edwin encarnacion

Blue Jays Gave You What You Wanted

OK, its tomorrow now. 

We’ve all had time to soak in the amazement of the Blue Jays beating the Rangers AGAIN to advance to the ALCS. It was a confusing, exciting and befuddling moment when the double play attempt by Roughned Odor was botched on an errant throw to first. It wasn’t a home run, it wasn’t a routine, clutch single…it wasn’t even a hit by pitch. Josh Donaldson slid into home in glorious fashion to slide off the Rangers in a three game sweep.

It was a very different atmosphere last season when the Jays came back to beat the Rangers after being down in the series 0-2. The Jays were the heavy favourite and needed to get their game in check before they would “flip off” the Rangers on a Jose Bautista blast. Last year, the rivalry started and there were plenty of moments that built up the foundation of what this year’s story line became.

From the flip, to the punch to the brooms; this year’s ALDS delivered everything Jays fans…and to a certain degree, Rangers ones as well,  craved since last fall. Sure, Texas is crushed because they’re out now but I guarantee you we’re going to get a Sunday Night Baseball showdown next year because the ratings will be delivered. The Jays/Rangers saga took MLB baseball on a ride this year and when you’re done here, you’ll want it all over again next year.

The regular season series this year had the Jays edging Texas by one game but they outscored them 36-21 with 12-2 and 5-0 routs going Toronto’s way. In there was this:

Bautista trying to slide into Odor's DMs...he wasn't having any of that photo-nytimes.com

Bautista trying to slide into Odor’s at 2nd and he wasn’t having any of that
photo-nytimes.com

That pretty much set the hype train in motion for a potential (remember it was May) post season collision (no pun intended, OK now maybe). Why they’d decide to stick it to the Jays in May is anyone’s guess. Maybe because at that time, it really didn’t matter either way and there were 120+ games left? I dunno.

Toronto carried their momentum from last season right through to 2016 and all most of us could talk about was “What if?”. What if the Jays DID face the Rangers in the post season? It would take the perfect set up for everything to fall into place. The Jays didn’t do themselves any favours when they botched the AL East division lead to the Red Sox and almost forfeited their season efforts had they lost to the Red Sox in more than one game in the final series of the year.

Texas continued its torrid pace as they made no mistake in taking top spot in the American League going into the playoffs. As we’ve seen though, it didn’t mean a whole lot once Toronto walked off the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card to set up the matchup e’eryone wanted including yours truly.

What started as THE headline series to watch in the MLB Postseason quickly turned into an after thought once the Blue Jay bats took to the field.

Want a breakdown? Here’s a breakdown:

Game 1 in Texas – 2 innings of what looked to be a pitchers duel between Marco Estrada and Cole Hamels turned into a Donaldson double and later a Troy Tulowitzki triple to put the Jays up 5-buzz. Uh oh. Melvin Upton Jr homers in the 4th (seriously, MELVIN UPTON???) followed by a Donaldson RBI single. 7-0 kiddies. Top of 9, Jose Bautista destroys a baseball with his wooden stick and homers. Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion feeling cold, get to run home to get their coats.

10-1 FINAL. It was over before it started.

This was the Blue Jays team we remembered before September took away most of the magic we felt when the team gave up their lead in the division. The series felt already out of hand after one game but baseball is funny sometimes and you just never know…this time….the Jays knew.

Game 2 in Texas – Homers, homers and more homers. Tulo, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Edwin all go yard. J.A. Happ does his pitching thing and the Jays although roughed up slightly, made sure this one wasn’t in doubt. 5-3 Blue Jays.

The series felt like it had lost a lot of the hype as Toronto just owned it but when the Rangers had the lead last year it was Toronto that had to fight back. It didn’t feel over, but it kinda was. Regardless, we all were pretty pumped for the Thanksgiving Sunday showdown that hopefully would decide it all.

