The Blue Jays aren’t about to go into the off-season quietly.
Rather the opposite, in fact, as a late-season surge has them poised for one of the most dramatic finales in franchise history.
On a brilliant October Saturday afternoon in downtown Toronto, one of the exciting teams in Major League Baseball made some serious noise to set the stage for Sunday’s 162nd game, a thrill-ride to the finish.
From batting practice bombs hit into the 500 level, to the real thing come game time, the Jays throttled the pitiful Baltimore Orioles 10-1 at the Rogers Centre. With one game remaining, they are major players in the wildest wild-card race imaginable.
And now, for just the fourth time in their history, the Jays will have their playoff fate decided on the final day of the season.
On Saturday, a barrage of five home runs did the damage. And for more power, the rookie beast of a starter, Alek Manoah, was dominant on the mound.
“They all can hit a home run at any point in the game,” the bullish Manoah said of his teammates. “They’re all extremely aggressive. If we get in, I think they’re just going to keep swinging that bat and continue feeling confident at the plate.
“Our arms are going to go and do their job and we’re just going to try to take this thing as far as we can.”
A team that two years ago lost 95 games and couldn’t have the season end soon enough will look to sweep the Orioles on Sunday and hope for help from out of town.
With the Yankees losing and Red Sox winning on Sunday, the Jays are still on the outside looking in and will need a loss from at least one of their two AL East rivals to keep playing. If the Orioles win in Toronto, meanwhile, the Jays are done.
It’s just the seventh time the team in team history that the Jays have won 90 games, a credit to the resilience forced on them from playing home games in three parks this season.
“They believe. They never quit,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We could have quit (playing home games in) Dunedin when it was tough. We could have stopped in Buffalo.
“We deserve to be here in this moment because we never make excuses. They just wanted to play ball. We’re still a young team and it’s awesome that we’re going to be at this spot (on Sunday.)”
The power at the plate on Saturday helped make this the greatest home-run season in franchise history with the five to leave the park in the game and 258 through 161 games.
There was Vlad Guerrero Jr. hitting his 47th to tie George Bell for the second most in a Jays season. There was Teoscar Hernandez with No. 32 and red-hot Danny Jansen with his 11th. And on it went — Bo Bichette belted No. 29 and George Springer, who continues to set the tone at leadoff with a four-hit afternoon, checked in with his 20th homer.
With Springer’s latest, the Jays now have seven hitters with at least 20 homers, matching the most in franchise history.
It was a prolific display all around for a Jays team that will be feared should they earn the right to play beyond Sunday.
The starting pitching can hold up its share of the assignment as well. Big man Manoah struck out 10 Orioles and allowed just one hit, exiting after the seventh with a 10-1 lead. Making his 20th start, the Jays are now 16-4 in games the 23-year-old has been given the ball.
The Jays have seen Manoah’s brilliance and competitive fire all season as he pitched to a 3.22 ERA over 111.2 innings of work.
The Jays, who reached 90 wins for just the seventh time in franchise history, will try to make it 91 with lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu on the mound in front of another expected sellout crowd of 30,000.
Many of those will have one eye on the action here and another on the out-of-town scoreboard.
“These games are huge for us, for our entire organization,” Manoah said of the September surge. Everything matters. Every pitch matters. Everybody knows what’s at stake.”
MAD ABOUT VLAD
As for the pre-game homer show that carried on to the main event, Guerrero Jr. felt that the moments went together.
In the warm-up session, Guerrero Jr. and Springer took turns launching balls over the left-field wall, including a monster fifth-deck effort from Vlad that was a show-stopper.
During the game, his 450-footer that banked off the glass of the third-level restaurant, was one of the most impressive homers of the 22-year-old’s young career.
“It’s muscle memory,” Guerrero Jr. said. “I just wanted to do what I did in BP and see if I could take that into the game. They gave me the pitch I was looking for and I took advantage of that.”
Guerrero also has been taking advantage of having Springer as a teammate. The 2017 World Series MVP has been a calming presence for some of the younger Jays.
“When you have a teammate who has been to the World Series, it is a big help,” Guerrero said. “He’s been giving me advice to handle this moment. It’s made it easier. I’m very happy to have them here with me.”