As the final pieces started to fall into place Friday night for Toronto’s long-awaited post-season return, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey reminded his audience that the Blue Jays won’t be satisfied with just a wild-card berth.
“I do not know the magic number,” the 40-year-old knuckleballer said after pitching the Jays to a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, “The one thing I do know is the wild-card game is not something that we as a unit would celebrate. We’re after the division championship. I think we would all be incredibly disappointed if that were not the case.
Toronto (88-65) went into the game knowing a win over Tampa combined with losses by the Twins and Angels would secure a wild-card berth, ending the longest post-season drought (22 years) in Major League Baseball.
That meant that Toronto headed into Saturday’s contest with a magic number of one for the wild card and six for the AL East as the New York Yankees fell to the Chicago White Sox, 5-2. That result increased the Blue Jays lead to four games over the Yankees with nine games remaining for both clubs.
The Jays also moved to within one game of Kansas City for the best record in the American League and home park advantage for all playoff rounds after the Royals were blanked 6-0 by the Cleveland Indians.
Dickey earned his 100th career victory and Josh Donaldson slammed his 40th home run of the season as the Jays dispatched the Rays. Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista also homered for Toronto, which reached 88 wins in a season for the first time since 1998.
Roberto Osuna pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 18th save.
Dickey, who is 8-1 in 14 starts since the all-star break, put on a show after a rocky two-run first inning that saw him load the bases on 11 pitches with one out on a double, single and hit batsman. Two runs came in on a wild pitch and sacrifice fly.
Dickey (11-11) then found his aim. He conceded a single to open the second, then retired 18 of the next 19 — including his last 11.
Dickey’s 100th career win came in his 100th Toronto start.
“It’s really really special,” he said. “I think I had 28 wins before I was 35 and 72 after.”
Donaldson, playing DH instead of third baseman, homered deep to centre field in the third to tie the game at 2-2. Of Donaldson’s home runs, 27 have either tied the game or given Toronto the lead.
He is the ninth Jay to reach the 40-homer plateau but only the third to combine it with 40 doubles and fifth with 120 RBI’s in a season. Donaldson is now one home run away from the club single-season record for a third baseman set by Tony Batista in 2000. He almost got it in the fourth, hammering a moonshot into the 500 level just foul.
Bautista hit his 37th homer, into the second deck, to open the seventh inning.
“They’ve all had huge years. That’s why we’ve scored so many runs. it’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Toronto has 217 home runs for the season, the fourth most in club history.
Tampa starter Jake Odorizzi (8-9) lasted five innings, dancing on a tightrope on all but one of them. He gave up four earned runs on seven hits with three walks and four strikeouts in a 111-pitch performance that included 67 strikes.
Toronto’s playoff charge has been remarkable, given the team was 50-50 on July 26. Since then, it has gone 38-15 while outscoring the opposition 310-186.