Trip to Baltimore brings back memories of AL East clincher

By: Bob Elliott

BALTIMORE _ It was 201 days since the Blue Jays were last inside the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards in Baltimore. 

“I remember it well,” said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki of the night the Jays clinched the American League East title, ending 22 years of post-season attempts, failures and elimination dates.

For Tulowitzki the 2015 season was his third trip to October ball. He was a rookie when the Colorado Rockies made it the first time in 2007, losing to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, he returned in 2009 and last year he David Price and the other newcomers helped the Jays go from a .500 team to a dominant force.

“When you are young you really don’t appreciate winning as much, you don’t realize how much work goes into a winning season from the first day of spring until October,” said the shortstop. “I was probably happiest for guys like Jose Bautista. Jose had been here a long time (since 2008) without winning.”

Justin Smoak remembers the last time into Baltimore “you mean when we won the AL East?” The Jays won 4-3 on Monday, Sept. 28, as Smoak’s grounder scored Dalton Pompey with the winner with one out in the ninth.

The Tuesday game was rained out and Wednesday in the first game of a make-up doubleheader, the Jays scored four in the fifth to go up 8-0 on the way to their 92nd win. Edwin Encarnacion with his 37th homer, Jose Bautista, his 40th and Smoak with his 18th -- all after the seventh -- turned it into a 15-2 win route. 

“It smells a lot better than when we left,” Smoak said referring to the Jays champagne and beer spritzing. “We stayed in here and watched the second game, we all got the second game off, some guys went out to the dugout during the game. We stayed a long time.”

The Jays went with a lineup of Pompey in centre, left fielder Cliff Pennington, right fielder Ezequiel Carrera, DH Chris Colabello, first baseman Matt Hague, catcher Josh Thole, third baseman Munenori Kawasaki, second baseman Darwin Barney and Jonathan Diaz at short in the second game, an 8-1 loss.

“I was happy for everyone,” Smoak said. “Who enjoyed in the most?”

Just then Encarnacion chirped in with “parrr-TAY,” Smoak said “well, I do remember Kawasaki yelling ‘BUSH PARTY’ a few times.” 

Marcus Stroman, who started Tuesday’s opener, pitched eight innings allowing one run.

Manager John Gibbons gave the ball to veteran LaTroy Hawkins in his final season to get the final three outs and then the party started. With Hawkins on the mound Jays fans spotted Alex Anthopoulos sitting behind the dugout and broke out into a “Thank You Alex!” chant. 

Hawkins gave one reporter, soaked when the Jays clinched a post-season berth at home, a new protective hoody so he would not get wet.

Gibbons said upon entering the clubhouse on Tuesday he looked at the carpet to see if the moisture from last fall had been cleaned up. 

“The more I looked at the carpet, the more it reminded me of the carpet at Fenway,” said Gibbons.  

MANAGER SPEAK: Gibbons was unsure whether closer Roberto Osuna would be available Tuesday if the Jays had a lead after cracking a finger nail during the series at Fenway Park. Drew Storen closed out Monday’s win accomplishing one of the most difficult things in baseball: getting a called third strike in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game at either Yankee Stadium or Fenway. It’s been a while but a former Jays manager used to say that all the time.  

NO FLIPPIN: Bautista didn’t flip the bat, but he did get fat against Orioles pitching last season. He hit .373 with four doubles, six homers, 20 RBIs and a 1.304 OPS. Bautista has an on-base mark of .432 on two-strike counts this season. He has reached base safely in 27 games dating back to last year and including post season.