All-business approach on full display after club rides wave of emotion into Game 1 rout
By Richard Justice
ARLINGTON -- Sometimes one victory says plenty about a team's makeup, resilience and toughness. Sure, it's just one victory. It's an important one, but still just one. Miles to go, etc.
The Toronto Blue Jays said that again and again in their clubhouse after a 10-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on Thursday. It got them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series. That's it. Nothing more. The two teams will be back at it in Game 2 on Friday at 1 p.m. ET on TBS -- as well as Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada.
That said, the Blue Jays revealed plenty by winning this one. If there was going to be a letdown for them in these playoffs, this should have been it.
"Veteran players, veteran group," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "These games are a little bit different than the regular season. You see some gritty at-bats. That plays in the postseason. Hopefully, you'll see more of that."
The Blue Jays had playoff-type pressure down the stretch just to get a spot in the postseason. Toronto clinched a postseason berth during an emotional final weekend in Boston when the Red Sox honored David Ortiz for three straight days.
And then on Tuesday, the Blue Jays won an epic AL Wild Card Game by rallying to beat the Orioles, 5-2, in 11 innings. When Toronto finished celebrating, the players packed their bags and headed for the airport.
The Blue Jays rolled into Texas at 5 a.m. on Wednesday and slept a few hours before showing up at Globe Life Park to begin preparing to face Cole Hamels and the Rangers.
"I just think we had some momentum," Tulowitzki said. "It's a veteran ballclub. We've been there before. I think we have a lot of guys that want to do better than we did last year. That's definitely the goal. Take it game by game. This is the first step."
Toronto jumped Texas' ace for five runs in the third inning. The Blue Jays collected four two-out, two-strike hits, grinding out tough at-bats against a pitcher who was at less than his best.
The Blue Jays tallied 13 hits, including four by third baseman Josh Donaldson, three by Tulowitzki and a finishing-touch three-run home run by designated hitter Jose Bautista in the ninth inning.
"What was nice today was we were able to keep putting up quality at-bats, and that's big because they have a very capable offense over there that's able to put up crooked numbers quick," Donaldson said.
Toronto got here, in part, because its rotation has been the AL's best for the last six weeks of the regular season.
And Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada kept that run going in Game 1 by going 8 1/3 innings and not allowing a Rangers runner to reach scoring position until the ninth inning.
In a playoff-type atmosphere, in front of 47,434, Estrada's pinpoint control and baffling changeup smothered Texas' hitters.
"When everybody's revved up, guys that have that good changeup can be very effective," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays returned to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years last fall. They lost two home games to the Rangers in the ALDS before winning three straight.
Kansas City finally sent Toronto packing in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series. That disappointment -- and that experience in postseason baseball -- is part of what prepared the Blue Jays for this second shot.
"I think it just speaks to this group," Pillar said. "Ninety percent of these guys were in this clubhouse last year. We experienced a lot of firsts last year in the postseason. Possibly that's why we got off to a slow start."
Nothing came easy for the Blue Jays this season. In September and October, their offense scored the fewest runs in the Majors. Toronto also had some bullpen issues.
But the Blue Jays are back in the postseason because they rode through the tough times, and also because their starting pitching is good enough to lead a nice little October run.
"I think we have a lot of guys who have kind of been there before," Donaldson said. "This season, we really had to earn and grind out everything we got. And today it was kind of one of those things where we got rolling early, and Tulo's big triple -- I think it was the first triple he's hit all year -- that was huge. It kind of opened up the door for us right there."
One open door didn't win the Blue Jays anything, but it certainly may have offered a preview of what's ahead.
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.