An off day, sometimes out of season, but Jays is happy to decide

The bullpen boys went to dinner in Yorkville, and then a few stragglers moved on to a sports bar. With a clinch under the belt.

George Springer fell asleep on the couch, exhausted from playing with his toddler son, George IV, and only heard the glad tidings of his team upon waking.

Best buddies Bo Bichette and Santiago Espinal watched their fortunes – once removed, determined in domino style – unfold on TV.

And interim manager John Schneider had gone for a walk by the lake, the happy news brought over via FaceTime by wife Jess, who also provided some cheeky play.

Afterwards, just about everyone touched the basics of the team’s group chat. Some reached out and made real phone calls. Like, who does that anymore, by letting their lips speak instead of their thumbs?

Awkwardly, the roster spread on a non-match day, some of them solitary or doing their grooving thing in small additions—and, oh yeah, making it to the playoffs. Thanks to Boston, which eliminated Baltimore for the third game in a row at Fenway, giving Toronto a wildcard dance card after the season. The Blue Jays would like to say a big thank you to the Red Sox for their service.

“A little weird that it was an off day,” Danny Jansen said Friday, just before Toronto opened a weekend series against that same Bosox — a team the Jays owned in 2022, with a 14-3 record after Friday’s 9-0 win. “I think it was the first time in history for the Blue Jays, which is a bit stinky in that regard.”

Yes indeed. The first time the team’s fate was decided during a day of idleness. That pretty much summed it up, though the club played it like Thursday never happened: champagne on ice in the clubhouse for a post-game party, whether you win or lose against Boston. So, non-spontaneous, high-spirited revelry – probably Hazel Mae would get soaked anyway – pretty stupid, to be honest. But to quote the Pope, who am I to judge?

Whatever comes after that, it was a grind of a season that never reached the baseball climax expected from this outfit and saw a nice manager, Charlie Montoyo, being fired. There have been unexplained drops and some promising ascents, individuals who have grabbed the team by the throat with stretching exercises, but never the dazzle that matches what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a year ago, either Bichette, or the brilliant Cy mastery of a Robbie Ray.

Jansen is the Blue Jay with the longest tenure, five years before the mast, arriving two years after Toronto made its horribly long-delayed postseason return in back-to-back appearances, 2015 and 2016, with a very different generation of players. But the catcher has only had a sip of playoff honey.

Bo Bichette hugs Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  after the latter's homerun in the third inning on Friday.  A bigger party was planned - a post-season party - planned for after the game.

“I played two games in the wildcard series in 2020. We lost both games.” Tampa Bay, as you recall, came under attack from the Trop, a destination reprise the Jays hope to avoid next week, the who-where-when undetermined with five games left.

“I was very lucky with that bit of late season,” said Jansen. “That was the crazy year, we played in Buffalo and it was the COVID year, so everything was wild, right? To be able to do it again in a normal season and play in front of our home crowd all year is absolutely amazing.”

Short sidebar here to note that despite two long stints in the injured list – missed 63 games with an oblique strain and a metacarpal fracture – Jansen quietly put together a dandy season and registered a career-high 14 home runs with his solo bomb Wednesday and contributed significantly to the stabilization of Toronto in recent weeks: 26-for-75 in his last 16 games (.347) with six doubles, five jacks, 13 RBI’s and 13 walks. Toronto’s tandem of Jansen and Alejandro Kirk leads the league in batting average and OBP.

Yay, Danny, who some observers had predicted would be out of here by the July trading deadline.

“I’ve always been someone who accepts mistakes and tries to excel in failure,” said the friendly backstop. “There have been years where I struggled. But I think I’m just starting to learn more about myself and more about my approach to the board. Just more time, more at bats.

“I am very proud of myself. I hope of course that I can just continue this in the post season and do everything I can to help the team.”

It was a familiar refrain in the dugout in limbo — season-bound and perhaps relieved, recalling the bleak disappointment of a year ago, missing the cut by one game, yet unsure of anything else. It’s entirely possible that the Jays will take the home park advantage for the wild card engagement, which Rogers Inc. would definitely open the eyes with dollar signs.

“This is what you’re playing for, to get into the postseason and hopefully be the last team standing,” said Springer, the World Series MVP in 2017, a season that went from Dunedin to Buffalo to Toronto.

“I’ve played with guys, I’ve talked to guys who have played for five, ten, fifteen years and never got the chance to play in a game after the season.” (Take a look at the bench in Whit Merrifield as Exhibit A.) “When you hear things like that, you always take a step back and learn to appreciate how special it really is. Just to achieve that goal. This is amazing.

“There are good teams that will not be there in the postseason. But for us it’s huge to be one of the last six teams in the American League.”

Bichette recalled that this was the goal the team had set in spring training, so it’s just the first of, they hope, several boxes to check as an older and presumably wiser collection of players than the core who entered the Promised Land. months ago and got wet feet in the playoff arena barely a year before.

“All the hard work has paid off,” said the 24-year-old shortstop who was September-hot-hot-hot — 48 hits, the most by a Blue Jay in a month, with 11 doubles, a triple and seven home runs — and earned back his number 2 position in the batting formation. “We put a lot into it and we had high expectations for ourselves.

“Obviously last year, the way it ended… and this year wasn’t easy either. We had to fight and go through ups and downs. So it means a lot.”

It came together in time – for that much, anyway, a lot after the season assured. Shake the analyses, the expertise of observers, the missteps of management, the daily rollercoaster story, and this result amounts to a bloom in September.

Bo gives chase:

“I think things were at stake and we really had no choice.”

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto columnist who covers sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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