- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

BALTIMORE — The Toronto Blue Jays yelled, hugged and jumped for joy around the mound after clinching their first AL East title in 22 years.

With their 15-2 rout of Baltimore in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday, the Blue Jays brought an appropriate conclusion to their unstoppable, two-month run.

Toronto entered the doubleheader needing only one victory to eliminate the New York Yankees and claim its first title since 1993. The suspense ended quickly as the Blue Jays built a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning of the opener before adding four unearned runs in the fifth.

The remaining innings were a mere prelude to a celebration more than two decades in the making. There were several hundred blue-clad Toronto fans in the small crowd that gathered for the makeup of a game washed out by rain on Tuesday.

“You’re on the road, but it felt like a home game,” said Marcus Stroman, who pitched eight strong innings.

Because there was a second game to be played, the Blue Jays opted to put off the champagne celebration until after the nightcap. After waiting this long to toast a division title, a few hours probably wasn’t going to make much of a difference.

“We have 30 minutes in between games so we have to lock it back in quickly,” Stroman said.

Baltimore won the nightcap 8-1, getting two home runs from Chris Davis.

Stroman (4-0) allowed one run and five hits with eight strikeouts in his fourth start since returning from left knee surgery.

Jose Bautista hit his 40th home run, Edwin Encarnacion delivered No. 37 and Justin Smoak also connected for Toronto. Ryan Goins had a career-high five hits to help the Blue Jays win their sixth straight.

Toronto was fourth in the AL East on the morning of July 29 with a 50-51 record, eight games behind the Yankees. But boosted by the acquisitions of David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, the Blue Jays won 42 of their next 56 games, outscoring opponents 342-200. They ended the major leagues’ longest playoff drought on Sept. 26 when they clinched no worse than a wild-card berth.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos insists that in late July, the goal was merely to reach the playoffs.

“We felt we had a real good team that underachieved to this point,” Anthopoulos said outside the Toronto clubhouse. “Our last two months, we were playing really good teams that we were going to chase. So, we thought we had a shot.”

Stroman’s exceptional pitching this month added to the surge. The right-hander has a 1.67 ERA and has beaten the Yankees twice.

The Blue Jays open the AL Division Series at home on Oct. 8. They are just ahead of Kansas City for best record in the AL.

A year ago, Baltimore celebrated its first AL East title since 1997. On Wednesday, the Orioles watched their successors end an even longer wait.

“Congratulations to them. They earned it,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “We had something that people came after, and they took it from us.”

This was Baltimore’s first game since being officially eliminated from playoff contention, and it showed. Seven pitchers combined to issue 10 walks and the Orioles committed four errors despite coming in with the best fielding percentage in the majors.

“In any form of life, when you take hope out of the picture it really challenges you mentally and emotionally,” Showalter said. “We didn’t respond to that in the first game.”

After Miguel Gonzalez (9-12) walked three and gave up four runs in 3 2/3 innings, errant throws by pitcher Jason Garcia and Davis on the same play fueled a fifth-inning uprising that turned the game into a rout.

Steve Pearce homered for Baltimore. The loss ended any hope the Orioles had of salvaging a winning season.

In the second game, Davis took over the major league home run lead with 45. Manny Machado hit his 31st homer off Ryan Tepera (0-2) to break up a scoreless duel in the seventh.

Kevin Gausman (4-7) had a career-high 10 strikeouts over eight innings against a lineup consisting entirely of backups. Toronto starter R.A. Dickey pitched five innings in his final tuneup before the postseason.

 


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