TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' season is most likely about to end without a playoff appearance, but on Monday night, they gave their fans one more reason to look forward to 2017.
It had nothing to do with the future of Gary Sanchez, who went hitless to extend his slump to 0-for-13 with five strikeouts. It had nothing to do with Luis Severino, who looked out of whack in a brief appearance cut short by an ejection. And it had nothing to do with Mark Teixeira's ninth-inning home run that tied the game, because he won't be back next season.
It has everything to do with the Toronto Blue Jays, who most certainly will be back next season -- 19 times, in fact. And if any of those games are half as much fun as Monday night's 7-5 come-from-behind Yankees' win, they could be among the highlights of the 2017 campaign.
Actually, if the Yankees knew just how much fun they could have by playing the Blue Jays' game, they might have started fighting back in April -- and just maybe their season wouldn't be ending this Sunday with 20 other also-ran teams.
It's many days late and many wins short, but the Yankees gave the Blue Jays a taste of their taunting, bat-flipping ways in a game that started with two bench-clearing incidents -- they weren't so much brawls as team-bonding exercises -- and ended with a wild ninth inning in which the Yankees scored five times to wipe out a 3-2 Blue Jays lead, only to need two terrific plays -- one by relief pitcher Tommy Layne, and the other by Brett Gardner -- to finally lock it down.
In between, there were beanballs by both starting pitchers, four ejections and one fabulously obnoxious bat flip by Teixeira, followed by something even more cutting -- the words "blown save!" shouted from the dugout by Teixeira to the Jays' Jason Grilli, who was only in the game because Joaquin Benoit had injured himself running to join the party when the benches emptied in the second inning.
Make no mistake, there is no love lost between these two teams, and even if the Yankees are limping out of here having lost three of four and needing a miracle to sneak into the postseason, at least they can file this one away as a worthwhile memory to take into next season.
“Was that fun to watch or what?" Teixeira said. "We’re all entertainers, aren’t we?"
For the Yankees, "fun" was the operative word, used as a noun, an adjective and, most likely, a euphemism for another word that can't be printed on this family website.
"Those guys are the kings of fun over there," said Chase Headley, using the word in a more pejorative manner. "They have a lot of bravado, if you want to put it that way. You know, bat flips, guys yelling at players. When you play like that, you got to expect to get some of it back. You got to take some of your own medicine."
Headley mentioned that Marcus Stroman, who shut the Yankees out for seven innings on Saturday, "was frigging screaming at our guys when he was pitching, yelling at our guys to get off the field when he’d strike someone out."
Obviously, that did not sit well. Nor did J.A. Happ's nailing of Headley leading off the second in apparent retaliation for Severino hitting -- actually, grazing the elbow pad -- of Josh Donaldson in the first inning. That came on Happ's second attempt -- his first pitch to Headley sailed behind him -- and resulted in the first ballplayer stampede and ended with Yankees manager Joe Girardi getting ejected for demanding that Happ be thrown out of the game.
"I understand they were upset that one of their guys had gotten hit and they wanted to retaliate. That’s their prerogative," Headley said. "But usually when you throw one behind somebody and you hit him with the next pitch, you’re out of the game, so I was a little surprised he was allowed to stay in the game."
Order was quickly restored that time, but when the Blue Jays came to bat, Severino did the same thing to Justin Smoak that Happ had done to Headley -- drilled him in the leg with a pitch after missing with a similar pitch just before. That drew an immediate ejection for Severino, as well as the ejections of pitching coach Larry Rothschild and bench coach Rob Thomson, and opened the floodgates for another rush of ballplayers from all over the place.
As in most baseball fights, there were few, if any, serious punches landed, although the Yankees' Tyler Austin was sporting a red blotch on his left cheekbone and CC Sabathia, always a willing participant in these things, waded right into the middle of everything trying to get at someone. Or anyone.
"It's always fun," Sabathia said.
Severino, who was only supposed to throw 50 pitches anyway, found his night done after 34. But he too was pleased with the way things went.
“I wasn’t trying to hit nobody," he said. "I didn’t have my control in the first inning. I was trying to throw a good pitch inside, and it slipped out of my hand."
So too did his glove, as he charged toward home plate after the pitch, expecting some further action.
"I saw [Kevin] Pillar coming at me," he said. "We’re men. I have to defend myself."
After the second skirmish, the game settled into a low-key, almost quiet rhythm, with the Blue Jays taking a 3-1 lead in the third inning on a double by Troy Tulowitzki off Jonathan Holder and an RBI single by Michael Saunders off James Pazos. The Yankees added a run in the eighth on Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI single, and the way they have been playing lately, it looked as if that is how it would end.
But then came the insane ninth, with Grilli on the mound because closer Roberto Osuna was unavailable and Benoit had been hurt. Teixeira's bat-flip home run ("That was on my bucket list," he said) was just the beginning: Aaron Hicks followed with a two-run homer that broke the tie, and the Yankees tacked on two more on a pinch-hit double by Starlin Castro, another RBI single by Ellsbury and a sac fly by Sanchez.
Still, it wasn't over. The Jays drove Dellin Betances, who has gone off the rails, from the game with two walks and a mishandled bunt single, scored one run on a bases-loaded walk and a pinch-hit single, both off Layne, before the two heart-stopping plays that ended the game. There was a swinging bunt by Russell Martin that Layne fielded and then dove forward to tag home plate with his glove, and a foul fly ball by Tulowitzki that Gardner caught while sliding into the side of the left-field stands.
"Hey, we should be able to do that," Layne said of his fielding highlight. "We’re pitchers. We’re more athletic than people give us credit for."
The Yankees celebrated this one as if they had not only made the playoffs but had won the World Series, which had as much to do with who the opponent was as the outcome of the game.
"Yeah, it was a tough road trip for us," Layne said. "But to be able to win the last one, if we go home and have a good series against Boston and Baltimore, you know what? We’re not out of it."
Sure, that sounds like fun. But not nearly as much as next year's Yankees-Blue Jays games.