Blue Jays put base­ball back on the map in Canada

Bautista & Co. named team of year

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - SPORTS - By Gre­gor y Strong

TORONTO — A trade dead­line to re­mem­ber. A sec­ond-half surge to the play­offs. A bat flip for the ages.

The Toronto Blue Jays put base­ball back on the map in the play­off-starved city this year and the rest of the coun­try took no­tice. Canada’s lone Ma­jor League Base­ball team, which won the East Di­vi­sion ti­tle and came within two wins of the World Se­ries, was voted the land­slide win­ner of The Cana­dian Press team of the year award.

“There’s so many ad­jec­tives that come to mind, but great, ex­cit­ing, proud,” for­mer gen­eral man­ager Alex An­thopou­los said of the 2015 team. “I think it just meant a lot for Canada and the city ob­vi­ously, but more Canada than any­thing else.

“I know the slo­gan and the hash­tag was ‘Come To­gether’ and it was true. It seemed like ev­ery­body came to­gether and fans that weren’t fans be­came fans. I think we’ll be talk­ing about it for years to come.”

The Blue Jays picked up 40 votes (71 per cent) in an on­line sur­vey of broad­cast­ers and ed­i­tors from me­dia out­lets across the coun­try. The Cana­dian world ju­nior hockey team that won gold last Jan­uary was a dis­tant sec­ond with six votes (11 per cent).

“It seems funny, on some lev­els, to elect a team that didn’t even get to its league fi­nal,” said Jonathan McDon­ald, sports ed­i­tor of The Prov­ince in Van­cou­ver. “But for the first time in a long, long time, the Blue Jays had a good chunk of Canada cap­ti­vated by base­ball again. And I mean cap­ti­vated. Peo­ple were talk­ing about the Jays seven days a week for about three months. That’s an ac­com­plish­ment in it­self.”

The Blue Jays had a pow­er­ful of­fence but were tripped up by sev­eral key in­juries at the start of the sea­son. Team de­fence suf­fered and Toronto split its first 100 games.

“You can be a .500 club and know that maybe the roof is go­ing to cave in and you’re over­achiev­ing. Or you know you can be un­der­achiev­ing and know that you’re way bet­ter than this,” An­thopou­los said. “And it was clear, in our minds, we were way bet­ter than this.”

That’s when An­thopou­los pulled off the first in a se­ries of stun­ning trades. He ac­quired star short­stop Troy Tu­low­itzki in a deal with Colorado and soon topped that by land­ing ace left-han­der David Price, giv­ing the Blue Jays the front-line starter they needed.

Af­ter years of look­ing to the fu­ture, Toronto was play­ing for the present. Out­fielder Ben Re­vere and re­liev­ers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe also joined the team dur­ing that mem­o­rable week and Toronto’s fan base was down­right giddy.

The Blue Jays were sud­denly real con­tenders in the Amer­i­can League. Over the sec­ond half of the sea­son, they played like it.

With an of­fence that boasted league MVP Josh Don­ald­son and slug­gers Jose Bautista and Ed­win En­car­na­cion, Toronto soon pow­ered its way to the top of the di­vi­sion stand­ings. Price came as ad­ver­tised, go­ing 9-1 with the Blue Jays and pro­vid­ing a sta­bi­liz­ing force to the ro­ta­tion.

There were some pleas­ant sur­prises too. Marco Estrada started the year in the bullpen and be­came a key starter. Rookie closer Roberto Osuna played like a vet­eran. And waiver wire pickup Chris Co­la­bello hit at an im­pres­sive .321 clip.

Man­ager John Gib­bons was pulling the strings and had the team play­ing with con­fi­dence. The sell­out crowds at Rogers Cen­tre couldn’t get enough.

“This was a group that cared about each other, that played for one an­other,” An­thopou­los said.


Blue Jays bop­per Jose Bautista makes his fa­mous/ in­fa­mous bat flip af ter hit ting a three-run homer dur­ing Game 5 of the Amer­i­can League Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

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