The Blue Jays have had dozens of their wins in 2015 incorrectly labeled as “statement games”. Just like “must-win games”, it’s a tag thrown around rather recklessly to infuse some buzz into a moment, but Wednesday night’s 4-0 victory over the New York Yankees was the one that finally earned it. The Blue Jays made a statement. Marcus Stroman and Russell Martin defined their seasons.
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Stroman has quickly blown through any fan or organizational hesitations after returning from his knee injury, moving his ERA to 1.89 on the young season with the most important outing of his baseball career. The right-hander needed 95 pitches to complete 7.0 innings of shutout ball, allowing just five hits and a walk while striking out five. His final out recorded, a scorching liner straight to Kevin Pillar in centre field, brought on a stadium-shaking eruption from the sellout crowd.
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It was a polite golf clap compared to what would happen ten minutes later, though. Russell Martin, the Canadian hero that’s been worth every penny, stepped to the plate with Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion on base. Two outs, two strikes, but Martin turned on a pitch from Andrew Bailey and sent it screaming over the left field wall, putting the Blue Jays out ahead 4-0.
These are the moments that will lead off the pre-game montage entering the ALDS in October. At least, assuming all goes as planned. From a club that has spent two decades as the welcome mat of the AL East, hovering in the region of .500 baseball but fainting at the first sight of adversity, this ball game was more than one tick in the win column. It may have been the first game of October.
Now 3.5 games up on the Yankees with 10 games remaining, the Blue Jays will play six of their remaining games against the Rays and four against the Orioles. Had Stroman and Martin not risen to the moment, Toronto would be looking at a 1.5 game lead, just a one-game advantage in the loss column, and a terrifying home stretch. The Jays also keep pace with the Kansas City Royals for top spot in the American League as they hunt down home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Stroman’s day makes him an absolute certainty for a top-3 spot on the playoff rotation, and depending on the club’s preferred usage of R.A. Dickey, he could follow David Price in game two of the opening series. A long way from the classrooms of Duke, recovering from a season-ending knee injury.