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Donaldson, Encarnacion look to take care of unfinished October business

Former Blue Jays bash brothers Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion are together again in October as Indians. Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion might seem like an unlikely duo to have become friends.

One of them is flamboyant and boisterous; the other one is discreet and introverted. One hails from Alabama (via nearby Pensacola) and was a standout All-American with the Auburn Tigers. The other moved to Puerto Rico at age 14 from his childhood home in the Dominican Republic, which at the time did not have the impressive farm systems we know today, to pursue his dream of playing major league baseball.

Donaldson would go on to have a standout career that saw him dealt from the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2014 season, a year before he was crowned American League MVP. And much like his personality, Encarnación flew mostly under the radar with the Cincinnati Reds, right up until he was picked off waivers by the Blue Jays in 2010 and went on to establish himself as one of the best and most consistent power hitters in the game.

When Donaldson arrived in the Blue Jays' clubhouse, he came armed with the Athletics way, reaching across the proverbial Latino players' aisle in trying to establish a winning clubhouse culture that he believes in to this day. Encarnación was skeptical at first, but eventually grew to trust and believe in the good intentions of that brash, quirky kid.

"When I came in to Toronto you had Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Navi [Dioner Navarro] and Edwin, a pretty big Latin culture. I always want to talk to everybody, so I made it a point that I was trying to communicate with everybody, so I let them know," said Donaldson, laughing.

"I played in the Dominican and I know what it feels like to be part of a smaller group," he said. "So I made it a point to let them know I was interested in them and wanted to show that I am here to help you guys win. So we started building a relationship. And yes, some people wonder how, but some of my best friends have been more of the quiet type."

"When I first met him in Toronto, you could tell right away what kind of guy he is. Yes, we are completely different. But that doesn't matter; everyone has their own way. He does things his way and I do things my way, but that didn't stop us from becoming good friends," Encarnación said. "It's all based on respect towards each other. That's the main thing between us. The respect and trust we have developed in each other. He trusts and believes in me and I trust and believe in him. We have a close relationship on and off the field."

Alongside José Bautista, they became not only good friends, but one of the best power-hitting trios in baseball, combining for 221 home runs between them in 2015 and 2016. That Blue Jays team would go on to make back-to-back American League Championship Series in those two seasons, winning the AL East the first year and earning a wild card in the second while making the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.

That means both Donaldson and Encarnación have some unfinished business in October, having gotten to the ALCS but no further than that. And while neither would openly admit it, there is a chip on both of their shoulders to show the Blue Jays what they could have accomplished with some more time together.

Encarnación has always taken the high road in his comments following his departure as a free agent from Toronto, but it is unclear how hard the Blue Jays tried to re-sign him before he decided to head to Cleveland in the winter of 2015.

Donaldson's departure from Toronto was messy, with plenty of reports about the mishandling of his most recent calf injury and contract negotiations. The 32-year-old had been limited to just 36 games for Toronto, and no one knew when or if he'd play again in 2018.

The Blue Jays ended up getting a paltry return for the 2015 AL MVP, with his trade value diminished by his injury and pending free agency.

After he was traded to Cleveland he proved he was healthy enough to contribute, hitting .280/.400/.420 with three home runs in the season's final month to secure a spot in the Indians' American League Division Series lineup.

"In Toronto, it was one of those situations where it definitely wasn't the way I wanted it to end," Donaldson said. "I wish it could have been different just as far as me being on the DL and not being able to actually play. I didn't want it to end that way. I was working my ass off to get back as quick as possible because I knew at some point something was going to happen."

Getting back in action, and doing something in the time he has wherever he's playing, has become Donaldson's biggest priority.

"The free-agent stuff, I didn't care," Donaldson said. "That's going to take care of itself. My focus has never really been about [free agency], my focus has been, 'Hey how can I help my team win?' And when I am not on the field, I obviously, I can't really do that. I've made enough money. It's about winning for me."

Now Donaldson and Encarnación find themselves together in the postseason again, this time as part of the Indians' winning culture, surrounded by competitive athletes who have already proved a lot on the big stage of playoff baseball.

"Eddie and I, we have very good memories of playing with each other. And this is another opportunity. And if you look around the room, many of us have had similar experiences," Donaldson said.

"You know, Eddie was kind of bouncing back and forth and then really made a name for himself in Toronto," Donaldson said. "Yan Gomes, kind of the same thing, bouncing around, they were making him a utility guy and then kind of finds his way here. I was up and down five times with the A's. Look what happened with Melky [Cabrera]. So you have some guys who've been tested and failed. [Corey] Kluber I remember when he first came up he was kind of fringy and then turns out to be a Cy Young Award winner. And I just think it's the characteristic of the guys and the people that are in the locker room make the organization."

"It hurt. We were so close and it hurt," Encarnación said. "It hurt because all we dreamt about [with that Blue Jays team] was making it to the World Series and winning that ring. And now we are back here together, and we have to keep moving forward and hope to God that we are healthy so we can accomplish great things, all of us Indians together.

"Things didn't go the way we wanted before, but that's baseball," Encarnacion added. "And personal accomplishments don't mean as much as what you can do together, like winning a World Series championship. That's what we all strive for. It's not easy; not easy at all. But it's not impossible. And we find ourselves on the playoff stage again and anything can happen."

And for Donaldson in particular, sharing the playoff stage with his friend Edwin could be a way of closing a chapter of his life that he still feels remains very much open-ended.

"You try not to get too far ahead of yourself, but sitting here talking about it, I mean, I think it would be cool," Donaldson said. "We made some really good memories, and I have a lot of good memories of Edwin in the postseason. For us to continue to build that, it would be like a little bit of some unsettled business that we had started. We've gotten close before. And if I was able to come here then help out, and obviously Edwin is doing his thing, maybe we'll be able to achieve something that we always strived to do."