Opening Day is here! Obviously that’s exciting, but this year, it feels different than it normally does. Usually, Blue Jays fans are accustomed to a long winter, not only because we live in Canada, but because we started looking forward to next year in July. But last season, rather than sliding out of contention during the dog days of summer, the Jays went all the way and snapped their 21-year playoff drought, bringing playoff baseball back to Canada for the first time since 1993.
Last year’s group was nothing short of incredible. They mashed the ball all over the place, hitting home runs like it was Slo-Pitch. They dug themselves deep into holes with terrible pitching, and then climbed out of it just for fun with last-second rallies. They played defence as if they were given bonus points for style, diving around the field with reckless abandon. Josh Donaldson clubbed walk off home runs, Edwin Encarnacion had a hat trick, Marco Estrada almost threw a perfect game, Kevin Pillar became superman, Jose Bautista would eye down opposing pitchers like a goddamn lunatic and try to throw guys out at first base from right field, Liam Hendriks could suddenly throw in the high 90s, Ben Revere tried to do a gatorade shower but dropped the container, Chris Colabello found ways to sneak the ball past the other team’s fielders, Roberto Osuna climbed through the entire organization in a few weeks to become a lights out closer at 20 years of age, and that’s just scratching the surface.
They were so damn frustrating at times, but they always made up for it by being unforgettable. And then when they pulled it together, they reminded us why we couldn’t stop watching. So before we jump into another season, let’s take a few minutes to remember the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays.
The Season is Over Before it Even Began
A little dramatic, maybe? In hindsight, especially after everything that happened, it seems hilarious to think back to a time in which I believed that Marcus Stroman tearing his ACL while fielding bunts in practice meant the premature demise of the Toronto Blue Jays’ season. But running through the comment threads attached to the articles that broke the news, I wasn’t alone. And, to be fair, there was certainly reason for concern.
Look at this thread on Blue Bird Banter, for example. One guy said Stroman’s injury was like getting a kick in the gut. Another person responded and said it wasn’t just a kick to the gut, and it was more of a freight train. Everyone felt for the guy. How couldn’t you? Marcus is a ray of sunshine, a ball of positive energy, and he’s really fun to watch — not only because of how damn good he is, but how passionately he plays the game.
But there was also a sense of frustration that boiled through all the devastation.
As Jays fans, we’re used to dealing with bad news. I mean, we had banked on the health of Jose Reyes, Brandon Morrow, and Josh Johnson just a couple years earlier, so this wasn’t anything new. Alex Anthopolous and company were walking on a tightrope when it came to the team’s pitching staff. Outside of R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle — who, as awesome as they had been for the most part, could be pretty enigmatic — Stroman was really the only sure thing the Jays had in the way of starting pitching. While adding Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin over the offseason was fantastic, not adding some more arms was a huge cause for concern. Stroman’s injury highlighted it.
Unsurprisingly, the Jays didn’t get land any of the major free agent pitchers available, as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields were signed to massive contacts outside of Toronto’s budget. But even then, seemingly attainable names like Brandon McCarthy, Edinson Volquez, and Jason Hammel slipped through the cracks, leaving the Jays pitching staff looking pretty bare.
And if it was bare before Stroman went down, oh man, it looked completely decrepit after. The Jays decided to roll into the season with Buehrle and Dickey as the only two “sure things,” as the rest of the rotation was carved out by rookies Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, and Opening Day Starter Drew Hutchison, who, at 24 years of age and with 43 career Major League starts under his belt, seemed like a grizzled veteran compared to the other two.
Along with that, the Jays also had two babies in the bullpen, as Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna essentially climbed the entire organizational ladder in the span of a month to help fill a bullpen that was even more problematic than the starting rotation. And who was the insurance policy? Newly acquired Marco Estrada, who allowed home runs like it was going out of style in Milwaukee? Johan Santana, who hadn’t actually thrown a pitch in, like, four years? Todd Redmond? Jeff Francis?! Felix Doubrount?!?
