Celebration worth the wait for confident Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays held their pre-party last weekend when they clinched an American League Wild Card spot, but the real festivities were saved for Wednesday, when the club picked up its first division title since 1993.
Toronto clinched the AL East crown with a 15-2 victory over Baltimore in Game 1 of a doubleheader on Wednesday. With another game to play later that night, the celebrations had to be put on hold for a few hours, but the team made up for it in epic fashion.
The champagne was flowing, the celebratory cigars were passed around and beer showers were raining down from every direction. For one night, the visitor's clubhouse at Oriole Park was turned into a fraternity house, as all the emotions from the grind of 158 games came bubbling to the surface.
"It took a long time to come to fruition. I felt like we had a chance to get at least this spot and make it into the playoffs with some of the teams we had in place before," said Bautista, who was wearing a camera on his head to record the events and big ski goggles to protect his eyes.
"It just didn't happen because of different things every year, underperformances, whatever, but who cares? We're here now, we're enjoying it and we have a chance to be the best team in the world and we're going for it. This is the first step."
Toronto's first division title in 22 years is remarkable enough on its own, but becomes even more special when considering where this team was two months ago. On July 28, the Blue Jays were 50-51 and faced an eight-game deficit to the first-place Yankees. Since that time, Toronto has gone 42-15 to become a World Series favorite.
After dropping Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader, the Blue Jays have a one-game lead over the Royals for the top record in the American League, which would secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Toronto owns the tiebreaker between the two teams and would clinch the top spot even if both clubs finish with the same record.
Winning almost always leads to good chemistry and helps to build strong bonds between players, but a common theme in all of the postgame interviews done Wednesday night was just how tight this group has become. It's an impressive feat considering a fifth of the roster was turned over at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and even more additions were made in August and September.
This isn't exactly the kind of team that has been able to slowly grow together for six months. The process had to be sped up, and some of the guys who have been through this type of scenario before were caught off guard at just how easy the transition to Toronto became.
"They had a fun group of guys when we came, and the guys we added just kind of added to it," said No. 1 starter David Price, who was acquired from Detroit prior to the Deadline. "It was easy to have fun that first week in that clubhouse, on that field, in the dugout. Winning makes everywhere special, but it's definitely a different kind of special here."
Those sentiments were backed up by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who seemed a little apprehensive when he first joined Toronto on July 29. It was an understandable feeling considering he had spent his entire career in Colorado and was completely caught off guard by the move. His feelings have since changed and he's primed to return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
"That's not always the case," Tulowitzki said of the group coming together so quickly. "People are scared to make moves at times because you don't know if it's going to jell. In our case, it's one of those few circumstances where everything worked out and it made our team that much better."
The Blue Jays now can only hope that their journey is just beginning. Toronto has its eyes set on a deep run into the postseason, and confidence among the group seems to be at an all-time high.
Catcher Russell Martin joined the club during the offseason through free agency, and while he never could have predicted the year playing out quite like this, he didn't shy away from making a bold prediction about where his team is headed.
"This is the best I've felt going into the postseason," said Martin, who has been to the postseason 10 times before. "We're dangerous offensively, we're dangerous on the mound, we play awesome defense. If somebody's going to beat us, they're going to have to play tremendously well. And even then I don't know if it can happen. The confidence feels pretty good right now."