Youth is served: Blue Jays arms come up big
After Stroman's strong start, Sanchez, Osuna finish off Game 5 win
TORONTO -- Considering all the drama and madness that accompanied the Blue Jays' dramatic series-clinching victory over the Rangers on Wednesday, it might be easy to overlook the contributions made by a pair of young relievers still in the infancy of their careers. That would be a mistake.
Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez combined to throw three strong innings in the late goings of Toronto's American League Division Series finale against Texas, helping the Blue Jays to a 6-3 victory at Rogers Centre and sending them to the AL Championship Series against the Royals starting Friday in Kansas City (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX/Sportsnet).
"They both went above and beyond what they normally do," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
With a depleted bullpen, Sanchez and Osuna carried a heavier load than normal, each getting more than three outs. Sanchez came on in the seventh and tossed 1 1/3 innings before turning the ball over to Osuna.
The 20-year-old closer then steered the Blue Jays home, going 1 2/3 innings to record a five-out save without allowing a baserunner. He's the second-youngest player to record a save in postseason history. The only pitcher to record a save at a younger age was Don Gullett, who notched two saves at the age of 19 for the Reds in the 1970 National League Championship Series. Osuna is the youngest to earn a save in a winner-take-all postseason game.
"It's something unbelievable. You're not used to seeing that," said Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who homered in the victory. "[To see] those young guys, with all the crowd, all the pressure, to do the work they did, it's something that you take your hat off."
Sanchez and Osuna's heroics came in relief of another young hurler, 24-year-old starter Marcus Stroman, who delivered a quality start to keep the Blue Jays in it through six innings. The unflappable Stroman, known to be at times brash and bold, allowed two earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts in his second playoff outing and first elimination game.
The combination of those three made the Blue Jays the second team in postseason history to win a series-clinching game -- and the first of a winner-take-all game -- while using at least three pitchers all age 24 or younger. The only other team to do so was the 2013 Cardinals, who eliminated the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS behind then-22-year-old starter Michael Wacha. He handed the game over to fellow 22-year-old Carlos Martinez before Trevor Rosenthal (then 23) finished off the 9-0 victory.
Stroman said knowing the caliber of team that plays behind him took off some of the pressure that comes with pitching in the postseason.
"A lot of deep breaths," Stroman said. "I feel like I do a good job of being able to step off the mound, get my composure and dial back in. I did everything in my power and I realize the type of team we have. I let them play defense behind me. ... I pitch with confidence that those guys are going to get the job done."
The success of all three pitchers -- Stroman, Sanchez and Osuna -- is a testament to the Blue Jays' system. Sanchez and Stroman were Blue Jays Draft picks, while Osuna was an international signing. That all three played such an instrumental role in clinching the team's first playoff series in 22 years was not lost on Gibbons.
"It was the three young guns, homegrown, big arm, original Blue Jays," he said. "So I know the organization is proud of those guys."