Another walk-off! Blue Jays sweep Boston, move into 2nd WC spot

September 18th, 2023

TORONTO -- Two days, two walk-off wins and two steps closer.

The Blue Jays have turned the American League Wild Card race into a messy game of musical chairs, but following Sunday afternoon’s 3-2 win over the Red Sox and a series sweep at Rogers Centre, they’re right where they want to be.

Games remaining (12): at NYY (3), at TB (3), vs. NYY (3), vs. TB (3)
Standings update: Toronto (83-67) sits second in the AL Wild Card, a half-game ahead of Texas (82-67) in third and 1 1/2 games ahead of Seattle (81-68).
Tiebreakers: Lost season series vs. Texas (6-1); won vs. Houston (4-3); tied vs. Seattle (3-3), but the Mariners (26-13) have a better intradivision record than the Blue Jays (15-25).

It’s a stunning turnaround for Toronto after it lost all four games to the Rangers at home earlier in the week, but should anything surprise you at this point? Perhaps it’s fitting that -- who has battled a right middle finger injury for a month and spent the heart of the summer searching for anything close to what he showed in April -- was the hero in the bottom of the ninth.

Chapman’s triple scored Cavan Biggio and brought his teammates spilling out of the dugout for the second celebration in less than 24 hours.

Amid the madness in Toronto, the Rangers were swept by the Guardians, which launched the Blue Jays into the second AL Wild Card spot. Even with three teams essentially vying for two spots, those standings have managed to take on a completely different look on a daily basis. It’s become a fast-moving math project.

“It’s not fun by any stretch of the imagination,” said manager John Schneider. “But it’s where everyone is right now. You have to put what’s behind you behind you, and look at every game as itself. The emotional pendulum is a wild one, and I’d like to thank Left Field Brewery for providing good beer.”

This should have been so much easier, of course. The Blue Jays held a 2-1 lead with two outs and two strikes on Rafael Devers in the ninth, but the Red Sox star launched a game-tying home run to force a bottom half. That’s where Chapman came up big, launching a towering fly ball off the wall in center to score Biggio. The 402-foot triple would have been a home run in one-third (10) of MLB parks.

“It’s kind of how this whole year has been going,” Chapman said. “A lot of ups and downs for us. We get swept, then sweep somebody. With the focus on how precious all of these wins are, it was nice that we were able to flush that Texas series and move on to Boston, who had our number earlier this season for sure.”

Chapman posted a 1.152 OPS with five home runs and 15 doubles through April 30. It looked like the dream season for a pending free agent, but it hasn’t looked the same since then. From May 1 on, Chapman had been hitting just .206 with a .649 OPS, well below his talent level and not enough to let his top-end defense truly shine.

The Blue Jays’ confidence in him hasn’t wavered, but you can’t escape the realities of time. Toronto has just 12 games remaining, so it’s now or never.

“We all know who Matt can be,” Schneider said. “He’s shown it for years -- this year included. It’s been rough for him, timing-wise, getting back off the injury. I love the fact that he got the hit today. Chris Bassitt said it yesterday: ‘We have the guys.’ He’s one of the guys.”

This is quite the emotional swing for the Blue Jays, who easily could have folded following the drubbing by the Rangers. Their offense was by no means impressive in this series, and it will need to do more against the Rays and Yankees, but wins are wins. There are no style points in September.

“To get swept and then sweep a team? It’s not easy to do,” Schneider said. “I loved the way they played this entire series. It was hard-fought, our pitching was great and the defense was outstanding, with enough offense producing big hits in big spots. It could have [gone] either way after the Texas series, and these guys stepped up. It’s what we expected of them.”

Each player or coach has their own approach to scoreboard watching. Some watch every change, every run. Some are superstitious, refusing to look until the next morning. Many say they try to control what they can control, but they are really looking out of the corner of their eye to see if anything’s changed.

At this point, the only guarantee is stress, and the next two weeks will decide whether or not it’s the good kind.