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Jays' division title about faith, destiny

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For fans, Marcus Stroman, the team, Wednesday's division-clinching win was perfect.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Mother Nature delayed the Toronto Blue Jays’ near-inevitable sixth American League East (AL East) tittle on Tuesday when heavy rain forced Toronto into a Wednesday doubleheader at Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles.

It was playing out perfectly. In need of a Jays win and a Yankees loss to clinch the division, Toronto was set to take on Baltimore just as the Red Sox stormed out to a 6-0 lead in the top of the first inning at Yankee Stadium. A shade over 200 miles away, the Yankees were gifting the Jays their first AL East title in 22 years.

After the Yankees went on to lose 10-4, at home, the Jays kicked off their first of two cracks at the division title on Wednesday.

And they didn’t need either of those wins. They could have made it close, and lost a couple, narrowing their schedule in the process. Prior to the 4:00 p.m. first leg of the doubleheader, the Jays had six games left and needed just one win to secure the title.

But a win was inevitable. Or close to it.

Since the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, the Jays had played to a record of 38-14.

The acquisitions of outfielder Ben Revere, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and pitchers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe at the deadline had not only shored up the team’s bullpen, but also added to an already potent offence – the strongest in the AL at the time in terms of runs scored.

In the two months since the deadline, the Jays had lost two consecutive games just three times, having never let it extend to three games, let alone six.

Losing fell out of style. Waiting wasn’t their style. They weren’t going to lose twice to the 76-80 Orioles.

In the top of the second inning of the first game, catcher Russell Martin’s one-out triple cashed Ben Revere from first base, setting the table for Ryan Goins to give Toronto the early 2-0 lead on the road with another one-out hit.

From there, there was no looking back. And the fans, travelling to the away game for a chance at history, knew it, with "Let’s go Blue Jays" chants descending early and often.

They would add another pair in the fourth inning, four more in the fifth, two more in the seventh and five more in the ninth.

But the end result didn’t matter. What mattered was that they won, and there was never any doubt.

And while it had grown increasingly clear the team was destined for the title as the season wound down, it was particular special for one player: Marcus Stroman.

For Stroman, the game was the capitulation of a long road that led him this moment, to his moment.

After suffering a torn ACL in Spring Training while fielding a routine play, Stroman worked tirelessly to get back, promising fans that he’d be back in time for the playoffs the day after the injury.

As with the Jays’ clinch, it didn’t matter how he did it, just that he was on the mound when it happened, seven months after his injury.

That he had to go 4-0 upon his return from the injury to make the moment possible is just a bonus. That he went eight innings giving up one earned run on the evening is just a bonus.

All that mattered was that he was there when they did it.

And they aren’t just the team, but also its fans.

Jays fan Katelyn Esmonde travelled from Washington to Baltimore with tickets for both the games, but she was confident before the first game started that the team wouldn’t need the second.

She wasn’t the only one who made the trip either. For the flocks of Jays fans in the stadium, the moment was a longtime coming.

"The stadium was pretty empty, so all the Jays fans gathered by the Jays dugout and were cheering loudly the whole time," Esmonde said in an interview in between games. "There was so much camaraderie amongst us Jays fans -- we were exchanging stories about where we're from, our trip into town for the game, and even how old we were the last time the Jays won the World Series."

"From where I was, it felt like a home game," she said. "A lot of things came together to make that an incredible night for Jays fans."

And isn’t that the truth?