TORONTO – No one would fault Roberto Osuna for going crazy. He’s 20, minutes removed from the biggest save of his life, surrounded by beer and champagne.
But in the immediate aftermath of the Toronto Blue Jays’ ALDS-clinching win over the Texas Rangers, the rookie closer stayed composed, answering questions thoughtfully while accepting the congratulations of friends and teammates. Success doesn’t come as a surprise to Osuna.
“This is part of my job,” Osuna said. “I’ve been in professional leagues since I was 16.”
Make no mistake, Osuna enjoyed the win as much as anyone. It’s just that he has bigger goals in mind.
“We’re trying to go to the World Series and win the World Series,” Osuna said. “But this was a special game for me.”
The Blue Jays completed an improbable comeback against the Rangers with two pitchers who were toddlers when Toronto last won the World Series and one who wasn’t yet born: 24-year-old starter Marcus Stroman, 23-year-old reliever Aaron Sanchez and Osuna, who’s 20.
“The future’s here,” Sanchez said. “We’re ready.”
Six months ago, this would have been tough to envision. Osuna, the youngest player to play in an MLB game this year, was a longshot to make the team. Stroman had a torn ACL. Sanchez was a reliever attempting to become a starter. Yet here they are, about to play for the AL pennant.
It’s a credit to the organization that the three young arms figured so prominently in the Blue Jays’ ALDS win. Stroman, a 2012 first-round pick, Sanchez, a 2010 first-rounder, and Osuna, who signed as an international free agent in 2011, all came up through the Blue Jays’ system. Now they’re integral parts of the pitching staff.
“We’ve got 25 guys on this team,” GM Alex Anthopoulos said, crediting Toronto’s scouting and player development staff. “They’re all the same. We love all of them. We want them all to get outs, we want them all to get hits. Where they came from we’re not concerned with, but certainly there’s a sense of pride from an organizational standpoint for the people that spend time with these guys to see them on a big stage doing what they’re doing.”
One of the people who works most closely with the young arms was thrilled but not surprised by their success.
“Can’t say enough good things about those guys,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “They rose to the occasion and they really showed an incredible amount of composure considering their age.”
The more established members of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff have come to expect dominant performances from Stroman, Sanchez and Osuna.
“That’s why they’re in the big leagues,” Mark Buehrle said. “I didn’t think it’d be any different once the playoffs got here.”
Asked what stands out about the trio of arms, LaTroy Hawkins simply said ‘they’re good.’
“They’re the face of the organization from a pitching standpoint and for good reason,” Hawkins continued. “To see them grow from when I got here to now and continue to take steps in the right direction? They’re going to be all right.”
None of the three pitchers had debuted until last May, when Stroman reached the big leagues. Sanchez followed in July of 2014 and Osuna reached the majors in the spring of 2015. Now they’re fixtures on a Blue Jays pitching staff intent on making a deep run into October.
“You don’t see that from young guys,” Edwin Encarnacion said. “All the pressure? The crowds? You got to take your hat off to them.”
Regardless of experience, Russell Martin is impressed. The catcher echoed Anthopoulos, making the case that the pitchers’ ages matter less than their ability to contribute.
“We’re one unit. We win together. We lose together,” Martin said. “There’s no young guys, old guys. We’re just all part of a group.”
Still, when the youngest pitcher in baseball is closing out games on a massive stage, he’s going to attract some attention. Osuna dominated in the regular season with 69.2 regular season innings, 20 saves and a 2.58 ERA. He has followed that up with 5.2 scoreless innings in the ALDS, striking out six. “We’ve pushed him, there’s no doubt about it, and he’s responded,” Walker said.
“He’s not scared of anything,” Walker added. “He’s fearless. And to be a closer you’ve got to be fearless and you’ve got to have a short memory.”
Every time Osuna and Walker spoke after a tough outing, the rookie reliever told his coach “give me the ball.” That toughness made an impression on Hawkins, whose locker is right next to Osuna’s.
“Some people are just special,” Hawkins said. “He’s a little more battle-tested than some other guys. He’s a special talent.”