Inside the couple seconds that lifted the Blue Jays into the ALCS

The Blue Jays ended up getting the last laugh as Rougned Odor's error in the tenth gave Josh Donaldson the winning run as Toronto advanced to the ALCS with a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers in the ALDS.

TORONTO — Josh Donaldson rounded third — “he was coming really, really hard,” if you ask Luis Rivera, the Toronto Blue Jays coach at the base in question — and once the reigning AL MVP saw the Texas Rangers first baseman bobble the ball at first, he was not about to stop.

We all know what happens next: The final play Sunday night at the Rogers Centre saw Donaldson slide into home and stick his left hand over the plate to record Toronto’s seventh run, clinching the ALDS for the Blue Jays in extra innings.

It took only a couple seconds for that last play to materialize, but if you ask anyone involved, it didn’t feel that way.

“More like slow motion,” said Rivera, grinning.

Back to the start, then: It was the bottom of the 10th, there was one out, Edwin Encarnacion was at first, Donaldson was at second, and Russell Martin was at the plate. Donaldson took a healthy lead from second, expecting contact, because he’d watched his teammate take “some pretty big swings,” as he later put it.

When Martin made contact and sent a line drive to shortstop, Donaldson bolted for third.

Martin had a few thoughts as he watched that ball heading to first, the most important among them being this: “Get there.”

The veteran catcher, while sprinting, also took note of the footwork Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland would have to do to pick up that throw. “Moreland is a lefty,” Martin said. “He kind of had to reset himself.”

Martin was thinking about all of this while running as fast as his 33-year-old legs could carry him. “In the playoffs you find that second wind,” he said. “I didn’t really feel like I was running as fast as I was when I was 23 but I felt like I was getting down the line decent. And that was enough I guess to get him to rush a little bit.”

Him, who had to rush, being Rangers second baseman, Rougned Odor. Donaldson was rounding third as he saw Moreland bobble a pick on a low throw from Odor on the double play attempt.

Donaldson didn’t exactly need instruction after that.

“That was all him,” Rivera said, because as first base coach Tim Leiper puts it: “That’s a play where coaching doesn’t matter.”

A few thoughts actually went through Donaldson’s head, then, as he rounded third, for a split-second or so. He knows Moreland well — they’ve been playing against one another since college.

“It wasn’t one of those situations where I was just wheeling around third to score, because I respect Mitch’s arm,” Donaldson said after the game, a backwards ball cap covering his sweaty and champagne-soaked lengthy mohawk.

“For me the deciding factor was once I saw the ball get away from him, I felt like I had to take a chance,” Donaldson said. “And that situation in the game, if he ends up throwing me out, making a great play, you kind of have to tip your cap to him. But I’m banking on the fact that I’m going to make it more times than not.”

The 30-year-old from Pensacola, Fla., is dealing with a hip injury. He’s banged up, even if he’ll say “I want to say I’m not physically restricted.” (Martin’s quick retort in the post-game press conference, with a smile: “Just lie.”)

So maybe, just maybe, there was a hint of doubt in Donaldson’s mind. But he was willing to take the risk.

R.A. Dickey? He was certain the game was won the second he saw the bobble at first. “I was over the rail [of the dugout] already,” the knuckleballer said, grinning. “I was three steps to home plate. I knew he was gonna be safe.”

Michael Saunders knew it, too. “The guy’s instincts are off the charts,” Saunders said of Donaldson on the base paths. “When he’s determined to do something and when he makes a decision to do something, it’s usually the right one.”

Jose Bautista calls it “one of the most difficult things to read as a runner,” a play like that, because “you don’t know how far the ball’s going to trickle away from the first baseman. He took a gamble, but just like any other gamble in life it paid off great dividends and we won the series based on that read.”

President and CEO Mark Shapiro called the play “aggressive.” He added: “It’s a reflection of his personality. For great players to be great they can’t be afraid to fail. That was a play he made without fear.”

Manager John Gibbons smiles when asked how fast his third baseman is. “Very fast,” he said. “But he isn’t one of the fastest guys in baseball. He’s a good runner. He’s smart.

“Sometimes you gotta take chances,” Gibbons added with a shrug after watching highlights on a screen in the clubhouse. “That’s how you win ballgames.”

That gamble, that chance, took only a couple of seconds. And now it’s onto the ALCS.

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