The unpredictability of a winner-take-all game is enough to send someone into cardiac arrest. Having your entire season boil down to one single game is about as stressful as it gets for the Wild Card participants.
But for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans alike, the stress was merely getting to the postseason. And now that the Blue Jays didn’t blow it down the stretch and miss out on the playoffs, it’s time for them to rekindle some of that October magic from last year.
On Sunday, I joked on Twitter about the gravity (or the lack thereof) of this Wild Card game:
I feel like this week has sufficiently prepared me for the stress of a Wild Card game. Tuesday will feel like a spa retreat (kind of).
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) October 2, 2016
Ordinarily, I would be a nervous wreck ahead of an elimination game. But for some reason, there’s a weird sense of calm. Maybe that’s because the Blue Jays essentially played the equivalent of three Wild Card games in Boston over the weekend; a game that got away, one-must win game, one kind-of-need-to-win game.
So in comparison, a Wild Card elimination game on home field against the Baltimore Orioles seems like nothing compared to the fear of potentially missing out on a playoff spot altogether.
At least the Blue Jays made it in; which why it kind of feels like they’re playing with house money right now. The Blue Jays went from division favourites, to Wild Card favourites to almost falling out of the playoff picture to securing that first Wild Card in the late hours on Sunday night.
This is an odd scenario as well because the Blue Jays have never played a Wild Card game before. Sure, they’ve played elimination games before, but never a winner-take-all format where both clubs enter on equal footing.
Obviously, the Blue Jays would’ve preferred to win the division in a decisive fashion, but after the September they had, surely the club was willing to take whatever playoff berth they can get.
There’s also a hope that September is when the Blue Jays got their bad habits out of their system. The starting rotation aside, almost every aspect of the Blue Jays lineup and bullpen showed cracks in the foundation during September.
“There’s no way they’re going to keep playing this bad” is something I repeated in my mind all through October. There were glimmers of hope, but for the most part, that starting lineup was a shell of its former self.
Perhaps there’s something to be said about a team that has to scratch and claw its way into the postseason rather than enjoy a relaxed and drama-free coast into October.
Different teams get there in different ways, and the methods in which the Blue Jays reached the playoffs these past two seasons could not have been any more different. But one method doesn’t guarantee advancing further in the postseason; once you get there, anything is possible.
This year, it doesn’t feel like there’s a tremendous amount of external pressure on the Blue Jays to win this Wild Card Game. The Blue Jays’ ultimate test was to simply not screw things up (which they did), so it’s almost like they’re playing with house money right now.
This game feels like a gift.
Last year, the Blue Jays and their fan base were simply happy to be there; happy to break that 22-year playoff drought and simply see how far they could make it through October. It turns out they were a pretty damn good team, but not good enough.
This year, the Blue Jays already slayed that playoff drought-dragon. They say “act like you’ve been there”, and that will ring particularly true to the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays. Most of these players already have gotten a taste of October baseball.
They had to get to the playoffs in as excruciating a matter as one can imagine, but Blue Jays got in. And now it’s anybody’s game.