Weekends like this tend to unveil a team’s true colours. For the Toronto Blue Jays, it felt like the dawn of something special.
Though it was anything but simple, the Blue Jays completed the series sweep against the Oakland A’s and have now won four games in a row with exactly one month left in the regular season. And they were almost forced to find their collective identity in the process.
After two nights of flared tempers, lead changes and overwhelming pressure between two teams vying for a wild-card spot in the American League, the Blue Jays’ 8-0 win on Sunday, weirdly, lacked drama.
But for this club and its fans, it was triumphant.
“It was great,” Blue Jays starter Robbie Ray said of leaving Sunday’s game to a loud standing ovation after 6.2 innings of shutout ball. “It was one of the best experiences that you can have in baseball.”
The Blue Jays had sellout crowds of almost 15,000 people in the last two games against the A’s. Amid flipped bats and hit batters, Rogers Centre caught on fire with every new development in the saga that played out during the three games between Oakland and Toronto.
On Sunday, they had good reason to go wild.
Ray struck out 10 batters while allowing one hit and three walks over 107 pitches, the type of outing that the Blue Jays have come to expect from their surprising ace. More importantly, he gave the team a chance to find some rare synergy in every aspect of the game.
“We haven’t really had everything clicking at the same time many times,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo after Sunday’s win. “And for this series, it was.”
Before Ray completed his latest outstanding performance or the hitters had a chance to pour in 13 hits — including home runs by Marcus Semien and Alejandro Kirk — Randal Grichuk was the one who gave Toronto some important momentum, with a stellar one-out catch in the top of the first inning.
The day only got better from there.
“The bats are coming around and it’s really fun to watch,” said Ray. “The defence was there today making some huge plays. It was a great overall team win and everyone was a part of it.”
From the moment Alek Manoah hit Josh Harrison with a wild sinker back on Friday, it was clear that this would be a formative moment for a young Blue Jays team. Stress levels rose through the roof as both teams exchanged words and taunts and a total of eight batters were hit through the three-game series.
That first night, Toronto trailed by as many as six runs. It was the type of moment that didn’t allow anyone to stay hidden or shielded.
Then, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a game-tying grand slam.
And when the A’s came right back to take the lead with a two-run homer off Jordan Romano in the top of the ninth, Semien showed why he is one of the best veterans in the game, clobbering a three-run, walk-off shot to give the Jays a series-opening 11-10 win.
“You think about the night we had, the first seven innings, we just woke up,” said Semien after Friday’s game. “We scratched and clawed.”
They continued to do so on Saturday, when José Berríos took the mound for the Blue Jays and showed why the club traded for him at the deadline. The righty carried the energy from the night before into his own start and ended up with a three-run, four-hit, seven-strikeout night over 6.2 innings of work to help his team to a nail-biting 10-8 victory.
“I came to the ballpark today and I wanted to keep that momentum,” said Berríos. “I was trying to be aggressive and get ahead of the hitter. I like what I did today. And our offensive side did their work and we had a chance to win the ball game.”
Gurriel Jr. was once again the hero on Saturday, hitting a homer and a two-run double to finish the game with four RBIs.
“He’s one of the most clutch hitters in the game,” Semien said of Gurriel Jr. “Nobody talks about that.”
Gurriel Jr. now has 11 RBIs over four games in September after posting 12 in all of August. After struggling for a stretch as the season became more intense, he managed to slow down long enough to regain confidence and adjust his swing.
His newly found energy has been contagious.
“I love my team. I love my teammates,” said Gurriel Jr. “And any time we win I’ll make sure I’m right there celebrating with them.”
Though there has been plenty to celebrate game by game, the Blue Jays are still running against the clock trying to make up for lost time in the wild-card race. Toronto leapfrogged Oakland thanks to the series sweep, but still finds itself four games back of a playoff spot since the Boston Red Sox took care of business on their end by winning two of three against Cleveland despite missing multiple players to the COVID-19 list.
Another crucial series awaits. The Blue Jays travel to New York to face the Yankees in the Bronx with another chance to gain ground against a wild-card rival.
“Momentum” is a word that has been tossed around a lot. This weekend, the Blue Jays found something way less esoteric.
In a gritty, wild, dramatic series, the Blue Jays found unity.
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