There was so much that could go wrong. The team’s ace had already been injured, Michael Saunders was violently attacked by an underground sprinkler system, and with our luck, Dickey’s pitches would groove more like a gravity fastball than a tricky knuckleball and Martin would injure himself trying to catch it. One of Edwin or Joey Bats, or both, would certainly miss significant time due to an injury, more than half of the youngsters, Norris, Sanchez, Hutch, Osuna, or Castro, would falter at the Major League level, and by the time July rolled around, they would be six games out of the division lead, and we would be preparing ourselves for a game in which Felix Doubrount would take the mound with Danny Valencia and Steve Tolleson playing in the outfield.
Oh god, oh man. The 2015 Toronto Blue jays were going to be an adventure.
A Hit and Miss Start
Drew Hutchison got the ball to kick off the season, becoming the youngest Opening Day starter in Blue Jays history. Hutch pitched a gem, the bats knocked Masahiro Tanaka around a little bit, and the Jays won their first game of the season 6-1 in New York. So that first game gave us a really nice taste of how great this team could be, with a nice performance from a young pitcher, lock-down relief from Miguel Castro, and some big bats that could score on the best pitchers in the game, but the next day, we were reminded of exactly what it was that made us skeptical in the first place. The Jays, backed by an excellent start from R.A. Dickey, carried a 3-1 lead into eighth inning before Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil imploded and gave the game away, giving the Yankees a 4-3 win.
This carried on pretty much for the first two months of the season. It was the classic win one or two, then lose one or two Jays that couldn’t shake the curse of inconsistency. They would sweep the Orioles with a combination of massive offensive power, incredible defence, and decent-but-shaky pitching, and then go to Tampa Bay and get completely shut down immediately after. It was a total a tease, but damn, it was fun to watch. In the first couple months of the season, as up and down as it was, we started to see just how excellent this team could be, and it made it impossible not to watch. Every single game, it felt like something incredible could happen.
Josh Donaldson proved to be exactly what everybody expected him to be against the Braves when he clubbed a tenth inning walk off home run to centre field after Miguel Castro had just blown the save in the ninth. Kevin Pillar, on multiple occasions, illustrated that he was more than a bat-first nothing prospect who was simply keeping Michael Saunders’ seat warm with some absurd, video game style catches. Mark Buehrle managed to pitch a complete game against the Twins despite the fact he allowed four runs in the first inning. That same game, anybody who didn’t know the name Chris Colabello became aware of the BABIP King when he hit a two-run bomb off Glen Perkins, one of the game’s most dominant relievers, to complete the comeback.
But even through all of that, the Jays reached the beginning of June with a 22-27 record, as the bad managed to overshadow the good, and the wins just didn’t come with any kind of consistency. Unless the Jays scored ten runs, there was always a chance they would blow it. Maybe Dickey would walk everybody, maybe Hutch would get hammered all over the place, maybe Castro would completely lose it, maybe John Gibbons would be forced to use Jeff Francis or Colt Hynes in a high-leverage situation because Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup weren’t getting it done. But more often than not, the Jays pitching staff managed to find new and creative ways to lose games.
An Eleven-Game Winning Streak… I Think We’ve Been Here Before
It just isn’t a Toronto Blue Jays season unless there’s a massive winning streak sprinkled in there somewhere — usually in June — to raise our hopes. In 2013, after a horrific 27-36 start, a group patched together by the threads, consisting of excellent starts from Chen Ming Wang and Esmil Rogers, lockdown relief from Neil Wagner and Juan Perez, and, of course, the dawn of the Munernori Kawasaki era won eleven straight, and 15 of 19 games to pull themselves back into relevancy. Of course, that didn’t last long, as that ragtag group regressed back to where they belonged, and the 2013 Blue Jays Disaster Tour continued on its merry way.
The 2014 version of the Jays offered a similar streak, but unfortunately, it never managed to reach eleven games. That said, this streak actually vaulted the team into a playoff position, and appeared to be more than just dumb luck, as players that were actually good were playing well and contributing to the wins. It was a four-game sweep at the hand of the Oakland Athletics that really unglued what this streak had accomplished, and the Jays relinquished a division lead that they wouldn’t get back.
So when the eleven game streak last season happened, I think you can pardon me for being a little bit skeptical. I mean, haha, come on guys, we’ve been here before, right? Scott Copeland? Really?
