Club falls short, but memorable campaign captivates all of Canada
By Richard Justice
KANSAS CITY -- The Blue Jays awakened baseball in an entire nation this summer. That ultimately will be this team's major accomplishment, and could there be a more satisfying legacy?
OK, so the Blue Jays didn't write the ending they wanted to write, and they'll need some time to get past the disappointment of a 4-3 loss to the Royals in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday.
Some of the Blue Jays lingered in the visitors' dugout at Kauffman Stadium to watch the Royals celebrate winning a second straight AL pennant. That image will be burned into their minds awhile.
At some point, though, the Blue Jays will be able to fully wrap their minds around this entire season. When they do, they should feel nothing except enormous pride.
They'll remember the huge crowds they drew to Rogers Centre down the stretch and the large television ratings nationwide. They'll remember that fans were again excited about baseball in Toronto.
"I don't think any of us were ready for it to end," Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello said. "Even down 2-0, 3-1, I don't think there was ever a second when we didn't think we'd win. I know there's only one team left standing, but it's a shame it had to end. It's the most fun I've ever had in baseball."
In winning 43 of 61 games down the stretch and then in rallying from an 0-2 deficit to win three straight elimination games against the Rangers in the AL Division Series, the Blue Jays played like a team good enough to win a championship.
They fell short of that, but in a quiet clubhouse, they said again and again that the whole thing had been a great experience.
"It's been an amazing season," Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "Obviously, we wanted it to continue."
The Blue Jays are a tribute to general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who worked tirelessly to upgrade his roster. He made two huge moves last offseason by acquiring Donaldson and catcher Russell Martin.
And then as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approached, with the Blue Jays eight games behind the Yankees in the AL East, Anthopoulos went all-in by making a series of deals to get shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Ben Revere, left-hander David Price and relievers Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins.
Those deals did two things. First, they dramatically upgraded the talent level on the roster. Second, they sent a message to the home clubhouse that management had faith they might just take off.
They did just that. In the end, the young talent the Blue Jays surrendered to upgrade the roster at the Trade Deadline was worth it. Something larger than mere games was won.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys," manager John Gibbons said. "They laid it out every day, great competitors. It doesn't matter what the score, they show up to play every day. And a fun bunch, fun group to be around every day. And I tip my hat to them."
Toronto led the Majors in runs and home runs by a wide margin. The development of two kid relievers, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez, dramatically upgraded the bullpen.
And with the addition of Price and Marcus Stroman's return from knee surgery, the Blue Jays saw themselves as a team without a major weakness.
"It just felt like we had what it took to take us all the way," Martin said. "Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock here. One play here, one play there. I felt like we had a great team. I felt like we were a complete team. In the playoffs, you've got to get hot at the right time."
Playoff experience might help, too. If the Blue Jays get back next season, they will already know that postseason baseball has a different vibe in terms of tension and intensity.
The Blue Jays saw the development of young players like second baseman Ryan Goins, center fielder Kevin Pillar and Stroman. They brought energy and enthusiasm, and the playoff experience will help them.
"So many guys stepped up and became better players," Donaldson said. "It's been a fun ride. I think a lot of us learned a lot about themselves and how to win prepare day in and day out."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.