Blue Jays left stunned, heartbroken as playoffs trudge on without them

Blue Jays left stunned, heartbroken as playoffs trudge on without them

TORONTO – The stadium was as quiet as it had been all season.

The fans at Rogers Centre were traumatized. First off, the Toronto Blue Jays had just watched a seven-run lead evaporate in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card series. But the Seattle Mariners’ game-tying, three-run double had other disastrous consequences.

George Springer and Bo Bichette were both down on the turf, folded over in considerable pain. Bichette held his hands over his head, curled into a ball, while Springer was flat on his back, not moving. Eventually, Bichette rose to his feet as the medical cart came out for Springer.

The collision was an afterthought for both defenders as they raced in opposite directions – Bichette towards centre and Springer towards the infield – to corral a shallow fly ball. As the ball dropped and the bases cleared, Bichette, at full speed, nicked a diving Springer in the neck area, dropping them both to the ground.

“Reliving it and mapping it out,” said manager John Schneider, “I think it was the play in the eighth inning that fell in in centre that probably changed the momentum, for sure.”

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As the cart wheeled Springer towards the gate in left field, the Blue Jays centre fielder, visibly distraught from what appeared to be a head injury, waved his right arm, encouraging the sold-out crowd to keep cheering.

From there, the energy in the dome transitioned from concern back to rabid energy. Jordan Romano got the final out of that dreadful eighth inning with the score still tied. After losing Game 1 and blowing the lead in Game 2, Toronto was thrust back into the thick of a do-or-die ballgame.

This current Blue Jays core is no stranger to adversity. This year, it was a few bad stretches and a change at manager. Last year, it was three-quarters of a season away from home and the heartbreak of missing the postseason by one game. Every returning player on this Blue Jays roster came into 2022 desperate to make sure they’d never experience that pain again.

Unfortunately for them, Saturday’s 10-9 loss uncorked an extra cruel form of heartbreak.

The Jays went scoreless in the eighth, so Romano returned for the ninth. With no other leverage options left in the ‘pen, it was his game, win or lose. After Cal Raleigh sandwiched a double between a pair of outs, Romano kicked and dealt a slider to Adam Frazier. The Mariners second baseman, who produced a .612 OPS during the regular season, got the barrel to it.

Seattle’s dugout exploded in celebration as the ball scooted into the right-field corner. Teoscar Hernández desperately chased after the go-ahead double but couldn’t get there. The Mariners, once down by seven runs, had taken a one-run lead in the ninth, setting a new MLB record for largest road comeback in postseason history.

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On its very last breath, Toronto rallied in the ninth. Matt Chapman worked a one-out walk off Mariners starter-turned-closer George Kirby. That’s where it stalled, though, as Danny Jansen battled but struck out and Raimel Tapia lined out to end it. After two playoff games, the Blue Jays’ season was over.

It was all misery for Toronto. As the Mariners danced it up on the infield, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Kevin Gausman hung back in the dugout, trying their best to cope with the unfathomable loss.

There weren’t many words to describe what the Blue Jays had just experienced. Things started with so much promise. Toronto was shot out of a cannon in the early innings, roughing up Mariners starter Robbie Ray. The dome was thunderous and strobe lights flashed as Hernández hit two home runs to put the squad ahead. Guerrero got in on the action, too, with an RBI single in the third inning.

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The game tapered off after that early offensive frenzy. Gausman was solid on the mound, but when he passed the torch to Tim Mayza, the wheels fell off. Carlos Santana hit a game-altering three-run homer in the sixth, and the M’s went to town on Anthony Bass in the eighth, setting up a four-run frame that concluded with the Springer-Bichette collision.

“Just a heartbreaking loss,” said Gausman. “Tough to watch.”

Not long after the on-field drama, the goodbyes began. Inside the Blue Jays clubhouse, it was a blend of emotions. Chapman and Bichette smiled through tears as they hugged and exchanged words. Jackie Bradley Jr. bustled around the room, having all his teammates sign his game jersey. Romano sat quietly near his locker, still taking it all in, as his teammates packed up around him.

It was truly a devastating end for this group, and the next step isn’t so straightforward. Everyone copes differently. Some players and coaches will take well-deserved vacations as they flush the harsh emotions from the last few days. For others, the offseason becomes a time of reflection and self-betterment.

“There's a step-stone. There's a bridge,” said Gausman. “We're just right there. We just have to keep getting a little bit better, a little bit more consistent. There's a lot more from this club.”

For Chapman, who’s now lost all four postseason games he’s played in, he’ll have to relive a familiar bitter feeling.

“Unfortunately, I've never won a World Series,” the third baseman said. “So every season I go home with this feeling, but it just motivates me to get better, be a better teammate, be a better player and find ways that I can contribute more.”

Getting over this loss will take a while, especially for such a young team. But the messages from the Blue Jays veterans have been consistent: if you’re strong enough to wade through all the grief, you’ll find something that makes you better.

“Now those guys going into the offseason, they know what it's like,” Gausman said of his younger teammates. “Hopefully that feeds their hunger and their competitiveness to not see someone dance on our field, right?

“You take punches in the face in this game, and you just hope those punches lead you in a direction to want to get better and want to just fine-tune some things and not let it happen again.”

That’s the only message the Blue Jays can focus on as the MLB postseason trudges on without them.

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