Blue Jays savor a sweet victory over their bitter postseason rivals

TORONTO -- Happy Thanksgiving, Canada. As Toronto Blue Jays outfielder and British Columbia native Michael Saunders said, your turkey should absolutely taste all that much sweeter Monday.

In addition to enjoying their meals, Blue Jays fans should also be giving thanks that Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor threw wildly to first base in the bottom of the 10th. That wild play resulted in the Blue Jays advancing to the American League Championship Series with a 7-6 victory and a three-game division series sweep over the Rangers, whom Toronto fans booed just as heavily as Texas fans booed the Jays in Arlington.

"It was definitely fun to be part of a series where the fans are just as involved as we were, given the history that we have with them," Toronto catcher Russell Martin said. "We didn't really let it get to us. We played good, clean baseball. There wasn't any bad blood -- we just played better and got victories."

Bitter feelings between the Rangers and Blue Jays reached a peak level in May, when Jose Bautista, who had been hit by a pitch from Matt Bush, slid hard into Odor at second base. Odor was so upset he punched Bautista in the face, an action that earned him an eight-game suspension. Bitter emotions weren't evident on the field during this series, though, and Toronto won the first two games easily. Then came Sunday's game, in which the lead changed hands several times to send it into extra innings. And just when it appeared the game would go deeper into the night, it ended abruptly.

"That game-ending play, that's not a normal big league type of ending to a game," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "That's kind of rare. But a lot of times when things are going your way, that's the kind of thing that happens."

With one out, Bush pitching, Josh Donaldson at second base and Edwin Encarnacion at first base, Martin hit what looked like an inning-ending, double-play ball to shortstop Elvis Andrus.

"I was thinking, ‘Not double play,'" Martin said. "I saw him run to the hole, and my first thought was, ‘Get through!' Then when I saw him get a bead on it, I was like, 'Don't get doubled up. Get going.'"

Andrus flipped the ball to Odor, but Encarnacion helped break up the possible double play with a slide that resulted in the second baseman tossing the ball a little wildly to first. That error allowed Martin to reach base safely. Then first baseman Mitch Moreland bobbled the toss and was slow to throw home, allowing Donaldson to score all the way from second for the winning run.

"The deciding factor was that once I saw the ball get away from him, I felt like I had to take a chance," Donaldson said. "In that situation, if he ends up throwing me out, you kind of have to tip your cap to him. But I was banking on the fact that I'm going to make it more times than not."

He did. But while the Blue Jays celebrated joyously, Texas manager Jeff Banister called for a review of the play to see if Encarnacion's slide had interfered with Odor's throw. That brought a halt to the celebration until the play was reviewed and the slide was ruled just fine.

"Oh gosh, let's not have a technicality ruin this moment for us right here," Martin said of the interruption to their celebration. "It didn't, but it was a little bit of a buzzkill right there."

Not much of one, though. Things definitely have been going Toronto's way the past week, offensively, defensively, pitching-wise and in Gibbons' use of the bullpen.

Toronto won the extra-innings wild-card game last Tuesday against Baltimore, in part, because Orioles manager Buck Showalter declined to use Zach Britton, the league's most dominant closer this season. Gibbons was not shy about using Roberto Osuna, who pitched a scoreless ninth that night before having to leave with slight shoulder discomfort.

That was the case again Sunday. Even though Gibbons said before the game that he didn't want to have to use Osuna for more than an inning, he did so, having him pitch the ninth and 10th when the score was tied. Banister, meanwhile, did not go with his closer, Sam Dyson, instead using Bush for three innings, even though he threw more pitches, 42, than he ever had in his career. Bush allowed a leadoff double to Donaldson in the decisive 10th inning. Banister stayed with Bush, and Toronto wound up winning.

"They were both very satisfying ways to win a series," said Bautista, whose home run and bat flip decided the final game with Texas last postseason.

The three-game sweep gives Toronto several days of rest before the ALDS starts. That can sometimes break up a team's rhythm, but it also could come in handy: Osuna has been used so much, second baseman Devon Travis has been out with a sore knee and pitcher Francisco Liriano is on the seven-day disabled list until Saturday because of the mild concussion he suffered when he was hit by a line drive Friday.

"Some people like to say that a couple days off might throw our timing off," Martin said. "I really don't believe that. At this point in the year, a couple days off can do wonders. For our bullpen, our pitching, it gets everybody's arms fresh. And the same for the guys who are banged up. A couple days off can go a long way."

We'll see how it affects the Jays, but in the meantime, Canada fans have a lot to celebrate this holiday. In addition to turkey, they have a big division series victory to savor.