Blue Jays concede playoff destiny to Orioles
Toronto's magic number to clinch down to one ahead of off-day
TORONTO -- With a chance to clinch a postseason spot right in front of them, the Blue Jays instead spent another night watching the Yankees celebrate.
Wednesday’s loss featured fewer champagne corks popping across the field, but Aaron Judge’s historic 61st home run made all the difference, tying the great Roger Maris for the most home runs in a single season in American League history and handing the Blue Jays an 8-3 loss at Rogers Centre.
A Rays loss keeps Toronto 1 1/2 games up on Tampa Bay, which holds the tiebreaker after winning their season series, but Baltimore’s loss in Boston on Wednesday is the important piece. Now, the Blue Jays have left themselves with a strange, anticlimactic clinching scenario on their off-day Thursday.
Toronto’s magic number is down to one, so an Orioles loss to the Red Sox would clinch a postseason spot for the Blue Jays without them touching a baseball. That game is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. ET at Fenway Park, with Mike Baumann (1-3, 4.32 ERA) set to face Nathan Eovaldi (5-3, 4.15).
“These guys are excited to be in this position,” said interim manager John Schneider, who continues to encourage his team to appreciate the spot they’re in now. “We’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, and you’re playing at home. It’s more excitement than it is nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night. When you have Alek Manoah on the mound, you like your chances no matter what.”
In a twist that only a postseason race could bring, Toronto will be full of Red Sox fans Thursday. There’s still a clear and obvious level of disappointment, though, after the Blue Jays thought this would be their night to celebrate.
“No doubt. We thought that at 12 this afternoon,” Schneider said. “We liked the at-bats and liked where we went in that [sixth] inning. Gerrit had really good stuff tonight, and it was nice to break through there. You’re obviously watching a little bit, the out-of-town scores. It’s not tonight, but hopefully soon.”
Even if Thursday's O's-Sox result bounces their way, though, the Blue Jays’ work won’t nearly be done. The Yankees have the luxury of coasting to the finish line at whichever speed they please, adjusting their rotation and resting stars along the way, but Toronto has left itself in a spot where seeding remains crucial.
A Wild Card spot has looked likely for weeks now, with the focus of that race shifting to seeding and carrying home-field advantage into that opening round of the postseason. The No. 1 Wild Card seed, currently the Blue Jays, will play host while seeds No. 2 and 3 will travel. With the entire best-of-three series taking place at the home club’s ballpark, the advantage is even greater than usual.
For any of this to matter, though, the Blue Jays need to play a far cleaner brand of baseball than they have seen these past two days.
In Tuesday’s loss to the Yankees, a rally was cut short when Bo Bichette popped off second base following a slide, only to be followed by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. watching his long single bounce off the wall before being thrown out at second. Following the game, Schneider called Guerrero’s effort “inexcusable,” the most pointed public remark he’s made since taking over the club in mid-July.
Wednesday’s blunder was just as glaring. With Adam Cimber on the mound in the ninth trying to keep the Blue Jays' deficit at three, he fielded a sharp comebacker and threw home with plenty of time to get the runner. The throw sailed well wide of the catcher, though, and after that first run crossed, Cimber forgot to cover home plate while Danny Jansen ran after the ball. That allowed Josh Donaldson to round third and race home for another free run.
The focus following the loss, however, was on the off-day and an opportunity to hit the reset button. Even Tim Mayza, who gave up No. 61 to Judge, was looking forward.
“That’s been one of the goals, to reach the playoffs and get to the postseason,” Mayza said. “It’s a goal that we have in our grasp and we still control our own destiny here. We’ll take the off-day tomorrow and get back at it Friday with the goal of clinching.”
Eventually, it has to be the Blue Jays’ turn to celebrate. They’d rather kick the door down, though, instead of having it held open for them.