Anyways, this whole thing got started with a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals that looked like the beginning of the end for the Jays season. They were 23-30, had just been shut down by Jordan Zimmermann in the first half of the double dip, and up next in the nightcap just had to be Max Scherzer who, well, you all know this, he’s basically un-hittable. But before the second game, the players all had a group nap in the clubhouse, like kindergarten students, and it seemed to work. Led by two home runs from Kevin Pillar — Goddamn Kevin Pillar managed to smack not only one, but two home runs off of the invincible Max Scherzer?! What! — and six strong innings from Marco Estrada, the Jays beat the Nationals 7-3.
I guess all they needed was a little refreshing, as the Jays went on to hammer the Nats again the following day, before sweeping the Astros, Red Sox, and Marlins en route to eleven straight victories. This is when the Blue Jays magic really started to show.
Down 6-4 to the Astros in the bottom of the ninth, Jose Reyes had arguably his best inning as a Blue Jay. He singled in Kawasaki, who had led the inning off with a double, to bring the game to within one, and then he kept things rolling by sneakily interfering with a Jose Bautista pop up to allow the slugger to reach first base with only one out. The two of them executed a double steal, giving Colabello an opportunity to walk the game off and complete the sweep. Two days later, Edwin walked off the Florida Marlins with a homer to centre field. And then, hell, they did it again. Hutch took the mound in Boston and got absolutely hammered by the Red Sox hitters, allowing eight runs in two-and-a-third innings of work. In the seventh, the Jays flipped the game upside down, scoring nine runs off a collection of hits and errors by Pablo Sandoval, highlighted by a bases-clearing Russell Martin triple. The Jays went on to beat the Sox 13-10, in a game that was deliciously referred to by a Boston broadcaster as the game that ended the team’s season.
Remember over the first couple months when it seemed like damn near every Jays game was like trying to build a house of cards, and it could collapse at any moment? Now it seemed like they would find a way to win all of them, and it felt weird when they didn’t. That’s what made this loss to the Mets sting so much. One win away from setting the franchise record for consecutive wins, the Jays went up against former ace prospect Noah Syndergaard in New York. Jose Bautista clubbed a home run in the ninth inning to tie it, and then in the top of the eleventh, they managed to manufacture a go-ahead run off of a Dioner Navarro sacrifice fly. There was still magic left in the tank! The Jays were never going to lose again! Magic Number Twelve!
Brett Cecil struggled with his command in the bottom of the inning, Danny Valencia booted a double play ball because he was playing second base for some reason, and then the BABIP gods blessed Lucas Duda with a weird pop single to left. The Mets ended up winning 4-3 on a walk off. It felt awful.
Maybe It’s Time to Think About Next Year?
They won the next two against the Mets at home, and another against Baltimore to get a mini three-game winning streak going, so, maybe it was just a blip on the radar. Unfortunately not. Just like the last two streaks, this one was followed by a regression back into inconsistent play, as the Jays went into the All Star Break with a 45-46 record, four-and-a-half games back of the division lead. It was back to square one. A win here, a loss there, a win here, two losses there, blown leads, winnable games, and ultimately, a growing deficit in the standings.
One game that particularly stood out as an indicator that all of the magic was gone was the Father’s Day game against the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s drilled Scott Copeland for seven runs in the second inning, but such as they did against the Red Sox, the Jays quickly climbed back into it with a big inning of their own. After taking a 9-7 lead in the fourth inning, the bullpen imploded in the ninth, allowing four runs, as the Orioles ended up being the team to come out on top with a magical comeback.
They took two of three in Tampa Bay in a series that saw Josh Donaldson’s best catch of the season and Marco Estrada flirt with a perfect game. Then they took two of three against Texas and it looked like the wheels were rolling again. But immediately after, the Jays lost three of four to Boston — including a start in which prospect Matt Boyd allowed seven runs in the first inning without recording an out — before embarking on a disastrous ten-game road trip to the Central Division.
Thy lost two of three to the Detroit Tigers, including a loss on the back of an excellent performance from David Price. Geez, wouldn’t it be nice if the Jays had a guy like that? Then, they lost three of four to the White Sox, which was highlighted by a could-have-been-a-win loss in which Jose Reyes booted a routine ground ball in the late innings to allow Chicago to pull ahead. Then, finally, the Jays capped off their first half of the season by losing two of three to the Royals. Terrible defensive plays from Reyes also highlighted this series, as the Jays had managed to come all the way back from down 7-0 with an eight run sixth inning — against the elite Royals bullpen, nonetheless — before Reyes booted a ball in the bottom half that allowed Kansas City to take it right back.
