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Grange on Jays’ fans: Get used to the ups and downs

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey reacts as he watches manager John Gibbons approach the mound to pull him from the game during fifth first inning AL baseball action against Boston Red Sox in Toronto, Apr. 7, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Let’s face it, as a group, Toronto sports fans are out of practice.

The downs? We got the downs covered. We know exactly how to be miserable and pretend to be apathetic and basically mail a season in after the first month or so.

It’s the ups – or at least the reality that even when things go well, they don’t go perfectly – that’s the part that still needs figuring out.

The Leafs are winning. The Blue Jays are supposed to be winning. Neither has happened for a long time. For that reason, as a market, Toronto hasn’t quite found its sea legs. Every cloud is not a hurricane; neither are favourable winds a constant.

Intellectually we know this, but being a fan is not an intellectual exercise.

Being kind of Daniel Craig cool; taking the highs and the lows with that measured detachment that – in theory – some sports fans somewhere can muster up in the face of expectations surpassed and unmet?

Get back to us on that.

The Leafs are nearly a lock to make the NHL playoffs for the first time since Carlos Tosca was the Jays manager.

The goaltending is solid. Special teams are verging on excellent. They are fourth in the NHL in goals scored and the most likely scenario is they are going to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. The Leafs have won two of the three against Montreal this year, both wins coming in Montreal.

In other words, the Leafs in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament for the first time since the Pat Quinn era is not outside the realm of possibility.

If that happens, or something like that happens, set your watches for a collective set of mood swings that will make a gaggle of pre-teen girls on varying levels of sugar highs and lows look professorial.

Even looking that far ahead is seen as a kind of blasphemy for fans who have only known two kinds of seasons since the first NHL lockout: bad and miserable.

It would make perfect sense to just about everyone, at this point, if MLSE were to wrap the ACC in a sheath of bright orange plastic with ‘Don’t Jinx It’ written in bold black letters.

And any evidence required to demonstrate that a Leafs playoff run could be a field day for mental health professionals can be turned up by a sampling of what Jays’ fans have been putting themselves through in the past nine days – yes, the baseball season is just nine days old.

There is no sport in which the horizon should be longer and more measured than baseball. Anyone with a calculator knows this.

No matter how things go during the first month, there will still be 135 games left to play come May 1st – the season won’t even be a quarter gone. Slow starts in baseball aren’t really slow starts. They’re just inevitable variations in a long season that eventually, relentlessly, even everything out.

All of which is to say that Blue Jays’ fans – and I’ll count myself in this group – need to medicate themselves. After Toronto won their first game of the season in their third game of the season, Mark Buehrle talked optimistically about Jays’ fans being able to back off from the ledge a little bit. But that was before R.A. Dickey got racked by the Red Sox and Brandon Morrow slapped around by Detroit Tuesday as the Jays dropped to 2-5.

Despite their high-priced off-season makeover, Toronto was second last in the AL in hitting with a team batting average of .224. Starting pitching – in theory, the club’s foundation – had allowed an average of 5.85 runs a game, third worst in the league.

Oh, and defensively their .973 fielding percentage was second worst in the AL and the seven errors they’d committed through the first seven games was the highest rate of bobbles among all AL teams.

So when Emilio Bonifacio committed his fourth error of the season in the top of the second Wednesday afternoon, helping Detroit to a 2-0 lead, and when Buehrle was chased after four-plus innings, well it was ugly.

The bullpen, a strength to this point, proved they can be bad too as Steve Delabar walked in two runs on nine pitches in the Tigers half of the fifth. All 300 pounds of Prince Fielder beat out an infield single in the 6th.

Press the panic button? How about jump on it with two feet.

“Can I run around my neighbourhood flailing my arms?” one Jays fan reasonably asked on Twitter.

Of course the converse of irrational panic is celebrating gritty character wins in April.

And while it might be silly to say the Jays 8-6 come-from-behind win on a cold, rain-delayed afternoon at Comerica Park seemed like something important – it seemed like something important.

You had pinch-hitting veteran Mark DeRosa coming off the bench to hit a two-run double in his first at bat in the 6th and then working a walk on a 1-2 count to set up J.P. Arencibia’s game-winning 3-run double in the seventh.

You had veteran lefty Darren Oliver shaking off a sharply hit comebacker to his pitching arm in the 8th to set things up for closer Casey Janssen, as between them they slammed the door shut on the Tigers with six straight outs.

It was exciting.

The Jays have a long way to go and the ride will almost certainly be bumpy.

Did we mention the defending AL champion Tigers were 26-32 on June 8 last season? That they didn’t get over .500 and stay there until July 7? Or the AL East champion New York Yankees were 21-21 at one point? Or that the AL West champion Oakland A’s were 26-35 on June 10?

Perhaps after the Leafs get through their playoff run and the Jays season has unfolded to the point where the sample size is more meaningful, fans will be better conditioned for the ups and downs.

Maybe then we’ll remember that even with good teams, it’s not all smooth sailing.

In the meantime: Gravol, for all my friends.