Blue Jays rout Orioles to clinch first American League East title since 1993 | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Blue Jays rout Orioles to clinch first American League East title since 1993

Members of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate after winning the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Toronto won 15-2 to clinch the American League East. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
September 30, 2015 - 8:34 PM

BALTIMORE - Buckets of champagne were ready, just sitting in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards. The Toronto Blue Jays celebrated clinching the American League East on the field but had to wait to complete a doubleheader before popping bottles.

The franchise waited 22 years for this. What were another few hours?

Two months of spectacular baseball culminated in a 15-2 rout of the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday afternoon, ending decades of frustration for fans and rewarding the Blue Jays' organization for a remarkable turnaround.

"I wake up every day with a huge grin on my face. I wake up every day and it doesn't feel real," pitcher Marcus Stroman said. "Taking the field every day with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Mark Buehrle, it's nuts to me."

The Blue Jays were nuts to watch for much of the season but more specifically since July 29, when Tulowitzki joined the lineup amid a flurry of bountiful deadline trades. They're 42-15 since, surging past the New York Yankees before finally wrapping up the division in the first game of a doubleheader against the Orioles.

"It's the ultimate right now," manager John Gibbons said. "It was a big hurdle to get over. It had been so damn long."

The pennant is Toronto's first since 1993, when it won its second of back-to-back World Series titles. It assures the Blue Jays a spot in the five-game AL Division Series rather than the uncertainty of a one-game wild-card playoff, which they had already clinched last weekend.

"I feel like I can really share with the fans how it feels," Montreal native Russell Martin said. "I remember '92, '93 and if we can just bring that back, that'd be awesome. That would be a dream come true for me."

In late July, any kind of post-season appearance would have been welcomed, before general manager Alex Anthopoulos went all-in, trading for an ace in Price, an all-star shortstop in Tulowitzki, a speedy outfielder in Ben Revere and bullpen help in relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe at the deadline.

"We didn't even look that far. We just said, 'Look, we're a game or two out of a wild-card spot, we feel like we have a really good team that's underachieved to this point,'" Anthopoulos said. "We thought we had a shot, no doubt about it."

Those moves worked like a charm, making the Blue Jays' 50-51 record in late July feel like a distant memory. Pitcher R.A. Dickey, covered in champagne and beer, said the deadline was the turning point.

"I felt like we were just waiting, like all of us were just waiting, the pitching staff was just waiting and when they kind of put the chips all in, it did something to us, and we took off," Dickey said.

Winning the division seemed inevitable in recent days as the Yankees struggled and the Blue Jays kept rolling.

The final victory of that accomplishment came Wednesday with young stud Marcus Stroman on the mound in just his fourth start of the season following a torn ACL in spring training. Stroman (4-0) was masterful yet again, striking out eight and allowing just one run on five hits in eight innings.

In typical Blue Jays fashion, the most productive lineup in baseball led the way by tormenting opposing pitching. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak each hit home runs, and every player in the lineup registered a hit, including Ryan Goins, who registered a career-high five.

It was the 41st time in 157 games Toronto scored eight or more runs. Bautista's blast also got the Blue Jays two hitters with 40-plus home runs (MVP front-runner Josh Donaldson has 41) for the third time in franchise history and first time since 2000.

This monstrous offensive outburst made the clinching game feel like a coronation, in front of Blue Jays fans who chanted "MVP" for Donaldson's at-bats and serenaded Anthopoulos with a chorus of "Thank you, Alex." After Hawkins got the final out, players celebrated on the same field they watched Baltimore clinch the AL East a year ago.

Their 8-1 loss in the second half of their doubleheader, with no regulars playing, was forgotten almost immediately. The joy in the champagne-soaked clubhouse and on the field was overflowing amid chants of "Bush Party."

"This is something else," Dickey said. "I don't know how other people celebrate, but to celebrate like a family like this is something special."

This division title also came with the guarantee of home-field advantage in the ALDS. The Blue Jays will either play host to the AL West champions — the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or Houston Astros — or the wild-card team at Rogers Centre for Game 1 on Oct. 8.

Home-field throughout the playoffs is within reach, too. The Blue Jays' magic number to earn the top seed in the AL is three — any combination of victories and Kansas City Royals losses.

"I think home field for us with the environment that we have now at that stadium ... to have a dome, playing conditions, all that, I think it's a big advantage," Anthopoulos said. "We'd love to get it."

That challenge remains. Looking ahead to Game 1 and not wanting Price to have too long of a layoff, the Blue Jays will push him back and start Drew Hutchison on Thursday in the series finale.

Tulowitzki, who has been out since Sept. 12 with a cracked shoulder blade, could take part in a simulated game Friday and play as soon as Saturday at the Tampa Bay Rays.

All eyes are on the playoffs now, where Gibbons believes there's more to accomplish. On Wednesday night, the confidence was flowing almost as much as the bubbly.

"This is the best I've felt going into the post-season," Martin said. "We're dangerous offensively, we're dangerous on the mound, we play awesome defence. If somebody's going to beat us, they're going to have to play tremendously well. And even then I don't know if it can happen."


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News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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