TORONTO – Hey, Toronto Blue Jays, please complete the following sentence – clinching a post-season berth on an off-day is …
“… weird, but awesome,” said George Springer. “I mean, it just allows you to breathe a little bit, you know, allows you to say, well, we accomplished our goal. Yeah, obviously you might want to do it in a little bit of a different way, but at the end of the day, who cares? It's awesome to say we're going to the playoffs no matter what.”
“… well, clinching is great, but I would say not ideal,” said Bo Bichette. “It definitely felt weird not being with the team and not celebrating after the game. I mean, that's part of it. When you're young and you're watching the people we watched, you've got the champagne showers and everything. We'll get that opportunity (Friday). So, blessed either way.”
“… it didn't happen because technically, we didn't celebrate,” said Matt Chapman. “We're celebrating (Friday). So clinching on an off day is not ideal, but manageable because we're going to clinch (Friday).”
“… weird,” said Kevin Gausman. “In the moment, I really wished that we all would have been here and been able to watch it together. But either scenario would have been weird. If we would have came in, what if (the Baltimore Orioles) come back and win and then we all came in for no reason? So we just decided to wait until Friday.”
“… strange,” said Danny Jansen. “Kind of unfortunate, too. But we're here now. It was a weird thing, for sure. It's the first time in Blue Jays history. Probably doesn't happen very often. It was a weird feeling for sure on the off-day.”
“... cool but a little weird, you know?” said Jordan Romano. “It's definitely still special but I think it would've been a little better if all the boys were around and we were kind of in the moment. Still really cool. We're all grateful for it. But yeah, a little different.”
“… odd,” said Tim Mayza. “Not your typical (way to) a post-season berth. It's different, but so were the last two, three years of Blue Jays baseball. You go back to the '20 clinching and the guys who were there said it was weird. You had an empty stadium in Buffalo. And even last year, we didn't get back here until August. Then you make a run at the end and you fall just one game short. So I would say for the past few years of Blue Jays baseball, maybe this is typical, that it would happen on and off-day. But it's fun. It's exciting.”
“... still clinching,” said David Phelps. “The most important thing isn't the champagne celebration, the most important thing is that we're headed to the playoffs. Yeah, obviously we would have loved it after a win and been together for it. But our goal is to get to the post-season and win the World Series and that's stop one.”
“… easy – we didn't play,” said interim manager John Schneider. “It was a little weird. You become a Boston Red Sox fan for about three hours and then you turn it off. But we knew that was a possibility and covered all of our bases, but definitely different. But no matter how you do it, doing it is the most important part.”
There was no debating that on one of the more unique Friday’s in franchise history, as the Blue Jays returned to Rogers Centre with an ‘X’ by their name in the wild-card standings courtesy of an Orioles loss at Boston the previous afternoon, planned a post-game party, pounded the Red Sox 9-0 behind six shutout innings from Alek Manoah and then let it rip.
“I woke up and I was ready to go,” said Gausman. “My mind was on my bullpen, but my bullpen's over so now all I'm focused on is watching Manoah shove and then go pop some bottles. That's all I'm thinking about.”
In the aftermath, asked about his first champagne shake-and-spray, Manoah grinned.
“That was sick.”
Manoah allowed only two hits and was in total control, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rocked his team-leading 31st homer of the season and Springer added a three-run shot to ensure the Blue Jays jumped into the party in style.
Raimel Tapia also went deep and Bichette added two singles, giving him a club record for hits in a month at 48, before a Rogers Centre crowd of 37,283 that enjoyed stress-free festivities. Yusei Kikuchi picked up from Manoah and closed things out for a three-inning save, his first in the majors and second of his career after collecting with the Seibu Lions in 2012.
“This party was scheduled and whether we won or lost. For me, it was let's have a good time, but with a win, you know?” said Manoah. “I feel like it would have been really terrible to get our butt kicked out there and then have to come and party. The biggest thing was being able to just lock it in and make sure that the win comes first and then the party comes after.”
Work still remains for the Blue Jays (88-69) over the final week, starting with locking down the top wild-card spot, which they lead by 1.5 games over the Seattle Mariners (86-70), who beat Oakland 2-1 to clinch their first post-season berth since 2001, and two games over the Tampa Bay Rays (86-71), who also clinched with a 7-3 win at Houston.
In case it matters, Manoah is lined up to pitch Wednesday’s season finale at Baltimore, but the Blue Jays want to have the top spot secured by then and not have to contemplate whether to start their ace in order to host the wild-card round.
Hard to imagine them making that choice and while Schneider didn’t quite commit to saving Manoah for the wild-card round, saying “a lot can happen between now and then,” he later added, “if he's on the mound in Game 1, that would be a really good thing for us.”
Manoah has now logged 196.2 innings over 31 starts with a 2.24 ERA, becoming one of the club’s most reliable arms. His 0.88 ERA in September is a franchise record. The Blue Jays are 18-13 when he starts.
Similarly important is figuring out if Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who did some running Friday as he works his way back from a left hamstring strain, and Santiago Espinal, who ramped up his baseball activities as he recovers from a left oblique strain, will be ready for the wild-card opener Oct. 7.
Their status will significantly impact how the post-season roster is constructed, while decisions on how to line up the rotation and how many relievers to carry also must be settled.
Five games remain to sort out those matters, which they can do knowing the heavy lifting is done and the achievement has been properly feted, the way it was in a pretty wild clubhouse.
The first bottles of champagne were uncorked as Endor’s Pump It Up blared on speakers and then, when Hot by Daddy Yankee and Pitbull followed, Teoscar Hernandez climbed atop a clubhouse table and began waving a pirate flag as his teammates skipped around.
“That was something Chappie brought up for every win we get,” Hernandez explained of their post-victory routine. “He said we were pirates and we're going to take everything from everybody. So we started doing that every time we win. I'm always with the flag on the top of the table trying to pump everyone up.”
No challenge there and next the room went silent for Schneider.
“This is something you should never not celebrate,” he told the group. “Congratulations to you all. Unbelievable effort all season long. You guys are fucking incredible. Enjoy the shit out of this tonight.”
With that, more corks went flying.
Wave after wave of players ganged up on Guerrero, dousing him as payback, Manoah said, “for all the water he throws on everyone.”
“I tried to hide and avoid everything,” Guerrero said through interpreter Hector Lebron, “but everybody was dumping everything on me. That felt good. It was very emotional and let's keep going.”
Amid the chaos, Chapman swung by his stall to make sure his glove was safely tucked behind the plastic sheets draped over the lockers and protected from the streams of bubbly flying in all directions. It was.
The pitchers circled pitching coach Pete Walker and emptied out dozens of beer cans on him.
Schneider, asked whether more champagne was on him than in him, said on him but that the ratio was about to change.
Guerrero, Bichette and Cavan Biggio, who rose through the farm system together as the sons of elite major-leaguers, winning championships and single-A Dunedin and double-A New Hampshire along the way, traded dousing and kind words.
“It’s something that we’ve all been through together and enjoyed together,” said Biggio.
The difference between the parties then and now?
“This is way better,” said Guerrero. “In the minor leagues, they give you just one bottle of champagne and that's it. You're out. Here there are a lot of bottles.”
Indeed, and even after the party took a brief pause for a team photo on the mound, it quickly moved back into the clubhouse and resumed.
“I feel like we handled it the right way,” said Ross Stripling, whose emergence after Hyun Jin Ryu’s season-ending elbow surgery was pivotal for the club. “We played the game. We took care of the business at hand and then came in here to have a good time.”
Added Schneider: “This is why you play. This is a lot of fun.”
Clinched on an off-day or not.