One year after the fateful final day, the Blue Jays take home the wild-card series

BALTIMORE — On the morning of Oct. 3, 2021, Major League Baseball submitted a plan to bring order to potential chaos. The possibility of a four-way tie, along with different combinations of three-way and two-way ties for the AL wild-card spots were on the cards before Game 162, leaving a dizzying array of scenarios for the Toronto Blue Jays that fateful Sunday. . A missive from the league laid it all out for everyone involved.

“There was a lot going on, we were trying to take care of the game against Baltimore,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider recalled of that 12-4 win over the Orioles a year ago that put them in position to advance before the wins by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees ultimately put them a measly game away. “You were trying to tag things as they went, inning by inning into our game, and then inning by inning after our game was over. So you went from very excited to the exact opposite in about 40 minutes. There are sure to be a lot of moving parts.”

Precisely a year later, things were much easier for the Blue Jays when they faced the Orioles once again, this time at Camden Yards on a miserably cold and rainy Monday night. His wild-card spot was already secured this time, a rain-shortened 5-1 win over Baltimore combined with a loss to the Seattle Mariners three hours later clinched host rights for the playoff series.

Game 1 of the best of three against the Mariners (87-72) or the Tampa Bay Rays (86-74) is Friday at the Rogers Center. Sets 2 and, if necessary, 3 are also in the dome.

“We want to go home, we want to play the wild-card series in Toronto,” Whit Merrifield said after the Blue Jays weathered the elements and waited for the final in Seattle. “Getting the playoff spot was huge. Obviously, it is what you strive to do from the beginning. But we still knew what was at hand and we knew we controlled it.”

Merrifield continued to make impacts big and small, hitting a two-run single in the second and then bunting in the fifth that forced a throwing error that put him on second, advancing to third on a groundout and scoring on a wild pitch. . Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a monster 422-foot home run in the third and Matt Chapman added an RBI single in the eighth, when the game was stopped with the bases loaded and two out, to support José Berríos, who allowed a run in three. hits and three walks in six solid innings.

It was a good victory in difficult circumstances, from an uncertain start time onwards.

“We were sweating playing cards around 6:25 when his GM decided he (would start) on time, that was a challenge,” Merrifield said. “And then after that, we just joked around, calling it a blue collar game. Its not cute. It is not comfortable. It’s not fun many times. Is not easy. But … we know what we’re playing for: Baltimore had a great year, but at this point they’re not playing much, it’s a game we needed to win. Focusing for seven innings like we did and doing enough to win the game was important to us.”

The Blue Jays, at 91-69, matched their win total from a year ago and moved within 3.5 games of the Mariners, who lost 4-3 to the Detroit Tigers. Seattle’s magic number to secure the second wild card over Tampa Bay is two.

Now that the home field is clinched, the priority for the Blue Jays is to find out if Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who did fieldwork, plans to run the bases Tuesday and aims to “be ready to pinch hit and then we’ll take him.” from there” on Friday, and Santiago Espinal, who hit the velo machine again, will be healthy enough for the postseason roster.

Kevin Gausman, meanwhile, is feeling better after leaving Sunday’s start with a cut to his right middle finger and “there are no real concerns with him right now,” Schneider said, checking another item off the to-do list. Berríos’ performance as he struggled for stability on the mound and for control of the ball also bodes well after an up-and-down season.

“The way I threw the ball,” Berríos said, “had that good feeling, that confidence to keep up the pace for the next one.”

So the focus on the home field and the math was much more manageable compared to the spreadsheets needed to sort through the permutations last fall, which started with the Blue Jays needing a win and either the Yankees or Red Sox needing one. to lose.

“I remember getting to know the stages, for sure, and feeling really good going into the day. It’s baseball, someone is going to lose, right? It can happen,” said Ross Stripling. “We didn’t like matchups. I guess if you had to pick one, you probably would have guessed the Rays would beat the Yankees. But the Rays weren’t playing for nothing because they already had the division. And the Nationals were the Nationals, but they were playing in home. So it was like, man, somebody’s going to get us one, right? Go all this way and win a game, short? That’s not going to happen. So obviously it did.”

The Blue Jays took an early lead against the Orioles that day, which made looking at the scoreboard “a lot easier to do,” George Springer said. “I remember going back to look a little bit that day and that’s not something I would normally do.”

The Yankees beat the Rays 1-0 first, leaving the Nationals the Blue Jays’ only hope. Once they wrapped up their win over the Orioles, the Red Sox game was put on the video board at Rogers Center just in time for Rafael Devers’ two-run home run in the ninth inning, turning euphoria into despondency in an instant.

“It was like, wow, we did everything we could to put ourselves in position and it just didn’t happen. She was deflating. It sucked,” Springer said. “You look back at everything you’ve been through. This was our third city, finally getting a chance to be home. The ups and downs, not really projected to be where we were and ended up in a very good place at the end of the year. And just knowing that you fell a game short in the standings, you can look back on any game you lost and say, well, if I had done this or if this had happened, you might not be in this position.

“But you learn from it and here we are now.”

Where they are now will host their first playoff game at home since a 3-0 loss to Cleveland in Game 5 of the 2016 American League Championship Series.

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