By Bob Elliott
Jose Bautista knew.
But he really didn’t want to know.
He arrived at the Blue Jays clubhouse Saturday morning thinking his team’s magic number for ending the longest active playoff drought in pro history sat at one. One Jays win or one Los Angeles Angels loss and the Jays would have reached post-season play for the first time since 1993.
When someone explained the math and how the Jays had clinched at least a wild-card berth, Bautista replied:
“If the weatherman says there’s a 100% chance of rain, does it always rain?”
Well, does it really matter since the Jays have a retractable roof.
“We’re going to win today and then we’re going into that cooler over there,” said Bautista. Inside the cooler was a huge magnum of Veuve Clicquot fine French champagne. On ice.
Bautista was asked how expensive it was?
“We’ll spray the $15 champagne and drink that, after we win,” said Bautista before the Jays played Game 154 Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.
So Bautista knew.
And then mighty Jose hit Chris Archer’s 13th pitch to left for a three-run homer and he went deep again as the Jays hung on to beat the Rays 10-8 before another sold-out crowd of 47,094 at the Rogers Centre.
Then, it was time to go inside, put on the 2015 post-season hats, T-shirts and spray each other with champagne and beer.
Deep down inside, Bautista, former two-time major-league home run champ, knew his career would run the same futile course as Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, Shawn Green, Roy Halladay and others, who were all all-stars but never wore a Toronto uniform in post-season play.
Bautista was followed by Russell Martin three batters later as Martin hit his 22nd homer to make it 5-0. But the Jays needed a lot more than that after the Rays scored four in the third to make it a one-run game.
And then in the eighth Bautista hit his second of the day and his 39th of the season off reliever Kirby Yates. It was his fifth multi-homer game and the 28th of his career. And the Jays needed that.
The game was the 1,396th game of Bautista’s 12 year career.
“I’m happy for Jose Bautista, R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, we’re talking about some of the best players in the game and they’ve never been in post-season play,” said Gibbons, who said pre-game that he had an indication of how good this team might be when they went into Yankee Stadium Aug. 7-9.
Bautista hit a homer in the 10th for a 2-1 win, then David Price and Marco Estrada started games as the Jays shut out the Yanks.
The sweep cut the Jays deficit to 1 1/2 games prompting former Jay Lloyd Moseby to say “the Yankees were caught and passed -- they just don’t know it yet.”
Ben Revere had two singles and a double in his first three trips, Kevin Pillar doubled twice and Ryan Goins doubled as the Jays followed up the five-run, first with two in the third and two more in the fourth.
So much for the pitcher’s duel between Price and Archer, who combined to allow 14 runs -- 13 earned -- on 16 hits and six walks in 8 2/3 innings.
“Two of the top five pitchers in baseball,” said Gibbons after he entered the room across the hall from the Jays clubhouse for his usual post-game briefing with a cup of champagne.
“Everyone thought it would be a low-scoring affair, but that’s the beauty of the baseball, but it’s also the curse of baseball,” said Gibbons.
Asked if second-wild card clinching champagne would be different than that used for an American League East celebrations Gibbons said we were only “looking for some Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink.”
Up 10-5 in the ninth the first two Rays hitters reached against Ryan Tepera, one on a Justin Smoak error. And one of the next two reached against Brett Cecil on a Darwin Barney error.
Roberto Osuna took over, allowed two hits and retired Evan Longoria on a grounder -- representing the tying run -- with two aboard.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson fired to second for the final out and Osuna pointed to the skies as usual.
And the Jays shook hands, just as they had in after the final out in their other 88 wins.
“It wasn’t really time to run out there and circle the field,” deadpanned Gibbons.
Yet the win carried much much more import.
The T-shirts and the smell of stale champagne said so.
The magic number dropped again, with the New York Yankees beating the Chicago White Sox in the Bronx.
Rocco on the Jays/Royals: The Tampa Bay Rays saw the Kansas City Royals the final series of August, losing two of three. So how do the Jays compare to the Royals in the eyes of an impartial observer.
“K.C. has a great offence, an athletic team that can run and pose all kinds of problems,” said Tampa Bay’s first base coach Rocco Baldelli. “I was reading on the scoreboard how many more runs that the Jays have scored than anyone else ... more than 100 than the second-best? Impressive.”
Baldelli was a teammate of David Price with the Rays from 2008-2010.
“David likes to have fun, he’s a kid at heart,” said Baldelli, “but he’s also a pro, one of the best in the game.”
The offence Baldelli was talking about pre-game showed as Jose Bautista and Russell Martin both homered in the first. The Jays have hit 34 first inning home runs, most in the majors.
Price goes five: Price failed to record six innings for just the second time over his last 18 outings, with both of those starts coming with Toronto. He threw 95 pitches allowing four earned runs, the most since giving up five July 28 at St. Petersburg. He’s now 9-2 in 11 Toronto starts.
Price’s outing was the first time a Jays starter has failed to record six innings since Mark Buehrle, who starts Sunday, on Sept. 15 start in Atlanta.
Twirling for Rays: RHP Matt Andriese makes his seventh start of the year Sunday afternoon, but his first since Aug. 13 with triple-A Durham against Norfolk. Andriese has appeared in 22 games in all with the Rays, but has not been stretched out, meaning Tampa Bay will likely go Johnny Wholestaff.
Deep, deep deep: Martin’s homer was his 22nd a career high and it was his 21st as a catcher, tying him for second most by a catcher in a single season in club history (J.P. Arencibia, has 23 in 2011 and 21 in 2013.
Faces in the crowd: Anola Laing from Claresholm, Alta. took in her first game Saturday with Ron Sandelli and his wife as her personal escorts. Ball players Mitch MacLean, 20 and Tanner Craswell, 22, were returning home to Prince Edward Island for Christmas when they were shot in Claresholm in 2011 ... Also making her debut was Lorraine Roberts of Kingston, Canada’s first capital.
Anthem: Hannah Levinson, nine, did a wonderful job belting out both anthems and left the field via the Rays dugout to high fives from Asdrubal Cabrera, James Loney and Nathan Karns among others. It’s not often players respond to anthem singers.