Ever-evolving Blue Jays clinch AL East at Camden
By Bob Elliott
BALTIMORE _ Their opening day centre fielder was in Maryland on Wednesday night.
So too was their second baseman from April 6, 157 games ago at Yankee Stadium.
Their opening night starter, along with their scheduled every day left fielder were here too.
Their starting shortstop was in Phoenix while his replacement watched from the third base dugout.
None of those key players from the Game 1 win had an at-bat or threw a strike on this night.
Yet, ladies and gentlemen ... we give you Your 2015 Toronto Blue Jays, the American League East champions.
They’ve come a long way in this remarkable season to the point when at 7:26 p.m. Russell Martin caught a foul tip off the bat of Ryan Flaherty recording a LaTroy Hawkins strikeout as the Jays had a 15-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles in the first game of the doubleheader.
After Hawkins’ whiff Chris Colabello was the first to hop the dugout fence and race to the mound. There were gentle hugs all around after the Jays 92nd win before a corporal’s cadre of friends and relatives as the Jays won the AL East for the sixth time in franchise history.
There were embraces on the mound before players left the field to form another line hugging manager John Gibbons, his coaches, general manager Alex Anthopoulos, assistant GMs Tony LaCava and Andrew Tinnish, executives Stephen Brooks, Dana Brown, along with three men who were working for the Jays 22 years ago Jeff Ross, Kevin Malloy and Jay Stenhouse.
In the top of the ninth with Jays fans feeling a tad full of themselves -- and maybe Natty Boh (National Bohemian) beer -- and after watching Jose Bautista and Justin Smoak go deep, they began a “Thank you Alex, Thank you Alex” cheer to Anthopoulos seated behind the third base dugout. It was the Jays 26th time scoring in double figures this season.
The Way it began: On opening night in New York, Dalton Pompey started in centre, Devon Travis was at second, Jose Reyes was at short, Drew Hutchison was on the mound and Kevin Pillar was in left in place of Michael Saunders whom the Jays traded for was supposed to be the every day left fielder.
It’s been said five or six -- thousand times -- that baseball, like life, is a game of adjustments.
The Jays made adjustments on the way to winning.
Pompey was demoted the first week of May, returning as a September call up, while Pillar went from a scheduled back-up role to playing gold glove defence in centre.
Travis injured his left shoulder and has not started since July 25.
Hutchison, the opening day starter and winner, was removed from the rotation and has not started since Sept. 9.
Saunders, who stepped on a sprinkler head, started only nine games, none since May 9.
Reyes was dealt to the Colorado Rockies July 28 for shortstop Troy Tolowitzki.
The only Jays in the opening day lineup and Wednesday were Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Pillar. Only Bautista and Pillar were in the same spots in the batting order and only Bautista played the same position in the field.
The Jays did an August AA Airlift -- Alex Anthopoulos, not American Airlines -- bringing in Tulowitzki, Hawkins, David Price, Ben Revere and Mark Lowe.
The winner in the clincher was bouncy Marcus Stoman, who tore his ACL in a fielding drill in spring training and was thought to be lost for the year. He pitched eight innings.
Culture shock: Much was made much of how the culture changed when the Jays said goodbye to Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and Casey Janssen, and hello to players like Martin and Donaldson, who had won before with other teams.
Maybe, but when Tulowitzki played his first game the Jays were 50-51.
“The change started in the spring,” said Mark Buehrle, “a change in culture doesn’t always result in wins.”
The 1991 Jays were a talented team and they improved when Dave Winfield and Jack Morris arrived.
The next year Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart were an influx of experienced talent looking to win.
This year’s Jays were talented. They climbed a competitive notch with the arrival of Donaldson and Martin and jumped again when Tulowitzki and Price arrived.
“We got a bit of a kick in the butt at the deadline,” said Buehrle.
Tulowitzki didn’t make an error in 162 chances throwing on the run, from the hole and ranging into the outfield as he did at Yankee Stadium when Pillar’s chinny-chin chin crashed into his shoulder blade causing a small crack. He is close to returning to the lineup.
