TORONTO — Blue Jays manager John Schneider stood on the top dugout step, rallying the home crowd. One hour after Toronto wrapped up its final game of the season, a few diehard fans stuck around for the clinch party.
Schneider, with a drink in his hand, thanked the raucous supporters — one fan pounded his chest like mad — for their love and vowed to make all their energy worthwhile. And what a ride it’s been for Jays fans who rode the highs and lows of the most turbulent season in recent memory.
The Blue Jays got the clinch news late Saturday evening, when the Mariners’ loss to the Rangers earned Toronto a guaranteed playoff berth. As a result, Sunday’s wet and wild celebration represented a cathartic outburst of emotion. Finally, the Jays found solace amid a season in which they were doubted and scrutinized at nearly every turn.
Schneider credited his club’s perseverance for helping them make the moment possible.
“We've been through a lot. Every team says that, but we've been through a lot,” Schneider said, drenched in champagne with ski goggles on his head. “I just love that they stick together.”
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) October 1, 2023
The Blue Jays players echoed that statement.
“There was never really a doubt that we were going to get to fall baseball in the clubhouse,” said Whit Merrifield. “The tenseness and the stress were probably more so from the outside, the fans, and everything. It was loose in there.
“We knew where we were gonna get to, and once you get into the postseason, anything can happen. We're ready for it.”
As Merrifield put it, the clubhouse never wavered. The boys had their low points — the mood after Saturday’s afternoon loss was dreadful — but the players, especially the veterans, knew they’d be basking in champagne eventually. And boy was the party ever a smash, not as wild as the club’s clinch party a season ago, but quite comparable.
The soiree began with a rah-rah speech from Schneider, then the bottles popped and all hell broke loose. “Losing It” by FISHER shook the clubhouse while streams of booze flew across the room. Cavan Biggio, goggles on and a big cigar tucked in his mouth, flung champagne in Luis Rivera’s face while the Jays third base coach returned fire.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) October 2, 2023
Eventually, the gang moseyed onto the Rogers Centre turf for a team photo. That’s where Schneider gave his fan address, Matt Chapman swung his arms to amp up the onlookers, and Kevin Kiermaier, ever the showman, slurped up champagne and spit mist into the air.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) October 1, 2023
“I would not sign anywhere where I didn't think this moment would be possible,” said Kiermaier. “I love the talent over here from what I've seen in years past and being a part of this group. I knew I'd love it. I didn't know I'd love it this much.”
The clinch late Saturday did more than just give the clubhouse attendants some extra time to put the drinks on ice. Seattle’s loss meant the Blue Jays didn’t need to burn Kevin Gausman in Game 162 and can now save him for the first game of the wild-card series.
But the Blue Jays have work to do once the sun rises, the bottles get cleaned up, and the hangovers fade. The club’s messy 12-8 loss to the Rays Sunday, combined with an Astros victory, means Toronto will face the Twins in the wild-card round. On paper, a three-game set at Target Field looks easier than a series against the Rays, for example, but Minny has a deadly potential playoff rotation.
A series win on the road won’t be easy, but anything can happen in October baseball, especially if all the Blue Jays’ phases come together.
“We’ve got everything that we need to go off this postseason,” said Merrifield, “and it's just a matter of whether or not we can. But we definitely have the talent and the ability and the mentality to do it.”