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After qualifying for the postseason on Saturday, the Blue Jays got together for a quiet moment of celebration. In starter Mark Buehrle's words, everyone agreed to keep it "muted."

A few minutes later, someone had turned on the champagne hose, cigars were produced in clear violation of city bylaws and the clubhouse was tilting into vomitorium territory.

Buehrle, a veteran so world-weary he ought to have a front porch instead of chair at his locker, looked on from a distance. He was appalled.

"I think it's probably a little overboard," he said. Heavy ironic emphasis on "a little."

A day later, Buehrle was still grumbling about it: "I hope they just partied in here. I hope they didn't go out around the city and party too much."

The Blue Jays had just won the game 5-4 with real flair – a walk-off Josh Donaldson home run with two out in the ninth – but Buehrle was still a little peevish.

His day hadn't gone quite as well. He knows it's over. We know it's over. But nobody wants to say it out loud.

Buehrle's fade into the background is the one small, sour note highlighting the sweetness of the Jays' past two months.

There will be plenty of time for further celebrations in the coming week.

Toronto should clinch the division in short order. After sweeping Tampa Bay at home, their magic number is reduced to four (any combination of Jays and Yankees losses) with seven games remaining.

Toronto (90-65) is tied with Kansas City for the best record in the American League. That's the target now – home field throughout the postseason.

But before we get to that, it seems like a good time to acknowledge Buehrle. Quietly, the 36-year-old has put together one of the most remarkable careers in modern baseball. In an age where most pitchers expect to lose a year at some point to major surgery, and where the ace of a playoff contender can threaten to quit on his team in order to protect his arm, Buehrle's signal talent was an uncomplaining resilience.

In 15 big-league seasons, he's never missed a start because of injury. He's never been on the disabled list. He's thrown at least 200 innings in each of those campaigns, before this year's.

Though he's a big man, he is the opposite of powerful. Rather, he is relentless. Buehrle is baseball's weeble-wobble. You hit him, and he stands back up. There is only one thing about him that is graceful – his approach. Few have ever managed to be so creative with so little flair.

He isn't an artist or a craftsman. He is a labourer, but with Stakhanovite ambitions. Some have worked better. None have worked more consistently.

Buehrle is in the midst of stumbling at the final hurdle. He stands on 191 1/3 innings with one start remaining. Essentially, he needs to pitch a complete game to manage it. His shoulder has been nagging him – no one but Buehrle is sure exactly how much. He hasn't pitched more than six innings since the middle of August.

To try it now would qualify as a foolish risk, and you can see that it's killing him a little bit.

Fourteen other pitchers have thrown 200 in 15 straight seasons. All of them are in the Hall of Fame. Buehrle's just going to miss getting into that club.

"Mathematically, it's still there," Buehrle said. "But the reality is that it's pretty slim."

He threw six decent innings on Sunday. Manager John Gibbons might've pushed him out for the seventh – if only so that Buehrle could get an ovation as he came off in what may be his final home start for Toronto – but pulled him instead.

Gibbons apologized for it afterward. Buehrle said he wasn't bothered one way or the other. Both of them meant it.

On a superficial level, it's hard watching someone who was once so reliable lose their capacity to perform. It's a foreshadowing of the decline we all face at some point, one that's rather more grim than dropping a few miles an hour on the fastball.

But there's also something poetic in it. It's as though Buehrle's internal workings were meant to wind down at the very end of his career, and not before. It's like they knew.

Humans are not designed to throw a ball 90 miles an hour, over and over again. It's a physiologically destructive act. Buehrle's arm was built differently, and he babied it along. He never did more than he could, but he also never did any less.

He got a lot out of that remarkable limb – a World Series title in 2005, a no-hitter in 2007, a perfect game in 2009.

No one ever thought of him as the best. Buehrle, 36, figured in Cy Young voting only once in his career, finishing fifth.

Instead, he was always one of the best. But he was one of the best for a hell of a long time, just as baseball's common wisdom was giving up on the idea. That might be more impressive.

He probably won't figure largely in Blue Jays mythology, regardless of how this turns out. In three years here, he's been too efficient. His game wasn't built for heroics.

In a best-case scenario, we'll be remembering guys like Donaldson, whose talent is designed to stand out.

On Sunday, Donaldson saved the game with a smart tag at third in the eighth. Then he won it with the final at-bat in the ninth, just like you're starting to think he's going to do every time he comes up.

The next few weeks belong to Donaldson, and David Price, and Jose Bautista and one or two other guys who always seem to appear from thin air at this time of the year. Men such as Pat Borders and Scott Brosius.

While that's happening, Buehrle will be creeping up to the cliff's edge. He hasn't exactly said he's retiring, though he mentions it an awful lot.

He says he hasn't thought about it yet. That doesn't ring true.

There was a very small moment Sunday that spoke to it. During the break in the third inning, the whole Jays team emerged from the dugout to acknowledge the crowd. Most of them seemed jubilant, feeding off the crowd's energy, just boarding the rocket that leads to real madness of the postseason.

Buehrle was one of the last guys out. He was also one of the last guys off. Before he walked back in, he knelt down for a moment. I wonder whom he was thanking.