While Tulowitzki only hit .214 with three homers and eight RBIs in August, he provided protection for Encarnacion, who hit 11 doubles, 11 homers, drove in 35 runs, hit .407 and had a 1.379 OPS.
“I always thought we could be this good,” Encarnacion said. “We needed to put things together and in August we did.”
It will be almost 22 years between post-season appearances ... from Oct 23, 1993, to Thursday Oct. 8, a span of 8,020 days
In between the Jays played 3,499 games.
Back in 1993 when Jays fans honked horns on Yonge St., Buehrle was in grade 8, R.A. Dickey was in grade 11, LaTroy Hawkins was a third-year pro at class Fort Wayne and Gibbons was a minor league instructor with the New York Mets.
When Joe Carter hit his homer Aaron Sanchez was wet 114 days old, while closer Roberto Osuna and Pompey were not even born.
As Hall of Fame broadcaster Tom Cheek said so eloquently so many year ago and is probably saying it again:
“And the Blue Jays are the champs! The Blue Jays are the champs of the American League East!”
Understanding: Buehrle comprehends the passion amongst the fans and excitement since the Jays have not played a post-season game since 1993.
“It’s like when we won the World Series in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox,” Buehrle said. “People were talking about the franchise not winning since 1917 ... I was like ‘sorry, I wasn’t even around then, I wasn’t even thought about being around then. I can’t take responsibility for that.
“Same with here. Toronto hasn’t won since 1993 ... well this is only my third year here.”
Celebrations: When the Jays clinched their first post-season berth it came in the first few hours of Saturday morning. They didn’t even know they had won until arriving at the park and having the logistics explained to them.
Then, they beat the Tampa Bay Rays 10-8 and celebrated.
And on a Wednesday afternoon in Game 1 of a doubleheader the magic number went from one to zero, the Jays had clinched the AL East title. Rather than a wild celebration there was a second game to play, although none of the Game 1 starters were in the lineup.
Can con: Revere reached on a bang-bang play to open the game as first base ump Stu Scheurwater of Regina said the lead-off man beat the throw from second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Manager Buck Showalter appealed the call. After checking with the New York, the play was reversed.
Wrapping it up: The last time the Jays clinched the AL East came on a chilly, rainy night in Milwaukee on Sept. 27, 1993 at County Stadium. Right-hander Pat Hentgen pitched 6 2/3 scoreless throwing 114 pitches.
Manager Cito Gaston used Tony Castillo, Mike Timlin and Duane Ward for 2 1/3 hitless innings. Hentgen won his 19th game and Ward saved his 43rd in the 2-0 win before 14,931.
Former Brewer Paul Molitor homered in the second and White knocked in a Ed Sprague, who had singled and raced to third on Robbie Alomar’s double.
Omen: MASN-TV was showing an Orioles classic game against the California Angels Wednesday afternoon from July 15, 1989 at Memorial Stadium. And the first player we saw on the TV? Angels lean gold glove centre fielder Devon White, who singled in the sixth, stole second and scored on a Tony Armas single.
White knocked in one of the runs on Sept. 27, 1993 for the Jays the last time the Jays clinched.
White was 3-for-4 for the Angels in 1989. What made the game memorable in O’s history was Mike Devereaux hitting a walk-off, two-run drove down the left field line. Manager Doug Rader argued for 10 minutes that the ball was foul. The next day he was ejected when he handed in the lineup to the crew of Ken Kaiser, Larry Young, Jim Joyce and Jim McKean. It contained a nasty ad lib or two.
One from the hallway: LaCava, assistant GM, walking into Camden Yards with Jays analysts Joe Sheehan and Jason Pare and seeing broadcaster Jerry Howarth: “Why don’t you do your own version of Russ Hodges classic call in 1951 when Bobby Thomson homered and he said ‘The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!’ You could say ‘The analysts win the pennant! The analysts win the pennant!’ You’d be a big hit in the analytics community.”