Blue Jays can take heart in Toronto baseball revival

Amazing two-year run has built winning culture, rabid fan base across Canada

October 20th, 2016

TORONTO -- They had not done what they believed they would do. They believed it until the very end. That's the thing the Toronto Blue Jays said over and over.

"I wanted to be getting on a plane to go to Cleveland," outfielder said.

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The Blue Jays began Wednesday by dropping their luggage off outside the home clubhouse at Rogers Centre for a flight to Cleveland they hoped to take. But their season ended hours later with a 3-0 loss to the Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

As Cleveland celebrated its first trip to the World Series in 19 years, Toronto wrestled with its emotions.

"I'm disappointed because I know how much work these guys put in," third baseman said. "I know the sacrifices each and everybody makes in here. We left it out there.

"I love this team. I love to play this game. I have a passion for it. I love to play with the teammates I have in this clubhouse."

At some point, the Blue Jays will gain some perspective on this season, and they will be proud of what they accomplished.

First, the Jays continued the rebirth of baseball in Toronto. They averaged almost 42,000 fans per game and led the AL in attendance for the first time in 22 years.

Television ratings were excellent, and the Blue Jays made the postseason for a second straight season, this after 22 years out of the mix.

The Jays won a thrilling AL Wild Card Game, then swept the Rangers in the AL Division Series before falling to the Indians in five games in the ALCS. Baseball seasons are long and winding roads, and Toronto gave millions of fans across Canada a great show.

Every player -- and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and his staff -- shares part of that accomplishment, and they'll eventually feel the pride in that.

"When you go through the emotions we're going through right now, it's tough," center fielder said. "We're packing our bags. The season's over. It's disappointing."

Toronto was unable to advance because of the Tribe's smothering pitching staff, which rolled up a 1.43 ERA. Indians manager Terry Francona used his starters for 22 innings and his relievers for 22 innings. Both pitched well -- a 1.23 ERA for the starters, 1.64 for the bullpen.

The Jays' offense, which had hit 221 home runs during the regular season, scored eight runs in five games and hit .201.

The Blue Jays almost certainly will look different next season with both Bautista and first baseman headed for free agency. There's a solid core in place, but as Donaldson said, "Those two guys have been faces of the franchise for a long time."

"When you think about the last 18 months, you can't help but be real proud," Pillar said. "We revived baseball in Canada and in this city. ... I've been fortunate to be here long enough to see the turnaround and be part of it. You can't help but be proud.

"There are a lot of mixed feelings right now. In the moment, there's a lot of disappointment. You're upset. You know everyone in here is upset. We could have done a little bit better to put us in position to be successful in this series. This is how it goes."

Gibbons made his way around his clubhouse a couple of times to hug his players and to send them into an offseason that came too early.

"I basically thanked them for the effort all year," Gibbons said. "It was a crazy year. Some ups and downs. One thing you heard me say, it's a special group. They come to play. They had another great year. We got to this point. We weren't able to get over the hump again. But you know what, a [darn] good job of getting to this point.

"I'm proud of those guys as well as the coaching staff. I know the organization is proud of them, too. Hopefully the fans are just as proud of them, because it's an entertaining group. They put on a good show. We just got beat in this series, plain and simple."