TORONTO (Sep. 27) — Well, not exactly 22 years. More like 21 years and 364 days. From Sep. 27, 1993 to late Saturday afternoon. The longest playoff drought in any of the four major North American pro sports.
Finally, it is over.
The Toronto Blue Jays are assured of playing more than 162 regular–season games; virtually assured of a bye into the American League Division Series — a best–of–five affair that begins two days after the A.L. Wild Card Game. By winning the East Division and avoiding the Wild Card showdown, the Jays would host Games 1, 2 and (if necessary) 5 of the ALDS on Oct. 8, 9 and 14; an opponent to be determined by the club’s overall finish in the League standings. If Toronto surpasses Kansas City for best record, it will host the Wild Card survivor. Should the Royals hold the No. 1 seed, the Jays would encounter the West Division champion — at this moment, the Texas Rangers. Whatever the scenario, the Blue Jays are playoff bound. At last.
JOSE BAUTISTA GETS THE BLUE JAYS ROLLING SATURDAY AFTERNOON AGAINST TAMPA BAY — CONNECTING FOR A THREE–RUN HOMER TO LEFT IN THE BOTTOM OF THE FIRST INNING AGAINST CHRIS ARCHER. TORONTO WOULD WIN THE SLOPPILY–PITCHED GAME, 10–8.
The New York Yankees, with a 2–1 victory at home over the Chicago White Sox, stayed four games in back of Toronto, but the Blue Jays “Magic Number” to clinch the A.L. East dropped to 5. Any combination of Toronto wins and New York losses totaling five gives the Jays their first division crown since ’93.
This, of course, has been a remarkable surge by the Blue Jays — the most impressive, late–season turnaround in club history. When shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was acquired from Colorado on July 28, the Jays were a middling 50–51. Since then, the record is 39–14 — best in Major League Baseball. “Really, all the credit goes to [general manager] Alex Anthopoulos and [president] Paul Beeston,” manager John Gibbons told Sportsnet–590. “Before getting Tulo and LaTroy Hawkins — then David Price, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe and Cliff Pennington — we were kind of sputtering along. These additions made the playoff run happen.”
The return from season–long injury of starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (3–0, 1.89 ERA) hasn’t hurt either. But, the explosive attack has carried the Blue Jays since Day 1 at Yankee Stadium back in April. By defeating Tampa Bay, 10–8, on Saturday, the Jays became the first team since the 2011 Boston Red Sox to score at least 10 runs in 25 games of a season. That’s incredible. No club in the Majors has a 2–3–4 batting order combination the caliber of Josh Donaldson (.299 40 HR 121 RBI); Jose Bautista (.252 39 HR 110 RBI) and Edwin Encarnacion (.272 35 HR 105 RBI), nor have the Blue Jays ever sported such inclusive power. Russell Martin (.238 22 HR 74 RBI) and Justin Smoak (.225 16 HR 53 RBI) have also contributed largely.
I was at Saturday’s Toronto–Tampa Bay game with my trusty NIKON:
FINAL JUNIOR JAYS SATURDAY OF THE 2015 SEASON.
BEN REVERE REACHED ON AN INFIELD SINGLE AND JOSH DONALDSON WALKED (ABOVE), WHICH BROUGHT JOEY BATTS TO THE PLATE (BELOW) FOR HIS 38th JACK OF THE YEAR AND A 3–0 JAYS LEAD.
AFTER A JUSTIN SMOAK SINGLE, RUSSELL MARTIN STEPPED UP AND CRACKED HIS 22nd HOME RUN OF THE SEASON TO CENTER–FIELD FOR AN APPARENTLY COMMANDING LEAD AFTER ONE.
INITIALLY, THE BASES CLEARED — KEVIN KIERMAIER (TOP–LEFT) SCORING FIRST. THEN, THE UMPIRES CONVENED WHILE BEING WATCHED BY JAYS MANAGER JOHN GIBBONS.
DURING THE FIVE–MINUTE DELAY, GIBBONS CHATTED WITH ON–DECK HITTER EVAN LONGORIA WHILE JOSH DONALDSON AND BRANDON GUYER PASSED TIME AT THIRD BASE.
ULTIMATELY, IT WAS DETERMINED THAT TWO TAMPA BAY RUNS HAD SCORED, BUT THE THIRD RUN CROSSED MOMENTS LATER WHEN LOGAN FORSYTHE HIT A SAC FLY TO BEN REVERE IN LEFT FIELD.
ASDRUBAL CABRERA SINGLED TO LEFT SCORING SOUZA JR. AND THE RAYS HAD CUT THE TORONTO LEAD TO ONE. DAVID PRICE TOOK A MOMENT TO PAUSE AND COLLECT HIMSELF.
UP IN THE SPORTSNET TELECAST BOOTH, BUCK MARTINEZ (WHITE SHIRT) AND PAT TABLER COULD HARDLY BELIEVE THEIR EYES AT THE SCORE AFTER TWO INNINGS.
KIERMEIER HOMERED TO STRAIGHT–AWAY CENTER IN THE FOURTH INNING AND KEVIN PILLAR COULDN’T REACH THE BALL, DESPITE HIS BEST EFFORT. TORONTO LED, 7–5.
ALL 47,094 FANS WERE HANDED A “RALLY TOWEL” (TOP–LEFT) UPON ENTERING THE BALL PARK AND IT WAS QUITE A SCENE WHEN THE TOWELS STARTED WAVING.
DAVID PRICE YIELDED FIVE RUNS (FOUR EARNED) OVER FIVE UNSPECTACULAR INNINGS AND GAVE WAY TO RELIEVER LaTROY HAWKINS TO BEGIN THE TAMPA BAY SIXTH.