Blue Jays clinch a Wild Card spot thanks to O's loss

September 29th, 2022

TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays are headed to the postseason, clinching an American League Wild Card spot Thursday without even picking up a baseball.

The Orioles' 5-3 loss to the Red Sox was all the Blue Jays needed on their off-day, which the players and staff are spending away from the ballpark to rest up ahead of their final six games and a postseason run.

This will be baseball's quietest clinch party, spread between a couple dozen condos and hotel rooms in downtown Toronto. The Blue Jays recently watched the Yankees clinch the AL East at Rogers Centre, complete with a proper party where champagne and beer covered every inch of wall and ceiling, but after a long and challenging season, Toronto will happily take its ticket to the dance.

"That's the best part of baseball, celebrating what you've accomplished," said interim manager John Schneider on Wednesday. "You don't want to ever take anything for granted in this game. Every point you reach that was a goal, you should celebrate it."

Earlier this week, the Blue Jays had opportunities to clinch in front of their home crowds, but they dropped the final two games of their series to the Yankees. There's still plenty of work to be done, of course, but Schneider has preached to his players that they should appreciate where they're standing and how the club got there.

"We play every day, and it's hard," Schneider said. "The guys who play 162 games appreciate the fact that you're one of the few teams standing after that mark. That's how it's always been. I like that and I appreciate that. It's such a long season that you have to take a step back and appreciate where you are."

This season has represented a return to normalcy for the Blue Jays, who got to enjoy a "normal" home opener for the first time since 2019. The club was forced to play the entire 2020 season and much of the '21 campaign on the road, calling Dunedin's TD Ballpark and Buffalo's Sahlen Field home. Those were difficult years -- as unique as any in the franchise's history -- but helped to lay the foundation for the matured roster fans see today.

Even with their feet back under them in 2022, though, there have been challenges. The Blue Jays are a team capable of looking like a legitimate World Series contender one week, then the total opposite the next. The ups and downs have been frustrating at times, but the top-end talent is clearly there if it can be put together consistently.

This season also featured a managerial change, with Charlie Montoyo losing his job in mid-July after three-and-a-half years leading the organization. At the time, GM Ross Atkins made it clear that Montoyo's work with the young players will continue to be part of the club's future success, which they have an opportunity to enjoy now.

Schneider took over and immediately endeared himself to the fan base, working with a roster he already knew very well from his time managing in the Minor Leagues and his years on the MLB staff. He sees the same potential everyone else does.

"Once we got back from the break, I think we started playing with a little more urgency," Schneider said. "This is a really talented team. Over the course of a few months, you kind of feel each other out. You see how you play together. The more they did that, the more they got comfortable with one another, and we've had different guys carry us at different times."

There's that word again, "urgency."

It was a staple of Schneider's early days on the job, as the Blue Jays adopted a more aggressive playing style. This style doesn't always bounce their way, but Schneider believes in a confident approach that brings the Blue Jays' style of play to the other club's doorstep, not the other way around.

It's this, and the talent that lines this roster, that gives the Blue Jays optimism. Winning the World Series is about getting hot at the right time, not rolling in with the best record. Just ask the 88-win Braves of 2021, who went on to win it all.

"I kind of relate it to saying that anyone can get the last three outs in the ninth inning," Schneider said. "No matter what, it's just a different animal. When you're close to getting to where you want to get, there's nerves, excitement -- and all of that stuff that goes into it. It doesn't matter who you're playing or facing. You have to have a level of focus that is just unwavering in every game on every pitch."

Still with a slight lead over the Rays in the AL Wild Card race, the Blue Jays will resume play Friday against the Red Sox before traveling to Baltimore for the final three games of the season. The Rays hold the tiebreaker edge against the Blue Jays, though, so Toronto will need to keep its foot on the gas pedal down the stretch if the Blue Jays hope to control their own destiny.