The Toronto Blue Jays did not exactly roll into the 2016 playoffs in like a runaway train as they did a year ago when they won the American League East going away.
This time around, they sort of backed into it, not clinching a wild card playoff berth until the final day of the 162-game regular season and then being forced to win a one-game showdown in order to move on.
But something about all the adversity the team has had to endure ignited a fire – that has quickly developed into a three-alarm blaze.
“We turned the page on September,” is the way Toronto manager John Gibbons phrased it as the Blue Jays juggernaut continues to roll along unchecked.
The Blue Jays desposed of the Texas Rangers 7-6 in 10 innings on Sunday night at rocking Rogers Centre, where the majority of the 49,000-plus wildly enthusiastic fans must have screamed themselves hoarse in the process.
With the win, the Blue Jays earned a convincing 3-0 sweep in the best-of-five AL Division Series.
Toronto will now head back into their second consecutive AL Championship Series that will begin Friday in either Boston or Cleveland.
With the score knotted at 6-6, Josh Donaldson started the winning rally, stroking a lead-off double off Matt Bush, who was into his third inning of relief for Texas.
Bush then gave an intentional walk to Edwin Encarnacion to set up the double play.
With one out, Russell Martin – who homered back in the first inning – drove a 3-2 ground ball to Elvis Andrus, the Texas shotstop, with what looked to be a perfect double-play ball.
Andrus relayed to Rougned Odor for the first out but Odor’s relay to Mitch Moreland at first was in the dirt and the ball squirted away. Odor was given an error on the play.
The allowed just enough time for Josh Donaldson to continue to scamper all the way home and he scored the winning walk off run in a headfirst slide that set off a wild celebration among the Toronto players on the field.
It was a game where the momentum swung like a mighty pendulum, carrying the fans on an emotional roller coaster ride right down to the final out.
The Rangers corralled their first lead – of not only the game but in the series – in the first inning where Carlos Gomez earned a leadoff walk and would come around to score on a groundout by Carlos Beltran.
Aaron Sanchez, the Toronto starter, struggled with his control in the inning with only five of his 14 pitches counting for strikes.
Toronto responded quickly, in their half of the inning when Encarnacion pounded his fourth home run of the playoffs into the first deck in left field, a two-run shot that moved Toronto in front 2-1.
Two batters later, Russell Martin ended a 0-for-11 playoff hitless steak in fine style when he pounded a fat offering from Colby Lewis, the dazed Texas starter, into the stands for another Toronto home run and a 3-1 lead.
A home run by Elvis Andrus in the third inning, the first for Texas in the playoff, trimmed the lead to 3-2, but the Blue Jays responded quickly once again.
In the bottom of the third, a Josh Donaldson ground-rule double down the right field line scored Ezequiel Carrera. And then Encarnacion drove in his third run of the game with a single to centre that potted Donaldson, and Toronto’s lead was 5-2.
That was it for Lewis, who was staggered for five runs off five hits over two-plus innings of sub-standard work.
Normally a three-run lead would feel secure in the hands of Sanchez, the AL’s earned run leader over the course of the regular season. But the Rangers were intent on making the secure insecure.
In the fourth, after a leadoff walk by Carlos Beltran, Rougned Odor stepped into the batter’s box for the Rangers to a huge chorus of jeers by the fans.
Reviled in these parts for socking Blue Jays star Jose Bautista in the jaw earlier this season, Odor effectively silenced the gathering when he lined a Sanchez pitch over the wall in centre, a two-run job that one again trimmed Toronto’s lead to one.
Sanchez would exit the game with two out in the sixth inning and two on for Joe Biagini.
Biagini would surrender a double by Mitch Moreland that brought in both base runners to give the Rangers a 6-5 lead.
On the night, Sanchez gave up six runs off just three hits – the two home runs obviously factoring big.
This time it was the Blue Jays turn to scrap their way back, and they did it in unusual fashion with Troy Tulowitzki loping in from third base with the bases loaded in the sixth inning on a Jonathan Lucroy passed ball.
That knotted things up at 6-6.Report Typo/Error
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