Help doesn't come for Toronto: 'It hurts'

Wins by Yanks, Red Sox knock Blue Jays out despite 91-71 record

October 4th, 2021

TORONTO -- The 2021 Blue Jays will be a team you look back on years from now and wonder what could have been, a lesson on the fragility of a postseason race and the heartbreak that more often than not awaits in October.

Toronto’s season ended about 30 minutes after its final game did, with more than 20,000 fans still inside Rogers Centre watching the Red Sox-Nationals game in Washington. After the Yankees walked off the Rays, 1-0, in the Bronx to wrap up the top American League Wild Card spot, a Nats win over Boston was all that could save the Blue Jays’ season by forcing a Monday tiebreaker in Game 163. As Rafael Devers’ tiebreaking two-run homer cleared the wall at Nationals Park in the top of the ninth, watched silently, sitting alone by the dugout railing. Moments later, the Red Sox celebrated their 7-5 win. It was over.

“It hurts. Knowing that you win 91 games and you didn’t make the playoffs, it really hurts me, hurts all my teammates,” Guerrero said. “Like I said before, that’s just gonna make me stronger. [I’ll] come back next year even better than this year.”

The Blue Jays handled their business Sunday, beating the Orioles, 12-4, to sweep the series. But their fate was at their fingertips for the final weekend, never fully in their hands. A 91-71 record should be a sign of success -- and in many ways, it is -- but it still left Toronto short of its ultimate goal of postseason baseball. This goes beyond the record, though.

The 22-year-old Guerrero hit his 48th home run of the season, tying for the MLB crown. hit No. 45, padding his Major League record for a second baseman. The two teammates could both finish within the top three of the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting after leading a lineup with four All-Stars and four players who drove in 100 runs, a first in franchise history. No Blue Jays team has ever hit more home runs than this one, with its 262 leading the Majors.

Robbie Ray might win the AL Cy Young Award. Right-hander Alek Manoah was one of baseball’s most dominant rookies. José Berríos was one of the Trade Deadline’s biggest additions. On paper, and in many ways on the field, the Blue Jays weren’t just a postseason-caliber team but one capable of making a deep run toward a World Series.

“Our team really came together, and we started to build a culture here,” said Semien. “We had some fans to play in front of. We became, in my opinion, the best team in baseball, but it was just a tick too late.”

That’s why this ending was so painful. This isn’t the end of an era, though, like the Blue Jays’ postseason elimination in 2016 when the team had an older roster. The frustration of 2021’s elimination lies in the fact that this was supposed to be an emphatic introduction of a new era on October’s grand stage, and that has been delayed.

“A 91-win season is still something to be unbelievably proud of,” said , who had two homers Sunday, including a grand slam. “But I think it just shows you how hard this division is, how hard the American League is and how hard this in general is to do. So I just think, for next year, we need to get back to Spring Training and figure out how to win one more than somebody else.”

That starts Monday, with the Blue Jays looking at a busy offseason. Semien and Ray are free agents who will enter at the top of the market, along with Steven Matz and others. There’s work to do, but the foundation is in place.

Next season will open in Toronto for the first time since 2019, and the odyssey of three home stadiums in ‘21 will be a memory, a story we tell of an almost unbelievable season in which the Blue Jays called Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y., home before finally returning to Toronto for the first time in 670 days. Manager Charlie Montoyo was tasked with leading people as much as players, and he came out of Sunday’s heartbreak proud.

“There’s something about believing in people. And I was a believer in this team,” Montoyo said. “It was a learning process in August -- how they call it the dog days in August, they really are -- that’s when you really feel it. But I kept telling you guys, ‘We’re gonna get hot, we’re gonna get hot.’ And we sure did.”

There will be an eagerness for Spring Training to open in 2022, one that rivals any previous season. There will be free-agent spending, trades and everything else that helps to reset the baseball calendar. But for the next few weeks, Toronto fans will watch postseason baseball with the memory still fresh of this past weekend and think: It should have been the Blue Jays.