The baseball caps immediately started fluttering onto the field to celebrate Josh Donaldson’s third home run at Rogers Centre on Sunday, a quaint custom that draws its history from hockey.
The din from another sold-out crowd of close to 47,500 picked up momentum as the third baseman started his trot around the base paths in the eighth inning before high- and low-fiving his way into the Toronto dugout.
And the rapture would not let up from the delirious fans, who remained on their feet chanting “MVP, MVP” until Donaldson emerged from the dugout and waved to the crowd in appreciation.
“I’ve never had that before,” the American League’s reigning most valuable player said afterward about his curtain call.
Nor has Donaldson ever been feted with gifts of baseball caps from adoring fans. The hats filled two big clear garbage bags and were sitting in front of his locker following the game.
Asked what he was going to do with the souvenirs, Donaldson said he had no idea.
The fact that the Blue Jays were wearing snappy red uniforms in honour of Canada Baseball Day at the ballpark somehow made the moment that much more special.
And the Blue Jays (74-56) only added to the carnival atmosphere, fashioning a 9-6 victory over the hapless Minnesota Twins (49-81), Toronto’s third successive comeback victory over the visiting AL Central cellar-dwellers.
“It’s nice,” Donaldson said of the cap celebration after going 3-for-4 and driving in four runs. “I think it’s one of those things as a baseball player you kind of want to happen eventually one day.”
Michael Saunders is the only other Blue Jay to stroke three home runs this season, on June 17. But he did it in Baltimore, where the fans were not exactly in any mood to chuck their caps.
The hat-throwing craze in Toronto was first witnessed last season on Aug. 29 when Edwin Encarnacion sent three out of the yard against the Detroit Tigers.
“It’s neat,” said R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays starter, who hails from Tennessee. “I think it’s unique to this area so it’s really cool. You don’t see stuff like that very often and I think the response was warranted for sure.”
Even more impressive from Donaldson’s perspective is that he launched all of his homers after he stroked a nasty foul ball off his right knee in his first at-bat in the first inning.
Although he has never been shot, Donaldson guessed that’s what it felt like – although he was able to remain in the game.
Jose Bautista, in his fourth game back from a knee injury, also chipped in with three hits for Toronto.
Donaldson, who now has 33 home runs, launched his first one Sunday in the third inning, which lifted Toronto in front 2-1.
After Dickey surrendered four runs for a 5-2 Twins lead in the sixth inning it was Troy Tulowitzki’s turn to get some power for Toronto, stroking his 22nd home run. It was one of two runs Toronto scored that inning, to trim the lead to 5-4.
Donaldson, whose recent play has put him back in the discussion for MVP, got busy again in the seventh with a two-run moon shot to centre, part of a four-run uprising that staggered the Twins for good.
His baseball hat trick was completed in the eighth inning with another homer to deep centre.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” said John Gibbons, an admiring Toronto manager.
With their bounce-back effort against the Twins, the Blue Jays have ensured themselves of at least a one-game lead over the Red Sox atop the AL East standings.
They now venture out on a nine-game trip, which begins Monday night in Baltimore with the first of three against the Orioles.
As the schedule moves quickly toward the September stretch drive, the Blue Jays are entering a treacherous segment in which 25 of their remaining 32 games will be against divisional rivals. The Jays play 15 in a row against divisional foes, where really only the Tampa Bay Rays have played their way out of contention.
“We need to continue to play good baseball and need to figure out ways to win games,” Donaldson said of the next few weeks. “That’s kind of what we were able to do here. That’s what you have to do to be successful.”Report Typo/Error
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