When September ended, the Blue Jays season was in danger of turning into a failure. They had just completed an 11-16 month of baseball which saw their two game division lead turn into a six game deficit. The offense had all but disappeared as their .693 OPS in September ranked second to last in the American League (only the Angels were worse), and they didn’t win a game in which their opponent scored more than three runs all month.
Worse yet, the Orioles had moved a game ahead of them into second place in the division (and into the first Wild Card spot), and the Jays were just a half game ahead of the Tigers and a game ahead of the Mariners who both represented the possibility of Toronto missing the playoffs altogether.
And then, as the calendar turned to October, everything flipped like a light switch. First the Jays won game 161 in Boston by plating the winning run in the ninth inning without the benefit of a hit. Then the next day they came out and won the regular season finale behind an outstanding outing from Aaron Sanchez and a clutch RBI single from Tulo in the eighth inning to lock up home field in the Wild Card game. Since grabbing that momentum, they haven’t looked back.
An epic Wild Card game and a clean sweep of the Texas Rangers later, and the Blue Jays are just four wins away from an American League pennant. Gone are the Orioles who lost a Mario Kart race with a lightning bolt in their item box. Gone are the Red Sox whose AL East crown now rings hollow, and gone are the Texas Rangers who failed miserably in their quest for revenge.
Baseball problems are not supposed to disappear this easily. Longtime Jays fans who waited 22 years between post season appearances know this. Baseball is usually about pain, failure and loss.
Take a (more than) brief gander at the Texas Rangers for instance:
Here we have a franchise that’s been around since 1961, has never won a World Series, and never even made the playoffs until 1996. Oh, and their appearances in the playoffs over the last 20 years probably haven’t made them feel any better.
After winning Game 1 of the 96 ALDS against the Yankees, they then lost the next three games by blowing a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning of Game 2, a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning of Game 3, and a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning of Game 4. They then got swept by the Yankees in the ALDS in both 98 and 99, leaving them with nine straight post season losses to New York.
They wouldn’t get back to the playoffs again until 2010, where this time, they finally beat the Yankees (in the ALCS) and advanced to the World Series as favorites. Here, their ace Cliff Lee (who mowed down opponents all post season) got lit up in Game 1 to the tune of seven runs in 4.2 innings in perhaps the most pitcher friendly ballpark in the game. This set the tone for that series and they lost in five games.
The next year, they got back to the World Series again and came within one strike of winning the whole thing in BOTH the ninth AND the tenth innings of Game 6. They lost. They also had a 2-0 lead in Game 7. They lost that too.
Then in 2012, they were 13 games ahead of an Oakland A’s team at the end of June. The A’s ran them down, took the division title on the last day of the season, and the Rangers lost the Wild Card game to Baltimore.
In 2013, they took a two game division lead into September, but started the month with a 2-14 record and missed the playoffs.
After finishing last in a miserable, injury filled 2014, the Rangers bounced back and won their division in 2015, which of course led to them blowing a 2-0 ALDS lead that culminated in perhaps the wildest seventh frame in MLB history. (Jays fans may be familiar with it.)
But then, somehow, it got even worse. Texas then threw a hissy fit in response to how the Blue Jays celebrated their comeback, picked a fight with them the following season, got a rematch with a chance to settle the score on the field in October (with the home field advantage this time), and proceeded to get their doors blown off by a combined score of 22-10 in a sweep.
Can you even imagine being a fan of that team? The Germans might not even have a word for what just happened there.
I bring this up because while an extreme example, this is what baseball is usually like. It’s about that rip your heart out / soul crushing chain of events, usually with years of it stacked on top of one another.
This game is not as easy as the Blue Jays have made it look so far this month. So while the magic is happening, cherish every second of it. Cherish Buck’s brainfart, Encarnacion’s heroics, Odor’s fielding and Donaldson’s dash. Cherish every Pillar diving catch and every Tulo jump throw. Cherish winning six straight post season games against the Rangers, and cherish every October win washing away another September sin.
Magic like this can elude franchises for decades at a time. So while it’s here, enjoy every second of it. Hope that it stays around for several years (because in some select lucky cities, it does), but cherish it like it’s going to be gone tomorrow .... Because the road to victory in October baseball is rarely this smooth.
The Blue Jays have found baseball magic in baseball’s most important month, and every game it sticks around, their season becomes more and more successful. Let’s hope they can hold onto it for eight more wins.