BUFFALO, N.Y. — A two-word message — Respect Toronto — was emblazoned on the T-shirts the Blue Jays put on shortly after locking down a playoff berth Thursday night.
A team that many baseball observers didn't think would make the cut for the expanded playoffs has proven the doubters wrong. The Blue Jays are in — likely as the eighth seed in the American League — but are resolute in the feeling that they belong.
"I think we're a pretty scary team," said Toronto infielder Cavan Biggio. "We've seen what we can do with the bats. It's hard to put us out of games, especially with the way we can score runs."
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., homered and ace Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven shutout innings as the Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees 4-1 to secure their first post-season berth in four years.
When Rafael Dolis fanned Aaron Hicks in the ninth for his third strikeout of the inning, the celebration was on at Sahlen Field. There were no fans in the stadium but the Blue Jays still whooped it up near the dugout of their temporary home in this pandemic-shortened season.
"We keep believing in ourselves," said manager Charlie Montoyo. "It's awesome. I'm so proud of this group. I'm the happiest guy right now."
The Blue Jays survived some nervous moments after a stellar performance from Ryu. Reliever Anthony Bass struggled with control in the eighth and it nearly proved costly.
Bass was pulled after loading the bases with his third walk of the frame. Dolis came on and got pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez to fly out on a ball that Randal Grichuk caught against the wall in left-centre field — missing a grand slam by a couple feet — for the third out.
The Blue Jays (30-27) were in control of their playoff destiny after entering play with a magic number of one. The two teams that had a chance of catching Toronto — the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners — were idle.
Regular-season play continues through Sunday and the playoffs will begin Tuesday. All first-round series will be best-of-three matchups.
It's possible the Blue Jays could still move up in the seeding order, but they are good bets to stay in the No. 8 position. If the season ended Thursday night, Toronto would meet the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays.
"I think the pressure is off — honestly," Montoyo said. "Just go out and play and have fun. We're going to enjoy every minute of it. We know that what's coming is not easy, but that's fine. It hasn't been easy the whole time."
Under Major League Baseball's expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the playoffs. Division winners will be seeded Nos. 1-3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.
"I think not many teams are going to want to face us just because of the edge we play (with), the offence and the bullpen that we have," Biggio said. "It's going to be exciting and I'm looking forward to it."
Guerrero had three of Toronto's 10 hits on Thursday night. He hit a solo homer off New York starter Jordan Montgomery in the second inning and scored on Alejandro Kirk's two-run double in the sixth inning.
Ryu pitched into the seventh inning for the first time this season, allowing five hits and two walks. He had four strikeouts and threw 62 of his 100 pitches for strikes.
Gio Urshela doubled off Ryu (5-2) in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He was left stranded when Clint Frazier struck out.
Guerrero turned on a 1-1 pitch from Montgomery (2-3) in the bottom half of the frame for his eighth homer. Back-to-back doubles from Biggio and Bo Bichette in the third made it a 2-0 game.
The Yankees (32-25) threatened in the sixth inning after singles by Luke Voit and Hicks. But Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out and then retired Urshela on a groundout.
Kirk, a rookie catcher who served as designated hitter, lashed a pitch from Adam Ottavino into the left-field corner to help the Blue Jays double their lead. Grichuk scored ahead of Guerrero, who hustled around third base and slid just under Kyle Higashioka's tag.
New York can't catch first-place Tampa Bay in the East and has a magic number of one to secure second place in the division.
The Blue Jays won the wild-card game en route to an appearance in the American League Championship Series in 2016.
Toronto's last World Series victory came in 1993. A long playoff drought followed until the Blue Jays reached the ALCS in 2015.
Notes: The game took three hours 11 minutes to play. ... Dolis earned his fifth save. ... Before the game, the Blue Jays activated right-hander Nate Pearson after a month-long stint on the injured list due to right elbow tightness. Reliever Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. ... The Blue Jays will start a three-game series against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Friday. The Yankees will close their season with a weekend set against the Miami Marlins. ... Toronto won three of four against New York and split their 10 games against the Yankees this year. ... The Blue Jays improved to 15-8 at Sahlen Field.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2020.
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The Canadian Press