It had been 22 years since the Toronto Blue Jays last made the MLB postseason, a fact oft repeated by the blue-and-white clad masses outside Rogers Centre on Thursday. For a fanbase that has witnessed two decades of middling mediocrity, and a city starved for a championship of any kind, Game 1 of the American League Division Series was clearly a very big deal.
But was it worth the wait? Eh.
Despite having trade-deadline dandy David Price on the mound and an offense that scored nearly 900 runs during the regular season, the Blue Jays scuffled in their first playoff outing since Joe Carter’s walk-off winner in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, losing the ALDS opener 5-3 to the Texas Rangers. For an announced crowd of 49,834 – plenty of folks probably called in sick to catch the Thursday matinee – that result was surprising.
“This is our year,” Pete Redding, a Blue Jays season-ticket holder for nearly 20 years, proclaimed before the game. “The team has played remarkably since the All-Star break and I expect that to continue deep into playoffs.”
Redding was just one of thousands that showed up hours before Game 1, surrounding Rogers Centre in a sea of blue. Faces were painted, rally towels distributed and enthusiasm was understandably high. After all, thanks to a remarkable midseason swing, the Blue Jays appeared ready to buck Toronto’s postseason woes when it entered the MLB playoffs as the favorites to win the World Series.
Shannon Nadeau, a ticket scalper who has stood post outside Rogers Centre for nearly every Blue Jays home game over the past two decades, said the atmosphere was unlike anything he’d seen in more than 1,600 games – none of which were of the postseason variety.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it this hyped,” Nadeau said. “I’ve never worked a playoff game in my life. I started just after they won the World Series and this is something special. Everybody likes a winner. It might be a bandwagon-jumper situation – call it what you want – but people here, if they want something, they’ll pay for it.”
What they wanted, obviously, was a Game 1 win. They didn’t get it. American League Cy Young favorite David Price, acquired at the deadline from Detroit, pitched on 11 days rest and turned in an inconsistent effort and made untimely miscues. Price gave up five earned runs – including a pair of home runs – and walked two in seven innings of work, taking the loss and becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to lose his first six postseason starts. To make matters worse, the Blue Jays two heaviest hitters, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, who cranked 41 and 40 regular-season home runs, respectively, were pulled from the game in the fifth inning and ninth innings due to separate injuries. Both are expected to play in Friday’s Game 2.
And as such, the Jays remain positive. Relief pitcher Brett Cecil, who held the Rangers scoreless in the eighth, was drafted by Toronto in 2007 and made his MLB debut with the club in 2009. Over the years, he’s experienced home games where the majority of the fans were disguised as empty seats, and said the team has been charged by the outpouring of support this season.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable; the stadium was packed and everyone was cheering, I just wished we could have pulled one out,” he said after the game. “I don’t think the fans know how much their presence, their cheering and being that loud affects us players. It trickles down onto the field. It just pumps you up and makes you want to do that much better.”
Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, powered by the frenetic buzz of Game 1, said he anticipates a different result when the team gets a second chance to provide Toronto with a home playoff victory.
“Obviously there was a lot of emotion in here, people have been waiting for a long time – a lot of guys in this locker room have been waiting a long time, too,” he said. “To start off at home was pretty emotional, but we look forward to them coming back [for Game 2] and putting on a better show for them.”