Texas didn’t even look like they belonged in this series even though they had a convincing 53-28 home record in the regular season. It almost felt like it was the Jays series to lose at that point. I mean after two games, Toronto already had six home runs and it felt like that was the only way they were going to score. What a way to make an impact.

Game 3 in Toronto – We all know how this ends.

You could just taste it, maybe it was the turkey I’m not quite sure. Rogers Centre was booming and if just seemed like every pitch would be monumental. The Rangers took the early lead 1-0 off a walk and a single but it would be the bottom of the first that turned that game into a barn burner.

A blast by Edwin Encarnacion to drive home two followed by a Russ Martin, previously o-11, home run made it 3-1 and this game just got crazy. Elvis Andrus of Texas then homered in the 2nd, Donaldson ground rule doubled to score a run, Edwin singles in a run and the Jays have to have it in the bag.

This Texas crew looked done but they didn’t let anyone tell them. The villain Rougned Odor, he of boxing fame, put the Rangers right back into it with his own statement maker over the wall. 5-4 after after 4 innings and if you caught your breath, you lost it just over an inning later. A Mitch Moreland double was the result of a rare and I’m talking RARE Kevin Pillar diving Superman miss; Rangers go up 6-5.

I’ve seen Pillar make this catch COUNTLESS times this season, last season and basically every time he seems to put on a Blue Jays uniform. That miss kept that game alive because if Pillar makes it, you had to believe that would have pretty much been the end of it. The nerves were at unhealthy levels after that because the Jays for the first time in the series, looked human.

In the bottom of six, sacks drunk and A PASSED BALL!?!???!! Ezequiel Carrera guns it home and ties it! This series had now seen everything and the game just took another turn. You pretty much can only write stories like this because seeing them pan out in real life is too crazy to imagine.

The bullpens on both sides held their own until the 10th inning when this happened:

I lied, that was the moment we saw it all. You can’t capture that feeling every Jays fan and obviously the Jays themselves were feeling because there was just too much emotion! Even though it was a sweep of the Texas Rangers, they were the best opponent they could have faced.

We all wanted a Texas/Toronto ALDS or early on even a ALCS, and we were rewarded with just that. As the Rangers lick their wounds going into the off season, they will have May 25/2017 circled when they go back to Rogers Centre for some payback.

That series couldn’t have been any better and we should all be so fortunate that we witnessed the most electric matchup thus far. It’s on to the ALCS versus either the Red Sox or Indians and we couldn’t be more excited.

There were countless pictures, tweets, videos and memes after the epic finale but really the one that sticks will keep the rivalry alive for next year.

Rest up Jays fans, it’s not over yet.

 

cover photo: foxsports.com

Will Blue Jays Feel The Love In October?

Is it World Series or bust for Jays fans this year? Will they still feel the love in October? April 2016?

As Canadians, we tend to like a winner and if you look through all the Canadian sports franchises, there isn’t much to celebrate once the post season begins. The Stanley Cup hasn’t been awarded north of the U.S since 1993; despite the game being created by a Canadian, the NBA championship has never come to Canada, not even close, the NFL and the CFL well….. and of course the Jays won back to back titles in 92/93.

When the Blue Jays last won it all, I was 10 years old and Joe Carter hit a home run that still is vivid in my mind to this day; I don’t need hilites to remind me. Since then, September has basically meant NFL is here and NHL training camps are gearing up. Baseball fans tune out their emotions and watch Boston and New York duke it out.

Toronto has made strides to get back to glory but never all at once. Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Roger Clemens, Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay, Frank Thomas, Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen B.J Ryan and AJ Burnett; all names that bring both good and bad memories but they played for Canada’s team.

Always typical with any sports franchise on the cusp of doing something great: have a plethora of talent in one area but not the other. Pitching goes south and the bats catch fire, bats go dead and the pitching is lights out. You’d think because there isn’t a salary cap that the Jays could buy there way out of trouble.

They did. But never more than one star at a time.

