ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - Call it a delayed reaction, a lack of understanding or simply a sign that he actually has a clue, but Yunel Escobar has connected the dots and says he is mortified by the reality he has discovered.
The Toronto Blue Jays shortstop touched off a firestorm of controversy by appearing on the field at the Rogers Centre with a homophobic slur written on this eye black patches in a game against the Boston Red Sox last Saturday. He initially didn’t seem to grasp how deeply he had offended so many people. That is no longer the case.
“I’m having a hard time dealing with the situation,” he said Friday, through interpreter Luis Rivera, as he emerged from a three-game Jays-mandated suspension.
“I’m really sorry for what happened. I didn’t intend to hurt anybody. If I did, from the bottom of my heart, I am very sorry about it.”
Even though Escobar was eligible to play Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays, Jays manager John Farrell determined during a meeting with his shortstop that Escobar was not yet ready to start. Escobar entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning with the Rays leading 12-0. He singled to help set up the team’s only scoring play of the night.
“I don’t think he understood all the ramifications of what he did,” said Farrell. “All this is a first for him. Regardless of intent, and all the things he has expressed, the backlash has been unanticipated on his part.”
As a result of Escobar’s indiscretion, Major League Baseball has, within the last few days, added eye black patches to the list of equipment where personal messages are forbidden.
“It’s been really tough,” said Escobar. “I haven’t slept the last three or four days. I know I made a mistake and I hurt some people and it’s been real hard right now.
“I’m living with a tough situation but I put myself in it. I know it’s going to take a little while to get my mind back in the game.
“I always come to the game expecting to see my name in the lineup, but after I spent a little time in the clubhouse a lot of things were going through my mind, so it was better for me not to play.”
Both Farrell and Escobar expect that he will start in Saturday’s game against the Rays.
“It’s just a number of things that he’s processing right now,” said Farrell. “He’s remorseful. He understands he made a mistake. Regardless what his initial thoughts were, those are drastically different from what he’s dealing with right now..”
In addition to processing the general outrage that he has encountered, Escobar has to mend some fences within his own clubhouse.
“There’s been a wide range of reactions,” said Farrell. “For some (players), there was surprise with the suspension because in their minds, this wasn’t an issue. At the other end of the spectrum, because of the issue, a lot of questions have had to be answered by people in the clubhouse who might not want to answer them. But it’s a teammate, and we can’t turn on a teammate. It is part of our family as the Blue Jays to support him and correct what might need to be corrected and to move on together as a group.
“We recognize, too, that he’s going to be a focal point. We spoke about that, how he plays and how he goes about his actions on the field, what some of the response might be from people in the crowd. That might be a further distraction if he’s not accepted for whatever he does on the field. And he has to know that might be forthcoming.”
Tropicana Field has been Toronto’s house of horrors for five years, but the Jays have seldom -- no, make that ‘never’ -- been more horrific than Friday.
Since the end of 2007, the Jays have won just 10 of 43 games in St. Petersburg, but none of the other 42 were more lopsided than this 12-1 disgrace.
The Rays pounded Toronto starter Carlos Villanueva for seven runs on eight hits over 2.1 innings, then chipped away at relievers Chad Beck and David Carpenter for five more.
“I felt like I could throw the rosin bag up there and they would have hit it square,” said Villanueva.
“I didn’t let down at any point. I tried to keep battling. But anything I threw, they hit. I had nothing behind the ball and my breaking balls were flat. It’s difficult when you’re out there feeling physically fine but have nothing behind the ball. It is a horrible feeling.
“Some days you feel like that and find a way to get it done, but today ... ”
Meanwhile, James Shields mowed the Jays down, allowing six singles over seven innings. No runner advanced past second base until the Jays combined singles by Colby Rasmus and Escobar to make way for a Yan Gomes RBI-double in the top of the eighth against reliever Brandon Gomes.
Ben Zobrist and Jose Molina hit home runs for Tampa, which still has an outside chance at a playoff berth but are running out of games to make it happen. Luke Scott drove in four runs with a pair of doubles while Carlos Pena chipped in with a two-run triple.
“We’re getting to that point where (Villanueva) has pitched more innings than any previous year and the fact is he was a little bit flat tonight,” said Farrell. “Whether that’s the accumulation of innings pitched, there’s been no indication of that during the time he’s been in the rotation. We’ll check (Saturday) and see how he comes out of this start physically, and go forward from there.”