Josh Donaldson's home run sparks Blue Jays sweep of Rays
Toronto 3rd baseman provides dramatic walk-off hit in 9th inning
The Blue Jays' celebrations continued on the field Sunday as Josh Donaldson's walk-off solo homer served up a wild ending to Toronto's regular-season home finale before another Rogers Centre sellout.
The ninth-inning blast to left field gave Toronto a 5-4 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the latest exclamation point in a year to remember for both Donaldson and the Jays.
"He's got that flair for the dramatic," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, whose team leads the majors with 221 homers. "He really does. He's done that so many times this year.
"Really it was a perfect ending for our home season this year, it really was."
Of Donaldson's 41 home runs this season, 27 have either tied the game or given Toronto the lead. He has three walk-off homers for the year, a franchise record, and has seven over the last three seasons. No other player has more than three.
"Ever since I was young, I've always look forwards to the big moments in the game," said Donaldson. "And I want to be able to come through.
"If it wasn't for my teammates today, I'm not even put in that position," he added graciously. "I think they did a great job of battling the entire time."
Toronto outhit Tampa 10-6 in winning its fourth straight. The Jays close out the season on the road, with four games in Baltimore and three in Tampa.
With a wild-card already assured, the goal is to win the American League East and secure home-field advantage. Toronto's magic number is four.
Yankees, Royals keep pace
The Yankees defeated the White Sox 6-1 Sunday to remain four games behind the Jays in the AL East.
The Jays are tied with Kansas City for the best record in the AL at 90-85. Amazingly the Jays were 51-51 on July 29 while the Royals were 61-39. Chris Young pitched five hitless innings Sunday in K.C.'s 3-0 win over Cleveland.
Sunday's dramatic win followed the Jays' short but intense post-game celebrations Saturday to mark ending the club's 22-year playoff drought.
"It got a little out of hand for the situation, after we had a talk before the game [Saturday] about just a toast and that was it," acknowledged Toronto starter Mark Buehrle, who stepped away from the festivities.
The champagne and cigars were put away Sunday, but Donaldson still needed a towel before the day was done.
After sending an 0-1 delivery from Steve Geltz (2-6) towards the left-field seats, Donaldson stopped, dropped the bat and then worked his way around the bases in front of a delirious crowd of 47,287.
Mayhem awaited him.
Donaldson was doused by Gatorade as he disappeared into a scrum of teammates upon crossing the plate, to chants of M-V-P. The third baseman was then doused with popcorn and assorted other liquids during his post-game TV interview.
Justin Smoak, who had driven in three runs already, started the Jays' rally with a one-out single in the eighth. Pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and Kevin Pillar doubled him home to tie the game at 4-4.
Ben Revere kept it even in the ninth with a diving catch that saw four Jays converge on a Steven Sousa Jr. fly ball.
Donaldson kept the Jays close in the eighth with a heady play, removing a man at third with no outs. He tagged out Mikie Mahtook at third as the Rays outfielder struggled to get back on a sharply hit grounder.
"That was huge too," said Gibbons.
Opening the inning, Mahtook had singled, moved to second on an error and stolen third. A double play ended the Rays' charge.
Smoak doubled home a run in the first inning and then hit a two-run homer in the sixth off Brandon Gomes to cut the Tampa lead to 4-3. Smoak's 17th home run of the season upped his RBI total to a career-high 56.
Brett Cecil, the Jays' fourth pitcher, pitched a scoreless ninth to improve to 4-5 with the win. The left-hander has not allowed an earned run in his last 29.1 innings.
Toronto ended up 53-28 at the Rogers Centre. Tampa (75-81) wrapped up the away portion of its season at 38-40, ending its five-season streak of going .500 or better on the road.
The 53 home wins match Toronto's 1992 total and is second only to 1985 (54).
Toronto has been a juggernaut the last two months, going 41-15 since July 26 when it was 50-50.
Starter Mark Buehrle, who was 5-1 with a 2.94 earned-run average over his last 10 home starts, pitched six solid innings for the Jays. He gave up four runs on five hits with five strikeouts and one walk in a 90-pitch outing that featured 60 strikes.
The 36-year-old left-hander, a pending free agent, stands 8 2/3 innings shy of 200 innings for the 15th straight season. The only others to do it are Hall of Famers Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry.
The sellout crowd of 47,287, the 12th straight and 27th sellout of 2015, upped the season home total to 2,794,891, the club's highest since 1995 (2,826,483).
The Jays got a standing ovation coming off the field after batting practice as well as in the third inning when they came out to salute the crowd as part of Fan Appreciation Weekend.
Mahtook homered for Tampa.