The Dunedin Blue Jays are playoff bound thanks to a thrilling 5-3 comeback victory against the Clearwater Threshers at Spectrum Field on Thusday evening.
Connor Panas continued his incredible second half, hitting a pair of home runs, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drilled a two-run shot in the ninth inning to give Dunedin the win and secure the North Division's wild card for the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays (36-30, 70-65 overall) needed to win one of their final four games against the Clearwater Threshers (28-37, 66-69) to clinch a playoff spot and did not procrastinate, taking the opening game of the final series of the regular season.
The Threshers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, knocking four consecutive singles against Dunedin starter Jordan Romano. Romano, whose fastball sat at 90 miles per hour in the first inning, appeared to loosen in the second inning, hitting 96 on the stadium's radar gun repeatedly, and didn't allow a run the rest of his outing. He finished the night with a line of 5.2 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 runs, no walks, and three strikeouts.
Threshers starter Edgar Garcia held the Blue Jays offense scoreless until the fourth inning when resurgent second-half star Connor Panas drove a fly ball deep to straightaway center. The ball landed out of reach of a sprinting Mark Laird in center field and caromed off the wall towards the left field gap. While the Threshers outfielders chased down the ball, Panas circled the bases, sliding in safely at home plate with an inside-the-park home run to cut the lead to 2-1.
The bottom of the Blue Jays order provided a spark in the fifth inning to tie the game. CF Edward Olivares singled to lead off the inning. With DH D.J. Davis batting, Olivares stole second and advanced to third when the catcher's throw was errant. Davis promptly doubled home Olivares to tie the game.
The two teams' bullpens battled in the late innings, holding both offenses scoreless in the sixth and seventh. In the eighth, Connor Panas struck again, sending his 18th home run of the season over the wall in left center to put Dunedin up 3-2. For Panas, it was his second multi-homer game in the past week and a continuation of a torrid second half. From July first on, Panas has hit .327 with a league-leading 14 home runs and 43 runs batted in.
The Threshers, clinging to their own playoff hopes, didn't go down quietly. Jose Gomez singled off Dunedin reliever Zach Jackson to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Jackson, who finished the sixth and tossed a scoreless seventh, was replaced on the mound by LHP Kirby Snead after the hit. Singles by Cornelius Randolph and Wilson Garcia brought Gomez in to score and tied the game at 3. For Jackson, the run by the Threshers was the first and only run he allowed during the month of August.
In the ninth, the top two prospects in the Toronto organization delivered for Dunedin to give them the win and a playoff birth. With one out, SS Bo Bichette lined a triple down the line in right, barely beating the throw to third with a headfirst slide. After a strikeout by 2B Cavan Biggio, 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stepped to the plate and crushed a two-run home run to left, putting Dunedin up 5-3.
RHP Jackson McClelland entered in the ninth and set down the Threshers in order, retiring Emmanuel Marrero on a strikeout to end the game and begin the celebration for Dunedin.
The Blue Jays have three remaining games in the regular season, all against the Clearwater Threshers, before beginning a three-game playoff series against the Tampa Yankees on September 5th.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.