I have no intel on this whatsoever, but I feel like this was the point that Alex Anthopolous decided that the best way to upgrade his pitching was going to be ensuring that Jose Reyes never had to field a ball at shortstop for this team again. Changes were coming.
The Official Trade Deadline Champions
Heading into the Trade Deadline, even though they were well back of the division lead, this just seemed like a team that was close to making something happen. They just needed one final piece or two to pull it all together, and they would be a playoff team. It wasn’t just the way that they won games, either. Obviously the eleven game streak, the many blowouts, and the come-from-behind wins made it evident that this group was special, but the way in which they lost games just felt so cheesy. Rarely were they hammered or outclassed by the other team, they would just stumble on their own feet and lose based off their own goofs. To me, it felt like they weren’t losing to other teams, they were letting the other teams win. Also, their Pythagorean Wins/Loss record was much, much higher than the real life record they had next to their name, so it wasn’t like there wasn’t any validity to this sentiment.
Alex Anthopolous had to do something. We all knew it, the players on the team knew it, and he knew it. It had to happen.
The Red Sox were awful, both Baltimore and Tampa Bay were having down years, and the Yankees looked really, really beatable at the top of the American League East. The division was up for grabs, and if the Jays wanted it, they could take it.
The year before, Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen openly complained about management’s lack of activity at the Trade Deadline, as the two veterans believed their squad was just a few pieces away from becoming serious contenders. As we know, the 2014 Jays ultimately fell apart in the later parts of the season, and couldn’t make anything of their excellent first half. I’m not sure if a trade actually would have helped that group do anything more than kind of fizzle out and come up short, but there was no doubt that Alex couldn’t stand pat again this year.
And he didn’t. Boy oh, boy, he made this the Trade Deadline for the ages. It was so great, the fans started calling him Santaopolous.
Literally out of the blue, Ken Rosenthal reported via Twitter that “the Jays acquired Tulo.” I thought it was a joke. There was no way. First of all, why the hell would Colorado trade Troy Tulowtzki, and second, where would he play? Would this mean Jose Reyes was being moved to second base? He wasn’t going anywhere, right? It took forever for the details to finally flow in, but eventually we learned that Alex had somehow pawned the Rockies into not only giving away one of the best overall shortstops of this generation, but also taking on Reyes’ albatross contract. All the Jays had to do was give them top prospect Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and Jesus Tinoco, and the two teams would swap one really bad $20 million shortstop for one really good one. Oh yeah, and the Rockies would throw in LaTroy Hawkins, too, just for good measure. A couple days later, after deciding that he was tired of pretending that Chris Colabello could be a left fielder, Alex acquired Ben Revere from the Phillies, so that they could, you know, have an actual outfielder in the outfield.
But how would that help the pitching staff? Suddenly, the Jays pitchers went from praying that the ball wouldn’t be hit to short because Jose Reyes was going to either let it slide between his legs or chuck it into the seats, all the way to Tulo, who was a vacuum, scooping up anything that was hit in his general area. At around the same time, Devon Travis went down with a shoulder injury again, and Ryan Goins went back to playing every day, so you had pretty much as good of a middle infield as you possibly could. It doesn’t get much better for a squad of pitchers who allowed a lot of contact, right?
Still, though, as much as the defence improved after that swap, the pitching still needed work. As good as Estrada, Dickey, and Buehrle were, Hutch was struggling mightily, and throwing out Scott Copeland or Felix Doubrount out there every fifth day just wasn’t good enough. It was the same story for the bullpen. Outside of Roberto Osuna, Liam Hendriks, and Brett Cecil, who slowly started pulling himself together, locking down late innings was always an adventure. So Alex solved all of these problems by going completely in and acquiring ace lefty David Price from the Detroit Tigers and Mark Lowe, who was having a breakout season as a dominant, fireball righty with the Seattle Mariners.
Adding David Price just seemed to take a massive weight off of everybody’s shoulders. When he took the mound, you knew he was going to pitch well, and the relievers weren’t going to have to mop up three or four or eight innings, and the bats weren’t necessarily going to have to hit the magic number ten to win. For me, it was the first time since Roy Halladay that the Jays had a pitcher available that made me believe that the team was going to win every single time he was scheduled to go. I got a sorta kinda similar feeling with Ricky Romero when he was the staff’s ace back in 2012, but it was from the stability that Price brought the group.
So the team added some major security in the form of David Price to the pitching staff, they solidified the defence with a massive upgrade at short in Troy Tulowtzki, and they quickly turned a horrific bullpen into an excellent one by acquiring LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, and also converting Aaron Sanchez from a starter to a reliever after he same off the disabled list. I don’t think I can find an example of a team improving themselves by that much, and filling so many massive holes in a one week period.
We May Never Lose Again!
If anybody was skeptical that going all in was ill advised, they were proven wrong very, very quickly. Tulowtzki made his debut on July 29 in an 8-2 drumming of the Phillies, and from there, the Jays went on to win 24 of their next 29 games in a dominant August that saw them turn a six game deficit in the division into a two game lead just like that.
The new squad was put to the test immediately as the Kansas City Royals, who boasted the top record in the American league at the time, came to Toronto for a four-game series. The Jays beat Kansas City in the first two games of the series, backed by good pitching from R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada, but dropped the third game after Mark Lowe blew a late inning lead. In the final game of the series, the Blue Jays and Royals rivalry that would become very important in a few months was born. Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez drilled Josh Donaldson with a fastball in the first inning, and despite a warning from umpire Jim Wolf, threw up and inside at the third baseman’s head in his next at bat. Later on, Ryan Madson came into pitch and decided to drill Troy Tulowtzki in the hand, but again, nothing happened. In the eighth, Aaron Sanchez came in, lost control of a pitch, and hit Alcides Escobar in the knee. Wolf finally had a lightbulb go off in his head and tossed Sanchez from the game for his role in the violence. The benches cleared, John Gibbons lost his mind, and we all started to realize how much we hated the Kansas City Royals.
After the Royals left town, the Jays had two huge series ahead of them on the schedule. First, the Minnesota Twins, who were a couple games ahead of them for the second Wild Card spot at the time would come to Toronto for four games, and after that, they would play three games in New York against the division leading Yankees. If there was ever a time for the Jays to go on one of their patented eleven-game winning streaks, it would have been right then and there.
David Price made his much anticipated debut for the Blue Jays in the opener of the Twins series in front of a massive crowd. In the fourth inning, Price loaded the bases by allowing a double and two walks with nobody out. From here, he issued an infield popup and two strikeouts to navigate his way out of the inning, and then went on to retire the next twelve batters he faced, en route to a dominant 5-1 win. After the game, Price said it was the best atmosphere he had ever pitched in. I’m not sure if he knew at the time, but it was going to get even better.
The Jays went on to sweep the Twins, essentially erasing them as a legitimate playoff contender. The Twins had rolled into town as an overachieving group with a one game lead over the Jays in the Wild Card, and when they left, they were dazed, confused, and three games out of it. I think that’s how the Yankees felt when they saw the Blue Jays rolling into the Bronx, too. They were holding on to a three-and-a-half game lead in the division, biting their nails at the thought of the Jays, who were rolling in on a six-game winning streak.
In the first game, Josh Donaldson homered in the first inning, but Mark Teixeira answered back quickly in the second with a solo shot of his own. The teams remained in a deadlock for the next seven innings before Jose Bautista gave the Jays a 2-1 lead on a home run in the tenth inning. Roberto Osuna shut the door in the bottom half of the inning, and the division lead got a little smaller. David Price took the mound in the second game, and pitched another gem, allowing zero runs of just three hits in seven innings. Justin Smoak had his best moment as a Blue Jay in the sixth, as he hit a grand slam off of Ivan Nova to break a scoreless game. In doing so, Smoak became the first Blue Jay to ever hit a home run at Yankee stadium. Then, in the final game, Marco Estrada and the bullpen shut down the Yankees bats again, as the Jays earned a 2-0 win, and the sweep.
