By Gregor Chisholm and Brittany Ghiroli
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays were forced to watch the Orioles celebrate the division title in 2014 and on Wednesday they returned the favor by clinching the American League East for the first time since 1993 with a 15-2 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The fashion in which Toronto secured the top spot was very similar to the way the club has been beating teams all year -- an overpowering lineup that has a relentless approach at the plate and caused nightmares for opposing pitchers. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak homered, while Ryan Goins set a career high with five hits and reached base six times. Toronto scored 10 or more runs for a franchise-record 26th time this season.
The Blue Jays, who dropped Game 2 of the doubleheader, 8-1, have the division wrapped up, but there is still plenty on the line over the final four games. Toronto has a one-game lead over the Royals for the best record in the American League, which would clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Blue Jays also own the tiebreaker thanks to a better head-to-head record.
"It still feels like a dream, to be honest with you," said right-hander Marcus Stroman, who allowed one run over eight innings to pick up the victory. "How everything played out from the beginning of this season and being in this position to help my team clinch, it's been a journey, it's been a special ride. I'm just thankful for everybody who helped me get to this point."
Stroman's lone blemish came during the bottom of the seventh on a solo homer to left by Steve Pearce. Stroman was nearly flawless as he limited the Orioles to five hits and two walks while striking out eight in his fourth start since returning from left knee surgery.
Miguel Gonzalez wasn't nearly as effective for the Orioles as he surrendered two in the second and two more in the fourth before getting pulled with two outs in the frame. The veteran righty allowed four runs -- three earned -- on four hits and three walks while striking out three in his return from the disabled list.
"No loss is easy to accept," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We weren't very crisp, to say the least, and didn't pitch very well out of the 'pen. We got a healthy start out of Miguel. That was good. I'll take that as a positive. There's not a whole lot to reach for other than that."
There were plenty of standouts on offense for the Blue Jays as Ben Revere, Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar each enjoyed multi-hit games in addition to Goins. In addition to the homers, Russell Martin had an early RBI double. Veteran right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, who is set to retire at the end of the season, received the honor of closing out the game.
"I was one year old in 1992 and I was two in '93, so I don't remember any of that, but I realize that it's been a pretty long playoff drought and this city has been dying for one and I'm just excited the guys could bring it to them one," Stroman said. "This team we have, I can't put it into words, but we're a motivated, hungry group and we're not settling. We've definitely got our eyes set on bigger and better things."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Starting early: The Blue Jays didn't waste any time setting the tone as they scored two runs in the second inning. Martin delivered the first blow with an RBI double to the corner in left field that scored Encarnacion all the way from first base. Goins then followed with an RBI single up the middle for his first hit of what turned out to be a big day at the plate.
Gonzalez's not so sweet return: Gonzalez, getting his first start since Aug. 30, couldn't hold down a lethal Blue Jays lineup. The righty, coming off right shoulder tendinitis, was charged with four runs (three earned) over 3 2/3 innings.
"I think mentally it was important for me [to get back out there] because, just to see how I feel," Gonzalez said of his last outing of the season. "An actual competition against hitters. I thought it was important for me to go out there and throw all my pitches."
One of Gonzalez's runs was scored with Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia on the mound. Garcia was tagged with another four unearned runs over his inning of work.
The Ed-Wing: Encarnacion added insult to injury in the top of the seventh with a two-run homer to left field. Encarnacion's 37th of the year was his second in as many games and his seventh of the month. Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion have combined to hit 118 homers, which is the second most by any trio in franchise history. Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green combined to hit 119 in 1998.
The 40 club: With the game no longer in doubt, Bautista used the top of the ninth inning to record his 40th home run with a solo shot to left. It marked the third time in Bautista's career that he reached 40 homers and his first time since 2011. Bautista and Donaldson became the first American League teammates to each reach the 40-homer plateau since Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome did it for the White Sox in 2006.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• The Blue Jays tied their franchise record with 47 wins since the All-Star break (47-19, .712). It's the highest winning percentage by any team in the second half since Oakland went 52-21 (.716) in 2002. Toronto previously won 47 games after the All-Star break in 1989.
• Toronto's Pillar has reached base in 15 consecutive games and is batting .389 (21-for-54) with eight doubles and two homers over that same span.
"I had this in the back of my head. That's kind of what kept me going, to be in this position where I could come back and pitch in meaningful games for my team. I kept good faith the entire way and it played out perfectly. I'm just blessed and lucky to be in this position." -- Stroman, on returning in September after missing the first five months of the season because of knee surgery
"It's not disappointing. Somebody's going to. I didn't watch [the Blue Jays' clinch celebration]. I had a lot of work to do to get ready for the second game. Congratulations to them. They earned it. We had something that people came after and they took it from us." -- Showalter, on the role reversal in Toronto claiming the AL East
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Right-hander Drew Hutchison (13-4, 5.33 ERA) will start the series finale against Baltimore on Thursday afternoon at 12:05 p.m. ET. David Price was originally scheduled to start, but after clinching the AL East on Wednesday, the club pushed Price's outing back to limit his down time between now and Game 1 of the AL Division Series, which is scheduled to start Oct. 8.
Orioles: The O's will turn to rookie Tyler Wilson in Thursday afternoon's series finale. The game, which was pushed up from a 7:05 ET start due to weather, will mark Wilson's third start as part of roster expansion. On the season, he is 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA.