the past week. After a valiant performance in his first emergency start in a losing effort opposite a near-perfect Jon Lester, Ortiz remain undaunted in searching for his first major league win in over a year and a half, even if his next impromptu opponent was going to be the defending World Series champ San Francisco Giants.
Against the best that team MLB had to offer, all the 11-year veteran did was twirl a seven-inning gem, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk and giving the Blue Jays offense plenty of time to beat up on San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong and Chad Gaudin.
It was, in fact, not very much like a bluebird at all; rather, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of his former self, Ortiz channeled his early 2000s days when he was an inning eating extraordinaire (seriously, 606 IP through 2001-2003), leading Toronto to 6.5 games back of the AL wild card, and also into the collective heart of Blue Jays nation.
Beyond it all, he’s done it across all tangible odds. Diminished velocity (88.4 mph, 91.0 career)? Check. Age? Check. Inactivity in the majors? Check.
A unrealistically-low 2.35 ERA despite a 1.43 WHIP, combined with a 2.35 K/9 to 4.11 BB/9? Check, check, and double check.
None of that matters, of course. Heroes perform in spite of the such odds, laughing off mere mortal numbers — these metrics that are so good at telling them “no, you’re not actually that good” — because they know all of the intangibles it’ll take to succeed.
Even at just 15.2 innings, Ortiz’s success in overcoming has been above and beyond what the Blue Jays could have dreamed of when they made that fateful call down to the farm.
He might not be able to sustain it. In fact, he might not be with the team for very much longer, for all we know. That said, regardless of what else transpires from here on, Ortiz has made sure that he’ll be remembered in the lore of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays — not as just another 39-year-old minor leaguer, but as a winner.