That home run that Teixeira hit in the second inning of the first game would be the only run they scored all series. The Jays pitching staff managed to lock them down completely for twenty-six innings in a row. And, for the first time since before the turn of the millennium, the Blue Jays owned a lead in the American League East in August.
And the Jays kept rolling from there. August was loaded with blowout games thanks to the same juggernaut offence we had come to expect, much improved pitching, and elite defence. It seriously seemed when they were pounding the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, and Detroit Tigers that this team actually wasn’t going to lose ever again. It felt like a dream, but, when this song came out, I knew it was real.
Meaningful Baseball in September?
The Jays ultimately went 21-6 in August, and increased their playoff probability from 54 per cent to 99 per cent over that time. It was inevitable at this point that they would at least manage a Wild Card berth and technically snap their 21-year playoff drought, but there was still a division race with the Yankees left to play out. They entered September with a one-and-a-half game lead in the division, and the teams would play each other seven times, so this thing was certainly far from over.
The two teams met up in New York for a four-game series on Thursday, Sept. 10, but the first game was rained out and rescheduled for the Saturday, which also had stormy weather in the forecast. In the first game, the Jays knocked around Luis Severino, who had been nothing short of spectacular in his first few career appearances as a starter, earning an 11-5 win. See, this high-pressure, meaningful baseball in September thing isn’t that bad, right? That game was pretty chill. I’m sure that the doubleheader will be fine, too!
The first game featured back and forth action, as the Yankees went ahead 4-1 before the Jays rallied back in the fifth inning off of home runs from Ben Revere (I thought this was going to be a lazy popup the way it looked off the bat, but that’s probably just a Ben Revere batting bias) and Edwin Encarnacion. Jose Bautista gave the Jays a lead by hitting a solo jack off the un-hittable Dellin Betances in the eighth, but Aaron Sanchez and Brett Cecil combined to give the Yankees the lead back in the bottom of the inning. The game remained deadlocked until the eleventh inning when the Yankees bullpen completely forgot where the strike zone was. Edwin was walked, Cliff Pennington kind of grooved his leg into a pitch, and Colabello was walked to load the bases with nobody out. From there, the Yankees just handed it away. The Jays scored four runs in the inning despite mustering only one hit, as three of the RBIs came on walks. Ryan Tepera came in to pitch the bottom of the inning, and collected his first career save in the process.
Just over half an hour after that marathon ended, Marcus Stroman was set to take mound for his triumphant return from injury. He somehow managed to heal from an ACL tear in roughly six months, which is unheard of, to join the team for the final stretch of the season. Getting Stroman back was basically like making a big trade after the deadline, but they didn’t have to give anything up to get him. Unfortunately, just as soon as they got Stroman back, the Jays announced that Troy Tulowtzki would be sidelined for a few weeks after facing the wrath of Kevin Pillar’s chin.
Stroman ended up pitching really well in his return, throwing strong five innings with his only blemish coming in the form of a three-run homer by Brett Gardner in the fifth inning. The Jays also made life easy on him, getting out to a quick 6-0 lead in the second inning. After getting out the inning, the skies opened up, and the game was delayed for half an hour due to the pouring rain. It seemed like the kind of game that the umpires would just call, considering the Jays were up 6-3 through five, but since it was in the heat of a division race, they let it continue. Stroman was pulled from the game, and as a result, the Jays had to navigate through four more innings against the Yankees with an exhausted bullpen. Bo Schultz, Aaron Loup, Jeff Francis, and a wet infield that made it look like the infielders were playing in quicksand did their best to make it difficult, allowing four runs in under three innings, but it wasn’t enough, and the Jays swept the doubleheader and extended their lead in the division to four-and-a-half.
With all the rain delays, the extra innings, and everything involved, these two games ultimately ended up being an eight-hour marathon start to finish, and I feel like I aged five years over the process. I was so burnt out after the stress from those two games, the loss in the series finale was palatable just because the game was so boring and low-key.
There wasn’t much time to decompress after that series, as the Jays and Yankees squared off in Toronto again just a week later. Before that, they had won two of three to the lowly Braves, but dropped two of three to the Red Sox after a loss in which they were shut down by Rich Hill, who hadn’t started at the Major League level since 2009, and a loss on a ninth inning bullpen collapse. All told, the Jays welcomes the Yankees into Toronto with a two-and-a-half game lead, meaning if things went sour here, the division would really be coming down to the wire.
