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Toronto, let's face it, can be a pretty cold place. The dour presence of its churchy founders still hangs over the modern, multicultural metropolis. Say "hi" to a stranger on a residential street and you will get a look that says: Back off, crazy person. Even arrivals from warmer, more outgoing locales seem to take on some of the city's native reserve.

Its sports fans are fickle and undemonstrative. The packed, perpetually sold-out Air Canada Centre can be a tomb when the Maple Leafs play. The vast bowl of Rogers Centre down the road is usually an awful place to watch a ball game – dead, dead, dead when the roof is closed and it's half full, which it has been for baseball these many years.

But just look at it now. On Sunday's game, the last homestand of the regular season, Blue Jays fans filled every row, right up to the into-thin-air sections at the lip of the open dome. They cheered a greeting when the first Jays took the field to do their stretches. They roared when the national anthem wound down, a spine-chilling sound that hasn't been heard in this town in a generation. When the Jays recorded the last out of the first inning – not the last out of the World Series, mind, but the last out of a regular-season inning in which the opposing Tampa Bay Rays had gone ahead by a run – an earth-shaking "Yeah!" went up from the throng and spinning rally towels turned the stands into a snowy sea of white.

And when – boom – Josh Donaldson sent that blast into the teeming stands to break a tie and end the game, the howl must have carried all the way across the lake to Rochester.

This buttoned-down city is going a little nuts for the 2015 Jays. The buzz that filled the stadium on a perfect fall Sunday can be felt all over town. To starved Toronto fans, it seems almost too good to be true.

Can a team that was losing more games than it won for the first few months of the season really be sitting on top of its division, kicking dirt in the face of the storied New York Yankees? Are they actually going to the playoffs, after a drought of 22 years? Could they – gulp – go all the way?

Everyone above a certain age can remember the pure electricity that coursed through the city's veins when the Jays won those back-to-back World Series in the early nineties. Everyone has seared on his retina the image of Joe Carter galloping and leaping around the bases when he hit the homer that gave the Jays one of those titles. Even the hint of a chance that something like that might happen again has the city on an incredulous high.

Like those glory-days teams, the 2015 Jays have a cast of appealing personalities leading this riveting late-season charge. Kevin Pillar, with his gold cleats flashing as he dives for yet another death-defying catch; fair-haired home-run ace Donaldson, the self-described Bringer of Rain; David Price, the clubhouse leader who gave the team a goofy boost by buying them all cozy blue bathrobes; Marcus Stroman, the irrepressible, bantam-sized pitcher who, throwing baseball cool to the winds, leaps off the mound in triumph when he strikes someone out; yeoman sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Heck, the Jays roster even includes a leading player who was born in Toronto: bearded Russell Martin.

Million-dollar jocks, a cynic might call them, mercenary sportsmen without a trace of loyalty to the city where they play. The cynic might say something similar about the people in the stands: devoted to their team only when the Jays are suddenly exciting; fair-weather fans. Where were they in the bad times?

That kind of talk seems out of place now. This city needs a winner. No, this city deserves a winner.

Toronto has grown since its baseball glory days all those years ago. Even down in the bowl of the stadium you can see new condo and office towers, with their tinted green glass on frames of steel, jutting into the sky. The city, now fourth largest in North America, has a big-league feel. The crowd at the ball game, once pretty suburban, looks younger and more mixed. People come to games straight from all those towers.

But Toronto still lacks what you might call school spirit. For all its successes – at building a thriving downtown, at taking in hundreds of thousands of newcomers without visible strife – it can have a flat, almost placeless feel. A nice city to live in, you would have to say. A peaceful, orderly, prosperous city. But where's the heart?

Great runs like this – however they end – bring a kind of unity that is rare and valuable. They give the town a chance to cheer together, to bite nails together, to dream together. Strangers talk to each other about the Jays. Cabbies chew your ear off about them. Office mates jabber about them. Neighbours stop to enthuse about them. Can you believe it? How far do you think they'll go?

It would be wrong to dismiss that feeling as mere froth. And, cynics be damned, it just feels great. The sun shone on the green turf on Sunday. The crack of bats meeting baseballs echoed in the crisp air. Close to 50,000 people – and countless more elsewhere – watched a band of unexpected heroes play a thrilling game of professional baseball. All of a sudden, a great city has a great team.

What could be wrong with that?