Their other problem was that as soon as they developed a star, they traded him away because they weren’t in a position to win and felt they could just keep flipping and building, flipping and building. Why not struggle like the Rays did and eventually have a plethora of talent at your disposal?

Well, it looks like Rogers Media has pulled out all the stops and wunder GM Alex Anthopoulos has put together a dream team of sorts.  Anchored by some original talent like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays have definitely put their money where their mouth is this year.

Trades bringing in Josh Donaldson for oft-injured Brett Lawrie, David Price and Troy Tulowitzki; big name signings like R.A Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Russell Martin have all put the Jays in contention to not only win the AL East for the first time since Full House was a staple of my Tuesday night viewing, but a chance to win the World Series and maybe keep some of the big stars around for a few more years.

But what if the Jays lose out to the Yankees by game 162 and slide to the one game playoff spot? Where will the Blue Jays fan base be? Can the bottom fall out that quickly? These are some pretty big questions that will be asked if it all falls apart.

The MLB post season is an enigma. Teams that run the table all year can be upset in one game or run into a hot team at the wrong time. With Toronto’s recent success, there have been struggles as well. Mark Buehrle has been less than perfect lately and Marcus Stroman is ready for return. R.A Dickey can knuckleball his way to a Cy Young but can he do it to the World Series?

Are the Blue Jays faithful going to be just that as this gets closer and closer? Hockey season is getting close and the immediate market Maple Leafs will be vying for the whole pie as will the Raptors. Winning fixes everything so maybe now IS the time for this to happen.

Sellouts and Blue Jays haven’t been said in the same sentence for many many years and now you take a look in the stands and seats are hard to come by. The nice thing about the real baseball fan and I believe there are tons in Toronto, is that they don’t appear corporate.

When Air Canada Centre opens for business in October, the suits will take over and the real fans will be stuck up top. Here’s where the Jays can really put a stranglehold on that cold month. If they are winning or assured a playoff spot the fans will be there.

Over the final month of play, the Jays have just over 24 games left. Seven of those are against the Yankees, a quick set against the Braves and the rest against the Red Sox, Orioles and Rays. I venture to say it will basically be playoff baseball here on out.

Even though the Jays have made their amazing push, the only let down for the Yankees was their series awhile back vs. Toronto. They haven’t let up. Its going to be a “who flinches first” race to the finish and if the Jays can hang on, they have the fire power both in their starting rotation, bullpen and their batting order.

Winning will make this all very sweet but even in defeat, Toronto has managed to keep even the most casual fan interested. Josh Donaldson’s season long heroics have been things of legend even on the wrong side of the score as have Edwin Encarnacion’s hit streaks and yard balls.

The addition of Tulowitzki and Jay killer David Price have put the Blue Jays over the top and only a monumental collapse could derail this train. The Jays are for real this time and every dollar has been spent to ensure they get a proper chance to succeed.

Fans are coming out in droves, new fans are being created, bandwagoners are buying merch and the thought of watching post season baseball on Sportsnet with Buck and Pat gets me excited.

Hoisting the World Series trophy is rarely done with a home grown team, ok aside from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Blue Jays won with some pretty big splashes back in the 90’s adding Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and a few other notable players, so this isn’t the first time they’ve struck it rich.

Cash is king in baseball and winning it all by drafting, developing and making a run is practically impossible. However, just because you spend the big bucks, doesn’t mean you’ll win it all. It can be done on a shoe string budget, just ask the famous “Moneyball” GM Billy Beane.

So even though the Blue Jays spent their money a few times in the last year or two, the clubhouse they have right now is producing wins, fans and if they have it their way: a third World Series Championship. But if for some reason it all falls apart and they come up short, don’t expect this revitalized fan base to simmer down.

The fans are pulling for this team and the belief is real. No more let downs come mid September. The Blue Jays have what it takes to endure the marathon that is the MLB. AA has put together a winner and confidence has never been higher.

I wouldn’t mind seeing 1993 replay itself with a walkoff Bautista dinger.

This may be the start of something truly special. #thehuntforblueoctober

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