Oh Jeez, Boston Again

TORONTO (Sep. 30) — We will find out this weekend whether Boston is, once again, a place where a Toronto professional sports team comes to die. For the first time since the fateful, gut-churning night of May 13, 2013, one of our local factions needs to conquer Beantown — in this case, the baseball Blue Jays.

By the supper hour on Sunday, we’ll know whether the Jays will host the American League Wild Card game on Tuesday; will partake in the Wild Card match away from home, or will miss the playoffs for the 21st time in the past 22 seasons. A three–game sweep by the East Division–champion Red Sox would virtually guarantee the latter. A 1–2 weekend at Fenway Park would all–but clinch a playoff berth. And, a Toronto sweep ensures a Rogers Centre date for Tuesday’s one–game showdown against either Baltimore or Detroit.

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THE BLUE JAYS 2016 SEASON WILL FLOURISH, STAGNATE OR END AT FENWAY PARK IN BOSTON.

On May 13, 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs (need you be reminded) endured the biggest third–period collapse in Stanley Cup playoff history. Leading the Bruins, 4–1, near the 10–minute mark in Game 7 of an opening–round series — and seemingly assured of a second–round date with the New York Rangers — the Maple Leafs fell apart at the TD Garden. Nathan Horton’s goal at 9:18 made the score closer, but the visitors remained in apparent control. That’s when Milan Lucic (with 1:22 left in regulation) and Zdeno Chara (31 seconds later) sent the Boston crowd into hysterics… and the decisive match into overtime.

Leaf nemesis Patrice Bergeron fired the killing shot at 6:05 of the first extra period, whacking a rebound past sprawled Toronto goalie James Reimer. The Leafs haven’t since appeared in a Stanley Cup encounter.

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“Collapse” is again a dirty word in Toronto sport, with the Blue Jays appearing no more than mildly interested in making the playoffs. A dispiriting September (11–15) concludes tonight with the Jays and Baltimore tied for the No. 1 Wild Card position in the American League. A 5–11 pratfall from Sep. 2–18 prevented Toronto from defending its A.L. East title. The BoSox won 11 in a row and then backed into the Division lead for good when the Blue Jays coughed up a biggie at Rogers Centre on Wednesday night. A Thursday no–show at the plate followed, and the Orioles left town with an enormous pair of victories.

With three weekend games remaining, Toronto and Baltimore have identical 87–72 records. The Blue Jays hold the tie–breaker by virtue of a 10–9 edge in head–to–head match–ups this season. So, the Orioles need to finish a game up on Toronto in order to play the Wild Card game at Camden Yards. Baltimore finishes its schedule in New York. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 1.5 games behind the Blue Jays and Orioles, with potentially four games remaining. Consider the following passage in today’s Detroit Free Press:

Picture this: Come Sunday, one team — let’s say the Toronto Blue Jays, for the sake of this hypothetical — has pulled safely ahead of the pack to take the first AL Wild Card, but the Baltimore Orioles have gone 1-2, the Seattle Mariners have gone 3-0, and the Tigers have gone 2-1. In that situation, the Tigers would need to beat the Indians in their makeup game in Detroit on Monday to clinch their share of a three-team tie for the second Wild Card spot.

In the event of a three-team tie for the second Wild Card spot, the three teams choose from A, B, and C designations. Team A hosts Team B, then the winner of that game hosts Team C to determine which club moves into the proper Wild Card game. Based on the club’s head–to–head records, the Tigers have the last choice of designations, so there’s no doubt they’d end up as Team B — the one that needs to win a road game, then a home game, a far more difficult haul than Team A (two straight home games) or Team C (one road game).

The AL Wild Card game is currently scheduled for Tuesday, which would not be feasible in this scenario. The soonest it could be played, assuming no double-headers, would be Thursday, when the ALDS is scheduled to start. And let’s say, for the sake of this thought exercise, that the Mariners chose the Team C designation and the Orioles become team A.

• The Tigers would play Sunday in Atlanta.

• Then they would play Monday in Detroit, vs. the Indians in the make-up game.

• They’d next go to Baltimore to face the Orioles on Tuesday.

• If they win that, back to Detroit to face the Mariners on Wednesday.

• If they win that game, they’d head to Toronto to face the Blue Jays in the official Wild Card game.

• If they win that, they’d head immediately to Texas or Boston to start the delayed ALDS on Friday.

There is a real route by which the Tigers can end the season and open the postseason by playing six games in six days against six different teams without ever playing in the same city on consecutive nights.

Yes, the final weekend of the American League schedule could easily rival the last day of the 1969–70 National Hockey League season for craziest finish — a three–team scramble for three East Division playoff spots involving New York, Detroit and Montreal; ultimately determined by total goals scored.

THE HOCKEY NEWS of Apr. 17, 1970 described how it unfolded:

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TO RECAP: Detroit made the playoffs with a 6–2 victory at home over the Rangers on Saturday. The Red Wing players partied through the night and staggered into Madison Square Garden for a Sunday matinee — nationally televised by CBS. In no shape to play, the Wings were destroyed, 9–5, and outshot, 65–22 (top–left). It meant the Canadiens had to either win or tie at Chicago Sunday night, or lose to the Blackhawks while scoring at least five goals to overtake New York in that overall category. Once the Habs fell behind, 4–2, by the 7:15 mark of the third period (top–right), coach Claude Ruel pulled goalie Rogatien Vachon in an attempt to at score three more goals. The move backfired, as Chicago pored in six empty–net markers to win, 10–2. Montreal and Toronto missed the playoffs, which wouldn’t again happen until last season.

FINAL HOMESTAND

The Blue Jays wound up their home schedule in desultory fashion by losing two of three critical games to Baltimore. A 2–0 lead on Wednesday night vanished when Jason Grilli yielded Mark Trumbo’s MLB–leading 46th home run in the eighth inning and Roberto Osuna gave up a two–run shot in the ninth to Hyun Soo Kim. On Thursday, the Jays managed all of two hits against the Orioles in a 4–0 set–back that deadlocked the teams atop the A.L. Wild Card standings. I had my trusty NIKON with me at Rogers Centre:

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TRUMBO TOOK AIM AGAINST GRILLI IN THE EIGHTH INNING WEDNESDAY AND BEGAN THE COMEBACK.

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THE DOME ROOF WAS PARTIALLY OPEN TO BEGIN THE GAME (ABOVE), BUT LATER CLOSED (BELOW).

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A NIFTY DOUBLE–EXPOSURE OF BALTIMORE STARTER CHRIS TILLMAN LETTING FLY.

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THERE WERE SEATS TO BE HAD, BUT NEAR–CAPACITY CROWDS LOOKED ON EACH NIGHT.

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DID THIS FAMILIAR SCENE PLAY OUT FOR THE LAST TIME AT ROGERS CENTRE?

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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