The magazine was lying conspicuously on a table in the middle of the Toronto clubhouse for all the players to see.
It was Sports Illustrated’s MLB playoff preview edition from October of last year, with the Blue Jays the featured cover story under the headline The New Jacks that chronicled their journey into the postseason.
On the cover, the gleaming picture showed manager John Gibbons flanked by several of the team’s stars, including Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion.
How the magazine got to be there is anybody’s guess, but its appearance was a not-so-subtle reminder of the current task at hand for the 2016 edition of the American League baseball team.
And the Blue Jays certainly took note, playing with poise, polish and confidence as they routed a surprising flat Baltimore Orioles outfit 5-1 at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night in the first of critical three-game series.
In doing so, the Blue Jays have assumed a two-game lead over Baltimore for the first AL wildcard berth with only five games left to play in the regular season.
With the win, the Blue Jays also improved to 10-7 over all against the Orioles this season, meaning Toronto has the tiebreaker in the event both teams finish with the same record.
The Blue Jays rode a dominant starting pitching performance by Aaron Sanchez for the win.
Sanchez allowed just one Baltimore run off five hits while striking out 10 to improve to 14-2 on his fine season.
Toronto also received an offensive burst from an unlikely source in Ezequiel Carrera, who went two for three with a home run while driving in two Toronto runs and scoring three times.
Despite the enormity of Baltimore’s three-game visit, much of the pregame talk in the Blue Jays clubhouse before the contest concerned the rollicking series of events that transpired Monday night during Toronto’s finale against the New York Yankees.
The game, a 7-5 New York win, featured two dugout-clearing dust-ups with a steady steam of vitriol spewing forth from both sides after the dust settled.
New York third baseman Chase Headley was especially vocal, chastising the Blue Jays for often being pretentious in the manner in which they play.
He singled out Toronto pitcher Marcus Stroman, who he said was swearing at the New York batters to get off the field during Saturday’s game when he recorded a strikeout.
Stroman, the son of a Long Island, N.Y., police officer who is tightly wound at the best of times, strongly denied that he ever swore at a New York batter.
“Chase Headley has no idea what [I was] talking about, nor do I care at all what Chase Headley has to say to be honest with you,” Stroman said before Tuesday’s game. “I talk to plenty of people in this game, veterans who have a ton of respect in this game who I will not mention, who have come out of their way to tell me to always be myself and remain myself. So I will continue to do so.”
The Blue Jays got the early jump on the Orioles in the first inning when Donaldson mashed a 2-2 pitch from Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman over the left-field wall for a 2-0 Toronto lead.
Mark Trumbo stroked a line drive to centre in the second inning that scored J.J. Hardy from second base to halve the Toronto lead.
After that, Carrera got busy, restoring Toronto’s two-run cushion in the third when he clubbed a solo home run to left leading off.
Sanchez was on cruise control for the most part in his start for the Blue Jays.
He struck out the side in the first inning and five of the first six Baltimore batters he faced.
The Blue Jays kept tightening the noose with aggressive play. In the fifth inning, with Kevin Pillar at second base, Carrera lined a shot to Michael Bourn in left. It appeared Pillar had no shot at getting home on the play, but Bourn’s limp throw veered well up the third-base line and Pillar slid in safely to make the score 4-1.
An error by Baltimore’s Manny Machado allowed Carrera to cross with Toronto’s fifth run.
About the only life the Orioles would show on the night came in the seventh inning when first baseman Chris Davis was ejected for arguing a called third strike.
He was soon joined by manager Buck Showalter, who came out onto the field to voice his displeasure.Report Typo/Error
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