It happened just how the Blue Jays envisioned it would, with Hyun Jin Ryu on the mound and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. kick-starting the offense with a towering home run.
The Toronto Blue Jays have clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2016 with Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Yankees at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., and now the real fun begins.
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While Ryu and contributions from the young core perfectly fit the Blue Jays’ plan to return to the postseason, so many other parts to this story don’t. This will be the first and, hopefully, the last time that Toronto clinches with just its 30th win of a shortened season, and no one ever expected this celebration to take place in Buffalo. It might all be coming a year ahead of expectations, too, but this young Blue Jays team has earned every inch of spotlight it will be given.
This marks the eighth time that the Blue Jays have qualified for the postseason, and the first time since they made back-to-back appearances in 2015 and '16, a pair of runs that captivated Canada and reawakened baseball north of the border. It hasn’t been a long wait by any means, but the 22-year postseason drought prior to those appearances taught Blue Jays fans just how rare these opportunities can be.
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“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who clinched his first postseason berth as an MLB manager. “These kids, the ups and downs, the tough games and coming back and winning games after tough losses. We kept believing in ourselves. I’m so proud of this group. I’m the happiest guy right now.”
Montoyo was the perfect manager to clinch a Major League playoff spot in a Minor League stadium, too. After managing nearly two decades in the Tampa Bay Rays' system -- the team he just might face in the American League Wild Card Series -- Montoyo has taken the long road to Thursday night’s celebration.
Those tough times Montoyo mentions are real, too. Looking back a couple of months, the Blue Jays were a 7-11 team playing poor fundamental baseball and fading, very early, from postseason contention. That’s when they reeled off six consecutive wins, and they haven’t dipped below .500 since.
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If you’ve followed the Blue Jays this season, you’ve heard Montoyo return to a small handful of statements over and over again. He believes in his guys, he’s proud of how they play, and even after the worst losses, the proud Puerto Rican manager would always tell his team, "It’s fine. We’re fine."
It’s not something that Montoyo was just saying, either.
“When things go bad, I say, ‘Man, it could be worse,’” Montoyo said. “I have a kid who’s had four open-heart surgeries, so I know it could be worse. That’s why after tough losses, I could turn the page and say, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get ready for the next game.’”
Montoyo’s young team heard those messages, too. After being completely and thoroughly outplayed by this same Yankees team just a week ago, the Blue Jays bounced back to punch their ticket against one of baseball’s best clubs.
Ryu saved his best start of the season for his last one, pitching seven shutout innings to drop his ERA to 2.69 while becoming the first Toronto starter to throw a pitch in the seventh inning this season. The ace is peaking at the right time, and the Blue Jays will need him at his best in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series if they hope to continue surprising the rest of baseball.
“This is what I expected when I signed with the Blue Jays,” Ryu said after the win. “Even last year, with this young core group of guys and talent, I knew it would translate to this year as well. During Spring Training, I was able to witness their talent with my own two eyes, so I knew going to the postseason was a possibility. I like winning, and I came here to win.”
• How they got there: Young talent thrives
Guerrero's recent hot streak couldn’t be coming at a better time, either. He has flirted with a breakout seemingly every other week this season, but his swing is starting to look much more confident, and Thursday’s three-hit performance -- including his 412-foot home run in the second inning -- gave him nine hits in this series.
The Blue Jays have taken turns all season, from Bo Bichette to Teoscar Hernández, Randal Grichuk -- who made a clutch game-saving catch at the wall on Gary Sánchez's bases-loaded drive in the eighth -- and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but it looks like it’s finally time for Guerrero to be the engine.
Just as Ryu acted as the rotation’s steady hand, Cavan Biggio was the rock of the lineup this season. The Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter never got too high or too low, but on the field and in the clubhouse, Biggio is who this young team turns to.
Stretching all the way back to Spring Training in Dunedin, Fla., even before the expanded playoff format was introduced, Biggio has believed his team would contend. Through the challenges of conducting Summer Camp in Toronto and playing out a full season in a Triple-A ballpark, that never changed.
“From Day 1, my confidence never wavered," Biggio said. "Even when we were making mistakes and we were losing one-run ballgames left and right, it was obviously frustrating, but with the shortened schedule and the ramp-up being really quick, that’s just what came with it. From Day 1, that’s what I said, and I believed it throughout the course of the season. I'm really proud of this team.”
The Blue Jays will open the 2020 MLB postseason on Tuesday, with their opponent and time of game to be announced.
Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.