The first two games were split, with the Jays winning the opener backed by an excellent start from Price, and the Yankees responding the following game with an extra innings win off a Greg Bird three-run home run in the tenth. The rubber match of this series provided one of the best moments from the regular season. Marcus Stroman had pitched an excellent game, but a one-run lead late in the game wasn’t enough to feel comfortable. In the top of the seventh, the Yankees were threatening with two runners on when Dustin Ackley drilled a ball into centre field. But just as he did all season, Kevin Pillar sprinted in to grab it, preserving the 1-0 lead. Then, in the bottom half of the inning, Russell Martin hit the biggest home run of his Blue Jays career, smashing a pitch from Andrew Bailey over the left field wall to give the Jays a 4-0 lead.
I still go back and watch this one from time to time. For me, it’s right up there with Jose’s bat flip in Game 5. Right then and there, I knew that the Blue Jays were going to win the division.
The First American league East Division Crown Since 1993
The rest of the season was pretty calm after that yankees series. The Jays officially clinched the division on September 30 in a game where they hammered the Orioles 15-2 in Baltimore in the first half of a doubleheader, and everything else is history.
They celebrated on the field at Camden Yards, which was just fantastic to watch, then they played the second half of the double header, celebrated even harder on the field, sprayed champagne everywhere, Alex Anthopolous gave a great speech, Muni smoked a cigar, and Blue Jays fans everywhere shed a tear of joy knowing that the drought — the one that, at times, seemed like it would never end — was finally over. Playoff baseball was coming back to Canada.
I won’t go into detail about the playoffs because I’ve already babbled on enough and we all know exactly what went down. The Rangers series was epic, with the questionable umpiring, dropping two in Toronto and taking them back in Texas, and, of course, the seventh inning errors and the bat flip. The Royals series sucked, but hey, you have to give credit to Kansas City for being a damn good team. At the very least, we got to see Cliff Pennington pitch in a playoff game, right?
I’m not really sure how to summarize the essence of the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays. They were just so damn awesome, so lovable, and when things were going bad, you just couldn’t take your attention away from them no matter how hard you tried, and when things were going well, you didn’t want to think about anything else.
I think it’s the context that makes it so powerful.
For me, I was born in 1993. I was five months old when Joe Carter walked off the Phillies. Before this, I had no taste of what on earth playoff baseball was. Hell, I didn’t even know what meaningful games in September were like. I witnessed Roy Halladay singlehandedly pitch this team to victories, and I cried when my first baseball hero Carlos Delgado signed with the Florida Marlins. I watched Jesse Litsch dominate the Orioles in his Major League debut, and J.P. Arencibia go four for five with three RBIs in his. I witnessed the rise and decline of Ricky Romero, and the transformation of some bench scrub named Jose Bautista into one of the best hitters in all of baseball. I’ve watched Dana Eveland make starts, and Joe Inglett play nearly every single position on the field. Through all of the players who have come and gone, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, A.J. Burnett, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Troy Glaus, Halladay, Delgado, Romero, Orlando Hudson, Russ Adams, Travis Snider, and so on, nothing ever happened. And that’s just the account of somebody who’s been watching since the early 2000s. Those who have been following this team since 1994 had it a hell of a lot harder than me.
Year after year of disappointment, all of the failed rebuilds, the bad trades and signings, the dominant Yankee and Red Sox teams that just wouldn’t go away, and after being teased so hard in 2013 with the blockbuster winter, and in 2014 with the incredible run in May and June, a group finally did it. And not only did they do it, they did it in the best fucking way possible. Writing this article over a span of a few days, going back and reading about it all over again and watching the video clips reminded me how this group was capable of making something brand new happen every game. I couldn’t even fit all of the amazing moments in if I tried — and I did try, but didn’t come close — because there are so many.
The 2015 Blue Jays were legendary. I’m not sure if another team can be as wild and lovable as that group, well, except for the 2016 Blue Jays. We’ll just have to wait and see, but I’ve got a good feeling about them.