108: Nothing won yet, but Blue Jays players, fans are right to celebrate

THE CELEBRATION AFTER CLINCHING AT LEAST THE WILD CARD GOT A LITTLE OUT OF HAND - AS IT SHOULD HAVE (PHOTO: STAN BEHAL/TORONTO SUN)

THE CELEBRATION AFTER CLINCHING AT LEAST THE WILD CARD GOT A LITTLE OUT OF HAND - AS IT SHOULD HAVE (PHOTO: STAN BEHAL/TORONTO SUN)

Sept. 28, 2015

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

In baseball, you don’t receive the Commissioner’s Trophy for winning the World Series in September. But, as the Blue Jays finally found out on Saturday, you can still have reason to pop a little champagne.

After quietly clinching a playoff berth, thanks to a mathematical technicality, a toast was to be given by manager John Gibbons and members of the upper brass following the game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

On the behest of the players, the toast was to be small and understated - a quick “good job boys but we ain’t done yet.” A couple bottles of expensive champagne were brought out, while the cheap stuff was kept somewhere off-site.

However, if you’ve seen any of the videos from the clubhouse, you’ll know that the “understated” part certainly didn’t last long.

According to various Blue Jays players, it was veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion who was the first to take things up a notch ...

And by “take things up a notch” I mean light up a cigar and start double-fisting bottles of $69 champagne. I guess the staff saw the writing on the wall and the rest of the bubbly and suds appeared.

It’s safe to say things escalated rather quickly from there.

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With a playoff clinch looming throughout last week, the players were clear they wouldn’t be celebrating a wild-card spot. They were after the division title - and nothing less than the American League East crown would be acceptable.

Well, that’s apparently easier said than done (in the wise words of Will Farrell AKA Frank the Tank, “It’s so good! Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”)

For a team and fanbase that hasn’t even been close to having a reason to party in 22 years, you could forgive the Jays players for giving way to the heat of the moment and reveling in a few champagne showers, straight-arm chugs, and beer facials (?) - a new one, even for me. 

And as all that suds rained down from the likes of Marcus Stroman, Kevin Pillar, Mark Lowe et al, many personal postseason droughts - not just the franchise’s - came to an end.

You should have no problem forgiving Encarnacion for ignoring the “no celebrating” script his teammates had previously laid out. Eddie has been in the league for 11 years - seven of them with the Blue Jays - and has never once experienced the post-season. 

That’s over 1,300 games, 5,000 plate-appearances, and 264 regular season home runs. 

But not a single swing in the playoffs. 

And then there’s the 40-year-old RA Dickey ... baseball’s engima, if you will. 

Consider that Dickey started his first major league game all the way back in 2001. He was sent to the minor leagues for all of 2002 and 2007 before finding his calling ... by virtue of the well-documented, albeit somewhat frustrating, knuckleball. 

Fourteen years after Dickey broke into the majors with the Texas Rangers, he has only now collected his 100th career win, thanks to Friday’s 5-3 victory over the Rays. 

For his career, Dickey has played on four different teams, throwing over 1,700 innings. He won a gold glove in 2012 and was an All-Star and Cy Young winner in 2011. Yet this was his first time celebrating the post-season. 

Always one to remain fairly subdued - even ol’ man Dickey couldn’t avoid being doused with a couple of cold Bud Lights.

Of course, we can’t forget about Jose Bautista either - the Blue Jays slugger who has essentially carried the franchise for the past five seasons. 

It should be no surprise - even as an undisputed team leader - that he quickly followed the lead of his good friend and countryman, Encarnacion, and relished in the post-season clinching moment.

Bautista, however, seemed to be a little more prepared for the impromptu celebration than the rest of his teammates, donning goggles (to shield his eyes from the glorious sting of champagne and beer) and a go-pro camera around his head. 

Again, it’s not hard to see why even clinching the wild card is worth celebrating to a guy like Bautista. Because just like Dickey and Encarnacion, he has not always found success in this game.

In his first five seasons in the majors, Bautista never hit more than 16 home runs. But in his second full year with the Blue Jays he hit 54. He’s been the man ever since.

In eight seasons with Toronto, Bautista has been to five all-star games, won the silver slugger award three times, finished sixth or better in AL MVP voting three times, and led the league in home runs twice. He has played in over 950 games for the Jays registering 881 hits, 627 walks, and 628 RBIs.

And now he’ll be able to say he’s been to one post-season. If you asked him, that would likely be the most cherished of all those numbers. 

It’s definitely the number that the playoff starved fans will remember the longest, even if a few people (via Twitter and other social media platforms) thought the recent celebration was a little overboard.

My guess is they were Maple Leafs fans, recently converted to baseball by this strange, mysterious thing known as success.

I know this is Toronto, but, even though it’s September, we aren’t talking about hockey. Right now it’s all about baseball - and the codes of conduct and traditions are (rightfully) different.

In the National Hockey League, the standard is that teams don’t hold a party for anything less than The Cup. When a team wins the conference title and the captain skates to centre ice for the trophy presentation, you’ll notice he never EVER touches it. 

Perhaps that’s the reason for the shock some people had when seeing the locker room shenanigans that went down on Saturday, even though the Blue Jays have technically won nothing.

But that’s just how it works in this game.

It is so incredibly hard to make it to the postseason in the MLB - as evidenced by the lengthy playoff famines experienced by those veteran players - that just getting into the dance is worthy of a celebration.

In the NHL, 53% of teams make the playoffs. In baseball, only 33% go on to play in the post-season (up until the second wild card spot was added in 2012, that number was even lower at 26%).

And when you take into account that prior to Saturday the Jays had the longest current streak of postseason-less seasons ... IN ALL MAJOR NORTH AMERICAN PRO SPORTS, even as a fan it’s hard not to want to crack open a six pack and dump a few beers on your head.

Although I imagine you’d likely refrain, remembering what beer costs in the province of Ontario.

However, if the Blue Jays go on to clinch the division I’m sure a few Molson Canadians can be spared.

And if they go on to do more than that? God only knows ...

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Follow Tyler and #Section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108