TORONTO -- Finally, 30 hours after the Blue Jays punched their ticket to the postseason, the champagne popped.
The Blue Jays clinched quietly on Thursday, watching from home on their off-day as an Orioles loss made the math work. Friday’s 9-0 win over the Red Sox moved the Blue Jays another step toward their ultimate goal of clinching home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Series, but this celebration was happening win or lose.
Standings update: 88-69 (first AL Wild Card spot)
Games remaining: 5
AL Wild Card: The Blue Jays hold a 1 1/2-game lead for the top AL Wild Card spot. Seattle punched its ticket with a win over the A's and sits a half-game up of the Rays, who clinched a Wild Card spot with their win over Houston.
Seeding battle: Toronto would lose the tiebreaker against both the Rays, who beat them 10-9 in the season series, and the Mariners, who beat them 5-2.
In each corner of the dripping-wet clubhouse was a player reaching a milestone on their journey, whether they’ve been in this organization for two months or a decade. These are the exact moments George Springer was brought in to lead, and the star outfielder called it “an honor” to be part of this club, thinking back on the conversations that lured him to Toronto two seasons ago.
“It’s exactly what was said. It’s exactly what was hoped for. It’s exactly what was promised,” Springer said. “It was, ‘There is a core here that has the talent to do it, and we want to surround them with anybody that we can to ultimately get to where our goal is, to win in the postseason and bring a championship here.’ It’s been everything I could have ever asked for.”
That young core of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doused each other in beer and embraced, sharing a moment together while the dance party unfolded around them. Just as Guerrero has heard recently from José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación about what the city of Toronto becomes in the postseason, Bichette heard from Troy Tulowitzki, another member of those postseason teams in 2015 and ‘16.
“He told me that it was crazy,” Bichette said. “Just to have this opportunity to play here in the playoffs is something that I think we’ve all been thinking about since we got drafted by the Blue Jays. A lot of the guys who were drafted, like me, it was around 2015 and ’16. To have the opportunity in front of us, we have to take care of business, but it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.”
Bichette and Guerrero have celebrated championships together in the Minor Leagues, too, and interim manager John Schneider has been there. Schneider started coaching in this organization at 28 years old, moving to that role from the field after reaching Triple-A.
He’s climbed the ladder with stops at nearly every level, taking the reins of this club in mid July. The 42-year-old allowed himself a moment to reflect on just how far he’s come in an organization that’s become home to him.
“It means everything. I started in rookie ball and worked my way up, having my own ups and downs, too,” Schneider said. “People trusting me and me knowing players and evolving with the game, I’ve always tried to do that. To go from the Complex to the Rogers Centre? It’s pretty [expletive] cool.”
Toronto’s focus Saturday will shift back to a Wild Card race that’s still tight over the final five days, and home-field advantage matters here. The Blue Jays want nothing to do with Tropicana Field, and a trip to the West Coast to play in Seattle is best avoided, too.
These are conversations for the Blue Jays to have tomorrow, though.
All week, even as the Blue Jays were dropping games to the Yankees and extending their pursuit of a clinch, the coaching staff and players have believed that this moment deserved to be celebrated when it happened. This is a long, grueling season for players, and while they hope there are four more opportunities to pop champagne in the postseason, they’ll embrace the moment they have.
Besides, for the players enjoying this for just the first or second time in the big leagues, these parties are a little more fun than the ones in Double-A.
“This was way better,” Guerrero said. “In the Minor Leagues, they give you just one bottle of champagne and that’s it. Here, it’s a lot of bottles.”