SEATTLE -- The Blue Jays needed a spark to reignite their pursuit of a spot in this year's postseason. They found it in a sea of blue at Safeco Field.
Toronto arrived in Seattle earlier this week with a league-worst 5-11 record in September and a two-game lead in the American League Wild Card race that seemed to be slipping away. In a recent series vs. the Angels, the Blue Jays were sluggish and sloppy, but the club has looked rejuvenated this week and the fans from Western Canada deserve at least some of the credit.
Blue Jays players have been talking all week about the sense of excitement surrounding this series. It can be felt in batting practice with Toronto jerseys lining each side of the infield. It can be heard during the Canadian national anthem and it can certainly be felt during each at-bat.
"It's incredible," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "The best way to describe it is overwhelming, emotional. I tried to tell my family, my parents back home, what it's like coming here. You see it on TV, but you can't experience it unless you're here firsthand.
"They made the trip up, and they can't believe what they witnessed. ... Not to knock our fans at home, but when it's the only three games Canadians are going to see for the year, there's just a different energy. Every pitch is intense."
Fans in Western Canada have turned the Blue Jays-Mariners series into an annual event. While walking the streets of downtown Seattle, it's impossible not to notice the number of people in Blue Jays gear. Everywhere you turn, there's someone wearing a Josh Donaldson, José Bautista, Russell Martin or Edwin Encarnacion jersey. All of this in a city that is 2,500 miles from Toronto.
The series has become so popular over the last couple of years that fans from other parts of the country have circled the event on their calendar as well. They want to experience what all the fuss is about. It's not often a road game can be turned into a home environment, but that's what's happened in Seattle.
It's difficult to know for sure how many Canadians have made the trip, but Blue Jays fans seemed to easily outnumber Mariners fans during the first two games. It has created a friendly rivalry with both groups trying to drown out the other. Postseason baseball might be two weeks away, but in the state of Washington the atmosphere has already arrived.
"Especially at this point in the season, late September, everyone is banged up, everyone is grinding a little bit," Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders said. "That's not just us, that's everybody. But to come out here and have that support from the fans. They're loud and rowdy and they get us riled up a little bit. We love playing in front of them."
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Everyone in the Blue Jays' clubhouse has taken note, but it would be hard not to. Every time Bautista stepped to the plate there was "Jose, Jose, Jose" chant that followed. Troy Tulowitzki was greeted with his now infamous "Tu-lo" cheer and large groups chanting "Let's Go Blue Jays" has become the norm.
Even when Toronto put the finishing touches on a 10-2 blowout victory over Seattle on Tuesday night that took three hours and 33 minutes to play, the fans were there right until the end to give their team a standing ovation. This isn't normal, but it sure is special.
"The crowd has been great for us here," said Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ, who picked up his 20th victory of the season on Tuesday. "There has been a lot of energy and I think the last two nights, different kind of ballgames, but we played good baseball. We're definitely battling out there so hopefully it's starting to turn. We'll see."