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Blue Jays say farewell to season with win

Jonathan Davis of the Toronto Blue Jays steals second base against Daniel Robertson of the Tampa Bay Rays at the Rogers Centre on September 29, 2019 in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Jonathan Davis of the Toronto Blue Jays steals second base against Daniel Robertson of the Tampa Bay Rays at the Rogers Centre on September 29, 2019 in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

As much as you can tie a bow on a 162-game season that included 95 losses, your 2019 Toronto Blue Jays were at the Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon to do just that.

There was Justin Smoak, the last notable member of a team that just three years ago was prepping for the post season, likely saying goodbye to the Toronto fans for good and doing so in style.

There was an enthusiastic crowd of 25,738, a number modest enough in another season of stark decline in overall attendance, a figure little more than half of what it was at the end of 2016.

There were some positives, as well, as the curtain closed on the season, first with a series win over the playoff-bound Rays and then with first-year manager Charlie Montoyo offering a generally upbeat assessment of his youthful team.

Let the record show that an 8-3 victory allowed the Jays to finish with a 67-95 record, leaving them 29.5 games behind the AL East champion New York Yankees.

It was the fewest number of wins by the Jays since they had the same number in 2004. However, winning two of their final three saved this team from having its lowest full-season win total since the 53 recorded 40 years ago, in 1979.

And as a throwback to those better times, so much of Sunday was about Smoak, who finished with a pair of doubles, the second of which was met with three standing ovations – first when he came to the plate, then after he hit it and finally when he was substituted for a pinch-runner and returned to the dugout where his adoring teammates were waiting.

As he struggled to keep his emotions in check, the pending free agent said he relished the unique role he had in 2019, even if it was dramatically different from his time on the veteran-heavy playoff teams from three and four seasons ago.

“Ever since the trade deadline last year I kind of felt I was one of the guys and the next thing you know I was the old guy,” the 32-year-old veteran said. “It was different. But I felt that as the season progressed I got better at being that guy for them when they needed me to be that guy.”

Smoak was a hit prior to the game, signing jerseys and hats for his younger teammates to whom he clearly meant a great deal.

“We’ve got a lot of young players who I guess in some way looked up to me,” said Smoak, who had three RBI from his pair of doubles on Sunday. “I guess they saw me grinding my butt off all year. Hopefully it makes them better down the road.”

Even with Smoak severing yet another link to the past, the long off-season ahead will be filled with some measure of optimism given the performance and promise shown by some of the young players.

“I’m happy how we ended up, how we played after the all-star break with the schedule we had,” said Montoyo, who will return home to Tucson, Ariz. on Monday to enjoy a well-deserved off-season. “I think it’s awesome how we played against the good teams. I’m really happy about that.”

Specifically, Montoyo was pleased with the opportunities presented and tests passed by the young and talented group he managed in his debut. Though Bo Bichette (concussion) and Vlad Guerrero Jr. (right knee) weren’t in the lineup for the final weekend, the way the young Jays core played in September was indeed encouraging.

“Just the schedule we had after the break – to compete and have that record?” Montoyo said. “That means we played well. I’m proud about that.

“Our future is bright, man. The kids kept getting better.”

ATTENDANCE DECLINES SHARPLY

The crowd that stuck through this sluggish season certainly appreciated it and let Smoak know how they felt about him.

It was the type of moment that was commonplace just three years ago, when 3,392,099 attended games at the dome in the 2016 season, compared to the 1,729,491 final number from the just completed one.

Some perspective on that and the current state of the franchise: It’s the fourth-lowest total attendance since the team shifted to the Rogers Centre full time in 1990.

AROUND THE BASES

In what was likely his final start with the Jays, veteran Clay Buchholz also had a solid outing, allowing four hits and just one earned run while striking out six in his five innings of work. It was just his second win with the Jays from 12 starts.

– Montoyo said he’s been pleased with his coaching staff and the intent will be to have them all return, pending discussion with general manager Ross Atkins. The manager did say, however, that the team will consider hiring an assistant hitting coach to work with Guillermo Martinez.

– A first-inning base hit by Cavan Biggio sends the rookie second baseman into the off-season with a 29-game on-base streak, the longest active one in the majors and a Jays rookie record.

– The Jays finish the season with a home record of 35-46, a total shined up nicely by winning eight of their last 12 at the Rogers Centre, each of their final four series here and a 12-6 record overall in their past 18. On the downside, they finished with the fewest number of home wins since 1996, when the team also had 35.

rlongley@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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