BOSTON -- The Blue Jays knew they were going to the postseason approximately 30 minutes before their game vs. Boston came to an end, but the celebration had to wait. There was still business to take care of.Toronto officially clinched an American League Wild Card spot when Detroit lost to
BOSTON -- The Blue Jays knew they were going to the postseason approximately 30 minutes before their game vs. Boston came to an end, but the celebration had to wait. There was still business to take care of.
Toronto officially clinched an American League Wild Card spot when Detroit lost to the Braves on Sunday afternoon. The players noticed it on the scoreboard and normally that would have been cause for celebration, but with so much still on the line everybody had to keep their head down and focus on the task at hand.
The big moment didn't come until the Blue Jays took care of Boston with a 2-1 victory to clinch the top AL Wild Card spot. Last year, Toronto celebrated a clinch after losing the second game of a doubleheader to the Orioles. This year, they were able to pop the champagne after a victory, and the biggest reward of all is home-field advantage in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game vs. Baltimore, scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet (English) and RDS (French) in Canada and TBS in the United States.
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"It was a little weird, but we were playing for much more than that obviously," Blue Jays outfielder José Bautista said. "Playing at home is a huge advantage over playing on the road. We're happy that we got it done.
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"It was a tough game today, but we pulled through against a great team. Very proud of what we accomplished. We already got one of the goals that we set out for as a team at the beginning of the season, which was making it to the playoffs. Now onto the next one -- making it to the World Series."
Toronto has now qualified for the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-93. Most of the Blue Jays' core from last season returned for the encore performance, but that's where the similarities between these two years come to an end.
In 2015, the Blue Jays were a .500 team until former general manager Alex Anthopoulos made a series of bold moves at the Trade Deadline to fortify his roster. After Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and others arrived, it was easy sailing the rest of the way. Toronto cruised to the finish line with very little resistance thanks to a 40-18 record that took the division by storm.
This year, it was a much different story. The Blue Jays seemed to be in the driver's seat at the start of September with a two-game lead over the Red Sox for first place in the AL East. That's when things got tough as Toronto's offense went cold and the club suffered through an 11-16 in September. This time it was Boston running away with the division, while the Blue Jays had to fight until the very end.
It would have been easy for the month-long September struggles to completely derail the season, but when push came to shove, the Blue Jays got it done by taking two of three from the Red Sox in the final series of the year.
"We don't do things easy, that's for sure," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I'm proud of this group. It wasn't easy, but you know, maybe this is a better way to head into the playoffs -- battle-tested. You come into these three games here, you knew it wasn't going to be easy. You'll have to play low-scoring games, come out on top -- something that's been an Achilles' heel a little bit. We feel good."
This year's celebration was a little more subdued than a year ago. The champagne was flowing and cigars were being passed around the clubhouse, but it was a shorter party and not quite as loud as the one from a year ago when Toronto turned Baltimore's visitors' clubhouse into its own personal frat house.
The difference can be explained by the fact that Toronto still has plenty of work to do, and unlike 2015, not a lot of time to prepare for it. The regular season is over, the AL Wild Card Game looms Tuesday and official workouts begin less than 24 hours after Sunday's final pitch. As far as this team is concerned, there are more celebrations to come, so this one should be treated like a warmup more than anything else.
"I knew what this feeling was like from last year and I wasn't ready to go home," said right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Sunday's win. "We worked too hard for it to come to an end like this. ... It's huge what we accomplished, but it's not over."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.