It was a sombre scene in Nathan Phillips Square when the clock tower of Toronto's Old City Hall struck six. The crowd gazed rapt but all but silent at the screen showing the final game of the Blue Jays' epic confrontation with the Texas Rangers. A single fan waved a rally towel limply above his head. Everyone else just stared, brows wrinkled, lips bitten. The whole city – no, the whole country – was on the edge of nervous collapse.
When the Rangers went ahead on a strange turn of events in that strangest of baseball innings, the seventh, a giant groan issued from the throng. Could a catcher's ball bouncing off a batter's bat on a routine throw back to the mound be the finish of the Jays' amazing season? At Rogers Centre, a riot seemed about to break out in orderly, mild-mannered Toronto as beer cans and garbage rained down from the stands and players poured onto the field as if to brawl. It looked as if it all might end in ugliness and bitterness.
But by the time the clock tolled seven, it was a new world. Nobody even heard the bells chime the hour. A few Rangers mistakes, a killer home run by Jose Bautista. The crowd in the square was on its feet, towels twirling, Blue Jays flags waving, strangers high-fiving – a scene replayed from St. John's to Campbell River as the country enjoyed a lovely moment of collective euphoria. "What a game. What an inning. What a series," a normally staid broadcaster said.
When this draining, circus ride of a game finally entered its final minutes, it was pitch dark. The lights in the soaring office towers around the square had come on, glittering in the blackness. The TORONTO sign beside the reflecting pool glowed blue. The crowd cried, "One last out, one last out."
When that out came, it was pandemonium. An elderly couple in matching rain capes danced a jig. A husky young man in a Jays cap turned to hug everyone in reach, one by one. A reporter who is supposed to maintain his professional distance from events found himself yelling "Ya!" over and over like a 15-year-old.
This was only the first playoff series of a potential three, but, somehow, it felt as if the Jays had just won the World Series. The country has fallen swiftly and seriously in love with this late-blooming team, written off as losers just a few months ago. This series turned it from merely smitten to head over heels. To go down by two games, then come back to win three straight – almost unthinkable, by the odds. To win in this wildly dramatic fashion, in a game that had everything but a line of chorus girls high-kicking it across the infield – incredible.
Who will ever get enough of watching Edwin Encarnacion hit that towering homer that gave the Jays and their fans new hope. He knew, they knew, it was gone. Who, better yet, will ever tire of watching Jose Bautista stand straight up, defiant, and toss his bat after his own clinching homer – the veteran slugger, a Jay long before all the brilliant newcomers, showing why he gets paid all those millions. For that one instant, at least, he was worth every nickel.
Baseball is not, of course, the most Canadian of sports. But, oddly, it has made us all come together (as the hashtag aptly puts it) in support of an astonishing group of athletes putting together an astonishing performance at the top level of their game. For a golden moment on Wednesday night, Canadians were unified in a moment of pure, uncorrupted joy. That is something to cherish.