Davis unlikely hero for Jays
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis congratulates closer Sergio Santos on the save against the Red Sox at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., April 11, 2012. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Almost every day of the baseball season, Rajai Davis walks into the Blue Jays clubhouse, checks the lineup card on the wall, and begins the mental game that is his professional life.
Most days that means he’s not in the starting lineup. Most days it means being prepared to pinch-run, maybe pinch-hit, maybe play a little outfield late in the game or not play at all. The job description isn’t exactly glamourous, sitting often, batting ninth on occasion, being something other than a platoon player, understanding and accepting uncertainty.
“I had to learn how to do this,” said Davis, after one of his greatest days as a Blue Jay. “You have to prepare yourself mentally for any possibility. It’s an adjustment for anybody, learning how to do this and it’s tough. You have to realize, it’s not about you. That’s the important thing you have to understand. If you get singular about it, you won’t succeed.
“The good thing is, there’s no pressure on me. I’ve got nothing to lose here. And that’s the way I have to approach the game.”
There may not be many times in a baseball season to write about Rajai Davis, but after six Blue Jays games, four of them wins, this is the second time he’s been a difference maker. The Blue Jays beat the Boston Red Sox Wednesday afternoon, winning their first series of the season at home, getting an important series win early against the Bosox, getting a tremendous pitching performance from Ricky Romero, more terrific team defence from the Jays, and finally getting — okay, exhale people — their first save of the season from Sergio Santos. But if not for big moments by Davis, the tone could have been completely different at the Rogers Centre.
And who, if anyone in the large buildup to this major league season, saw that coming?
This is what the best of ball teams do. They get heroes up and down their lineup, depending on the day, the night, the opponent. It can’t be and it won’t be Jose Bautista every night — especially after he went 0-for-11 against the Red Sox. This would have been a huge night for Davis, except it happened in the day.
“I’m not the story here,” said Davis. “Romero pitched great today. He’s the story.” But the Blue Jays scored three runs on the exceptional Jon Lester Wednesday. Davis knocked in one, scored the other two, from his ninth spot in the batting order. He legged out a triple that scored Eric Thames in the bottom of the third inning, then scored the go-ahead run on Yunel Escobar’s sacrifice fly. And with two outs in the eighth inning and nobody on, Davis worked a walk, was almost picked off but used his speed to steal second, and then scored on Escobar’s base hit. “He has a knack for making things happen,” said Jays manager John Farrell. “He outruns the baseball.”
The speed came naturally to him. Getting used to being a bit player turned accidental star wasn’t so easy. “I’ve been fortunate to have a great mentor,” he said.
He talks about an elder at his church back home in East Lyme, Conn., a fellow named Lloyd DeLong, who was undefeated as a boxer in the Navy and totally understands the 31-year-old Davis, who has a stolen base for every 2.5 hits he’s had as a big leaguer. “He knows what I need for preparation,” said Davis. “He helps with the mental side of preparation. He’s made a big difference in my life.”
That’s still the challenge, being ready every day and not being certain what role, if any, will be required. “I have to prepare for every day, even if I’m not starting,” said Davis. “I try not to get too lazy or sluggish during a game. I don’t know what they’re going to need me to do. So I run back and forth during the game, I ride the bike, I stay loose doing stretches. I don’t know when they’re going to call me.”
What he does know is that his speed is back. And that was a concern. Without speed, he has no career. And he badly injured his hamstring last summer. “It felt like Albert Pujols took a bat to the back of my thigh,” he said. “It was that much pain.”
The speed has returned and it helped the Jays to victory Wednesday. A victory Davis savoured, if only for the moment. “I’m one guy of 25,” said Davis. “We’ve got a great team. A lot of nights this season are not going to be about me.”