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Blue Jay fans invade Safeco Field, help inspire 3-2 win over Mariners

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays getting fan support on the road is nothing new in 2016, but what happened Monday night in Seattle belongs in a class of its own. The attendance is listed at 34,809, but it sounded like there were twice that many Blue Jay fans in the stands throughout the game.

They were relentless. Just as thunder always follows a brilliant burst of lightning, a loud boom of cheers crashed down from the stands and rattled around the field every time Marco Estrada recorded an out. Heck, every time he threw a strike there was a noticeable buzz in the stadium.

I have never watched a baseball game where the cheers for the road team were this loud and this consistent through the night. This isn’t to say I’ve never seen road fans outnumber home fans; it happens a several times each year. But I’ve never seen the noise level this extreme.

It would have been one thing if the Mariners were a last place team 20 games under .500 and the Blue Jay fans made the trip across the border and invaded the park of a fanbase who is already looking to 2017, but something far more extreme happened here. The Mariners are not a team counting down the days until the off season. The Mariners are a good baseball team. More than that, the Mariners are a hot baseball team who had won nine of their last eleven games before Monday and are fighting for a Wild Card spot the Blue Jays currently hold.

This series is their opportunity to catch up. This series is their chance to inflict head to head damage on a struggling Blue Jays team who still hasn’t won a series in September. In many ways, this is the most important series of the year for the Mariners.

Knowing this, just how jarring must last night’s atmosphere have been for Seattle’s players? They’ve got the team they need to beat in their building in a pivotal late September series, and instead of stepping into a hostile environment, that team is welcomed with open arms by an chorus of Blue Jay fans who descended down from western Canada like an invading army.

It’s debatable how much fans can impact the result of a baseball game, and I’m sure an atmosphere like the one we saw Monday night influences each player (on both sides of the equation) differently. However, if fans can make a difference, you have to believe it shows up somewhere in a situation like this.

Kevin Pillar and Marco Estrada might be the best examples here as they each had huge games. Pillar had three hits, two stolen bases, what turned out to be the game winning RBI, and he also made a great sliding catch to end the fourth inning that saved at least one run. Here’s what he told Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star after the game:

"I think it started in batting practice. Coming out here and playing in that atmosphere was probably more than we all expected. To get that kind of support from batting practice, that scene during the national anthem, you can’t help but get emotional and fired up. I give them a lot of credit for bringing the energy tonight. I think we just fed off of that."

Then there’s Marco Estrada who’s pitching with a herniated disk in his back that’s sapped his second half production. Entering Monday, he’d allowed four or more runs in five of his last six starts. After making hitters look foolish every five days for much of the early part of the season, opponents have spent much of the last few weeks turning the tables on Estrada in his weakened state. But last night, Estrada dug deep and at least briefly recaptured his mound mojo with seven magnificent shutout innings.

With Estrada grinding through the severe pain of pitching with a herniated disk, there’s probably no player more likely to feed off the crowd energy and channel it into success. Every time the sea of blue erupted after a he threw a strike, and every time it erupted even louder after he recorded an out had to be soothing. Once Marco realized the entire game was going to be like that, it’s not outrageous to think it was just a little bit easier for him to focus on executing his next pitch and ignore the aching knot in his back.

Like Pillar, Estrada credited the fans with at least a portion of his success.

"It’s just the fans here," Estrada said after the win. "It felt like a home game. It’s incredible to see how many fans make it out to these games and I’m sure it’s going to be like this the next two days. It’s an extremely tough team to play against, but we felt like we were the home team. It’s awesome to be a Blue Jay and being on the road to see all the love and support we’re getting from Canada, it’s awesome. It gave us a lot of energy in the dugout."

With the win, the Blue Jays pulled back even with the Orioles for the first Wild Card spot and now have a two and a half game cushion over Detroit for the second Wild Card spot with both Houston and Seattle three games back. It’s just one game, but it’s not impossible to see how the Blue Jays could use this as a turning point as they now know they will have the overwhelming support of the crowd the next nine times they take the field.

If the Jays can somehow take the next two games with Happ and Sanchez on the mound, they would all but deliver a knockout punch to Seattle, and if these raucous Vancouver centric crowds do make a difference, I’m sure they will take great pleasure in sinking the Mariners’ ship. I can’t wait to see the atmosphere they create tonight.

UPDATE 6:00 p.m. ET

The Blue Jays fans were so loud in this game that local Seattle sports personality Brock Huard wants the Mariners to limit ticket sales to Canadians in the future.  I doubt major league baseball would ever let them do that, but the fact that it's even being suggested in the Seattle area just shows crazy the scene was at Safeco Field last night.