TORONTO — It was party time at the Rogers Centre on Saturday afternoon as another sellout Toronto crowd celebrated the Blue Jays' return to the playoffs as well as a wild 10-8 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 47,094 on hand, buoyed by overnight news of at least a post-season wild-card berth after a 22-year playoff absence, were buzzing from the get-go under sunny skies — turning the stadium into a sea of white thanks to a rally towel giveaway.
What had looked to be a pitching duel between Toronto's David Price and Tampa's Chris Archer turned into a shootout with 14 runs and 16 hits in the first four innings.
Jose Bautista and Russell Martin homered as Toronto led 5-0 after the first, battering Archer — on his 27th birthday — in a 33-pitch inning. It looked to be a romp until the Rays rallied for four runs in the third inning.
Bautista added a solo blast in the eighth. It was his 39th of the season and third in two days.
Roberto Osuna eventually cleaned up a sloppy ninth that saw three runs come in following a flubbed double play attempt that left Rays on first and second with no outs.
Archer (12-13) exited with two outs in the fourth, down 9-5 after throwing 100 pitches. He gave up nine runs on 10 hits with five walks and three strikeouts at a venue where his career ERA had been a stingy 1.66 in seven starts.
Price (18-5) didn't have a vintage performance either but outlasted his former Rays teammate in going five innings. He gave up four earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts and one walk in a 95-pitch outing.
It was his 32nd start of the season with his team 24-8 when he starts. The lanky left-hander, who came over from Detroit at the trade deadline, is now 9-1 as a Jay.
Toronto (89-65) won its third straight in raising its record to 36-14 since Aug. 1. The last time it won 88-plus games was in 1993 when it went 95-67 in winning a second straight World Series.
Tampa (75-80) lost for the second day in a row and ninth time in its last 15.
Toronto's magic number to win its division fell to five, with the Yankees playing the White Sox later in the day.
Price retired the Rays 1-2-3 in the first. Then Ben Revere showed off some Jays hustle, beating the throw for an infield single. Josh Donaldson walked and Bautista lined a home run into left field for a 3-0 lead before an out was registered.
One out later, Justin Smoak singled and Martin hit his career-high 22nd homer — a moonshot into left-centre.
The Jays tied a franchise record for most five-run innings in a season at 27. Toronto leads the majors with 220 home runs, as well as most homers in the first inning with 33.
Archer faced men on first and second with one out in the top of the second but escaped without further damage.
Then it was Price's turn to wobble, loading the bases in the third on two singles and a walk with no outs. A Steven Souza Jr. single combined with a Cliff Pennington throwing error brought in two runs with umpires ruling fan interference — someone grabbed the ball as it rolled to the stands — did not warrant a third run on the play.
The inning produced two more runs, cutting the Jays' lead to 5-4.
Toronto answered with two runs in the third. Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier could not sort out Kevin Pillar's high popout, which turned into an RBI double. Then Revere brought Pillar home.
Kiermaier atoned with a solo homer in the fourth, cutting Toronto's lead to 7-5. The Jays loaded the bases with one out in their half of the inning, scoring two more to make it 9-5.
The Jays arrived at the ball park to learn they had clinched a wild-card berth.
Most went to bed the night before thinking the wild-card magic number was one. But baseball's number-crunchers determined the Jays had indeed clinched at least a wild-card berth.
It turns out only two of the Rangers, Astros and Angels can finish at 88-74 – the Jays' then-worst possible record —because of the trio's head-to-head games with one another.
One would win the AL West after a tiebreaker, while the other would claim a wild card along with the Blue Jays or Yankees.
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