BOSTON — When the Blue Jays charter returns home to Toronto following Sunday’s season-ending game in New York, there likely won’t be enough players on it to field a starting nine.
Game 162 can’t conclude soon enough and most players will return to their off-season homes on their own, rather than travel back to Canada.
But while they’re still here, the Jays were certainly doing their best to make one of their more prominent rivals sweat.
After taking the first two games of a three-gamer against the Red Sox, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Wednesday night at Fenway Park and there was some nervous muttering around the historic ballpark.
The Boston bats finally checked in, taking advantage of a poor outing by Jays starter Marco Estrada en route to a resounding and important 10-7 win. The victory reduced Boston’s magic number to two.
But the fact that a Jays team that hadn’t won a road series since late July and suddenly had the opportunity to sweep the AL East leaders speaks to the difficulty of clinching, especially against a veteran team in good form, even if it has been in last place all season.
“I think it’s tough because we’re a dangerous team,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “On nights we play well, we’re pretty good. We’ve got some proven players, some of the better players in the league. It’s tough to win when you have to win.”
No need to remind a Red Sox fan base of the perils lurking until that magic number is reached. After Tuesday’s loss, the gallows talk started to surface on Boston all-sports radio stations.
It would still require a hell of a collapse for Boston to lose the division now, but the memories of 2011 are still fresh enough, even if the Sox have won 10 of their past 13. That was when they made MLB history by becoming the first team to have a nine-game lead in September and not make the playoffs.
“There’s something about it that’s tough,” Gibbons said, talking about the pressures of clinching, even when it seems inevitable. “We were feeling that last year when we weren’t in yet. We came here the final weekend of the year and our guys came through.”
With the Jays essentially aware of their fate for the better part of a month now, it has helped that the schedule has seen plenty of contending teams, plus near full houses on many nights.
And as Jays pitcher Brett Anderson put it, you never want to have an opponent, especially a rival, “clinch in your face.”
JOSE CAN YOU SEE
Though he’s not about to admit it, trust that Jose Bautista desperately would prefer to end his time as a Jay with some impact. In what was likely his final visit to Fenway in a Toronto uniform, Bautista rocked a first-inning homer over the Green Monster.
The shot had some added meaning as it allowed him to pass Vernon Wells into sole possession of second in all-time runs scored for the Jays at 790. As he is in many offensive categories, Carlos Delgado is the leader at 889.
As is his way, Bautista haughtily brushed off suggestions of significance.
“Not that important at all,” Bautista said. “We’re trying to win games, that’s it. And I never go out there just to rack up personal stats. That’s not who I am.”
Darwin Barney and Teoscar Hernandez also had homers for the Jays on Wednesday, the latter continuing his incredible run of success since being called up on Sept. 1. Hernandez has six homers in his past six games and 20 RBI, a Jays rookie record for September.
FIT FOR FENWAY
If there has been one glaring shortcoming for the Red Sox this year, it’s their inability to take advantage of their homer-friendly ball park.
Their 166 home runs overall are the worst in the AL, far below the Yankees (232) and the Jays (222). The retirement of Big Papi David Ortiz is felt almost nightly.
The Jays, meanwhile, have quite literally had a blast here this week. With three more home runs on Wednesday they finished with 10 in the three-game series. It’s the most they’ve had in a three-game set since 2015 and just the eighth time they’ve hit double digits.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, welcomed their own three-homer outburst on Wednesday. Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts each went deep in the third inning, part of a five-run frame. Mitch Moreland hit another out of the park in the seventh.
After winning his past five decisions, it was a night to forget for Jays starter Estrada, who was chased after 2 1/3 innings giving up nine hits and eight runs (seven earned). Estrada, who recently signed a Us$13 million contract extension, had allowed three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his previous 12 starts … Gibbons on Estrada’s season overall: “He hit a little blip this year, but I liked how he finished … other than tonight.” … Estrada had pitched well against the Red Sox this year as well, allowing just two earned runs and eight combined hits in three previous starts … “Obviously, I want to pitch better than that,” Estrada said. “I want to be good the entire year. I’ll go back, just get healthy and get ready to go for next year.”
Following an off day on Thursday, the Jays hit the Bronx for a three-game weekend series to finish off the season. Joe Biagini will get the start Friday, followed by Marcus Stroman and Anderson to wrap it up … The Jays wrapped up the season series with a 6-13 record against the Bosox, but were 5-5 at Fenway.