The New Year serves as an ideal time for many to reflect on things of the past while looking forward to the future ahead. There is no doubt that the Blue Jays’ 2016 campaign was often times frustrating, and there was a period of time during which another postseason appearance seemed like it might slip away. And yet, the Jays found themselves right back where they had been the previous year – in the ALCS, thanks in large part to the best starting rotation in the American League.
Their eventual series loss to Cleveland still stings, but the Jays once again took fans on quite the ride. Now, as the splendor of a second straight year of October baseball has faded into winter, Blue Jays fans find themselves bidding farewell to Edwin Encarnacion amidst swirling rumours involving players to whom they may be linked, including franchise icon Jose Bautista. A week ago, I asked Blue Jays Twitter to share with me their favourite moments from the Jays’ 2016 campaign. Thus, as we await offseason news, let us reminisce about the season that was 2016 – here are ten of your favourite moments from the past season. Enjoy! (
The Bat Drop
It is without hyperbole or recency bias that I can state unequivocally that Edwin Encarnacion’s game-winning extra-innings home run to win the Wild Card game is the third most important home run in Blue Jays history. With one out and two on thanks to back-to-back singles by Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion crushed a first pitch offering from Ubaldo Jiminez to walk off the Orioles and advance to the ALDS. And though it may have been missed by fans initially – those who were too busy laughing and crying and cheering as they watched the ball sail out of the yard – Encarnacion gave us this year’s version of the bat flip: the bat drop. It was, in a word, epic.
Donaldson’s Mad Dash
Set aside for a moment the fact that Josh Donaldson’s mad dash from second base sent the Jays to the ALCS for the second straight season. That play was straight up one of the most exhilarating baseball moments of 2016. What made it all the sweeter was that it was Rougned Odor’s errant throw to first that allowed Donaldson to score the series-clinching run, as though it were some sort of cosmic retribution for the haymaker he landed on the chin of Jose Bautista in May. Regardless of how the play is framed, Donaldson’s head-first slide into home and subsequent celebration was pure, unadulterated joy.
So much of the narrative this past season was regarding how best to utilize Aaron Sanchez. The debate as to whether or not he should be moved to the bullpen to limit his innings raged until Ross Atkins flew to Houston in early August to meet with Sanchez and others, ultimately announcing that the team would run with a six-man rotation to afford Sanchez the opportunity to continue as a starting pitcher while still limiting the stress on his arm.
Whatever factors went into the decision, it was Sanchez’s performance that ultimately made it impossible for him to be moved to the bullpen. At the time Atkins made the announcement, Sanchez led the American League in ERA. Perhaps no one performance which best exemplified the young star’s dominance as his start one June 7th in Detroit, when he took a one-hitter into the ninth inning, fanning twelve in an eventual extra-innings loss.
Ryan Goins Gets the Nod
There are a number of moments during the 19-inning Canada Day marathon against Cleveland that Jays fans would just as soon forget. Vic Carapazza’s strike zone and subsequent ejections of Edwin Encarnacion, John Gibbons and Russell Martin for arguing set the tone early for the restless sold-out crowd.
After six hours and thirteen minutes and several chances to end the game, the eventual 2-1 loss was crushing. The game did provide one remarkable highlight, however – after sending eight pitchers to the mound, Ryan Goins became the ninth position player to pitch in a Blue Jays uniform. After nearly decapitating pitching coach Pete Walker during warm-up, Goins tossed a scoreless inning, pitching his way out of a bases-loaded situation by inducing Chris Gimenez to ground into an inning-ending double play.
They Messed With Texas – and Yu Darvish
Before Donaldson could make his game three sprint, the Jays squared off against Yu Darvish in game two. Having surrendered three home runs in a game only twice in his major league career, Darvish gave up three in the fifth inning alone and four total in a 5-3 Jays’ victory. Two of those home runs came off the unlikeliest of bats – Kevin Pillar belted a chin-high pitch to left field which was followed up two batters later by an Ezequiel Carrera solo shot to right-centre. After a frustrating season in terms of offense, particularly during September, and all the drama surrounding a series against Texas, watching the Jays light up Darvish was cathartic.
Baseball Hat Tricks
In 2015, Jays fans celebrated Edwin Encarnacion’s three-home run game in the most unique way – by throwing ball caps onto the field as one would for a hockey hat trick. In 2016, fans celebrated two baseball hat tricks. The first came on June 17th at Camden Yards, where Michael Saunders’ third home run was met with the tossing of hats from the Jays faithful that were in the crowd.
The seconomic occurred in late August. Wearing red in honour of Canada Baseball Day, Josh Donaldson went yard three times, with the third home run punctuated by the home crowd showering the Bringer of Rain with hats.
Travis Walks Off the BoSox
A game against division rivals is always fraught with intensity, and the Jays’ tilt against the Boston Red Sox on May 28th was no exception. After tying the game at nine runs apiece in the bottom of the ninth inning, Devon Travis came to the plate with two out and Russell Martin on third. With the crowd chanting “Let’s go Blue Jays!” Travis hit a ground ball to third base that was scooped up by Travis Shaw, who had to move to his right on the play. Shaw one-hopped the throw to first, where a kneeling Hanley Ramirez failed to pick the ball out of the dirt. The error led to one of the most exciting finishes of the season.
Tulo’s Grand Slam
The game against the Red Sox on September 11th may have been the Jays’ craziest game of the year. Though they eventually lost 11-8 in a match that saw the lead relinquished seven times, Troy Tulowitzki’s grand slam off of Clay Buchholz in the third inning to give the Jays a 6-4 lead electrified the home crowd.
Melvin’s Little-League Home Run
When Melvin Upton Jr. hit a little flare that bounced under the glove of a diving Max Kepler, he did what he does best – he just kept running. By the time the ball was fielded – it had gone all the way to the warning track where Kepler booted it for an error – Upton scored behind Kevin Pillar to give the Jays an 8-7 lead over the Minnesota Twins. Scored as a triple and an error, this was one of the more fun plays of the season.
Though he may be a source of frustration for many Jays fan, every now and then Justin Smoak puts on a show like we saw on May 3rd against Texas. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Smoak unloaded on a pitch from Shawn Tolleson that just cleared the left-centre field wall to tie the game and send it to extra innings. When his turn in the lineup came back around in the bottom of the tenth with one on and one out, Smoak sent another over the wall in left to seal the victory.
As you look back, may I remind you that yet another baseball season is just around the corner. I wish you and yours a very happy new year. All the best to you – and the Blue Jays – in 2017. Cheers!
Did your favourite moment make the list? Share with us what you most enjoyed about the 2016 season by leaving a comment below.
© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports