TORONTO — Clinching a post-season berth the night before Sunday's regular-season finale allowed Blue Jays manager John Schneider to rest some regulars for the playoffs.
It also meant Kevin Gausman didn't have to start against Tampa Bay in Game No. 162 and could instead be saved for the wild-card series against the Minnesota Twins.
"He always comes out in those big spots," said Toronto reliever Jordan Romano. "So that's really big for us."
Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Jose Berrios are good bets to get the starting assignments in the best-of-three series. Toronto has a workout day Monday and is expected to release its playoff roster on Tuesday morning.
"We've got our foot in the door but there's a lot of work yet to be done," said Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier.
With playoff spots secure, the Blue Jays and Rays closed the campaign with a game that had a pre-season feel to it.
Moments after Tampa Bay won 12-8, the Blue Jays returned to their clubhouse to celebrate an 89-win season that was enough for the sixth and final seed in the American League.
"To get drenched in beer and champagne is why you do it," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. "I love that the guys get to feel that."
Game 1 is set for Tuesday afternoon at Target Field. Game 2 will be played Wednesday and Game 3 — if necessary — would also be played in Minneapolis on Thursday.
"We have 'it,'" said Kiermaier. "We have veteran leadership and we have young phenoms. It's a perfect blend to balance everything out.
"We've got a ton of talent and we've got guys who care."
The series winner will play Houston in the best-of-five AL Division Series. The Astros beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-1 on Sunday to secure the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
The fourth-seeded Rays, who clinched a wild-card spot earlier in the week, will host Texas in the other AL wild-card series. The Rangers dropped a 1-0 decision to Seattle in their finale.
The 87-75 Twins earned the third seed as Central Division champions.
Minnesota and Toronto split their six meetings this year. Each team won two of three on the road.
Toronto could have finished fifth or sixth in the AL depending on Sunday's results.
"It's been proven that it doesn't matter what seed you are," Schneider said. "It just depends on how you're playing at the time."
The Blue Jays had their chances in a win-and-you're-in game Saturday against the Rays. Tampa Bay scored three times in the 10th inning and Toronto answered with just one run in the bottom half.
"When we lost, I cried," said Blue Jays fan Crystal Lefler. "But honestly, when we made the playoff cut, the sky (is) the limit. We're going to (win it all) this year."
Toronto was swept in the wild-card round in 2020 and 2022. The Blue Jays' last playoff win came in 2016 when they reached the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.
Toronto won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press