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After dramatic sweep of Rangers, Blue Jays carry momentum into ALCS

TORONTO -- It felt like a heavyweight fight. But when you're talking the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, circa 2016, you better be quick to point out that's just a figure of speech and there were no actual punches thrown.

It was all baseball Sunday in Rogers Centre and it was dramatic beyond belief.

The Blue Jays are going to the American League Championship Series for the second straight year after a 7-6, 10-inning win over the Rangers produced the first postseason sweep in the franchise's 40-year history.

Josh Donaldson scored the winning run on a head-first slide into home as Public Enemy No. 1 Rougned Odor bounced a throw to first that could have nailed Russell Martin for a potential inning-ending double play.

First baseman Mitch Moreland failed to scoop the ball clean and by the time he corraled it, wheeled and fired home, Donaldson was across the plate to spark a full-throated roar from the crowd of 49,555. They even got to celebrate twice when the play was held up on review, as Edwin Encarnacion's takeout slide at second base was ruled legal.

"I was at third base when the throw was being made," Donaldson said. "Once I saw him miss the pick at first, I felt like I had to take a chance right there and fortunately for us I was able to make it."

The Blue Jays scored 22 runs in the three-game division series whitewash of the Rangers, including eight home runs. They played strong defense. Their bullpen was airtight, topped by a quartet of relievers retiring the final 13 men. Closer Roberto Osuna came in to start the ninth in a 6-6 tie -- somewhere, Buck Showalter didn't approve -- and pitched two perfect innings to get the win.

Memo to Cleveland and Boston: You had a better record in the regular season than the Jays did but it's hard to think you'll be the favorite in the ALCS. This team just swept a 95-win squad that was the AL's best and is thriving in every area of the game at a perfect time. They won't have homefield advantage in the ALCS but plenty of observers view the Jays as a favorite to finally get back to a World Series for the first time since 1993.

The Toronto bats struggled and were the main culprit during an 11-16 September. That ended a scant 10 days ago. Seems like 10 months.

"We really picked it up at the end just to get in and since the month has turned over to October, it kind of looks like the old team," said manager John Gibbons. "Pitching has held up very good all year and we're leaning heavy on that bullpen."

"I felt this series was kind of an indicator of how our team is built," Martin said. "We're resilient. We play good defense. Our pitching has been tremendous throughout the year."

There were no bat flips, no punches and really no shenanigans of any kind in this series. That's probably what we should have expected from the Blue Jays and Rangers with the October stakes in play.

Jose Bautista got drubbed with boos at Globe Life Park in Arlington by fans still salty about the way he celebrated his Game Five home run in last year's division series. Odor got crushed with boos during pregame introductions here and again when each time he came to bat. When he walked to the plate in the fourth, a "Jose-Jose-Jose" chant was breaking out when Odor -- a 22-year-old Venezuelan with 33 home runs during the regular season -- stunned the crowd with a two-run homer to dead center to cut the Blue Jays' lead to 5-4.

It was 6-6 through six innings and neither team put a man on base in innings 7-8-9. But the Toronto 10th was full of juicy subplots.

Texas pitcher Matt Bush, the fireballer who drilled Bautista in the hip as the lead-in to the fight, was perfect in the eighth and ninth. In the 10th, he fanned Bautista with Donaldson at second after a leadoff double and Encarnacion at first following an intentional walk.

Martin followed by driving a ball to deep short that Elvis Andrus corraled and threw low to Odor at second for the force. Odor would have had Martin with a good throw but Donaldson took advantage of opportunity, knowing Moreland was a left-handed thrower and needed to set and wheel to fire home.

"If he ends up throwing me out, making a great play you kind of have to tip your cap to him," Donaldson said. "But I'm banking on the fact that I'm going to make it more times than not and it ended up working out for us tonight."

When it was over, the players wildly poured champagne in the clubhouse and then headed back on the field to celebrate with their adoring public. First-year team president Mark Shapiro, clearly hoarse from a celebration of his own over the climactic finish, reveled in getting back to the ALCS for the first time since he was the GM of the Indians in 2007 and they lost to the Red Sox in seven excruciating games.

"I always look at moments like this as celebrations but they're reflections of people all over the country and really all over the world who have contributed to the Jays," Shapiro said. "It's a celebration for a country by an organization."

When I prodded him for his thoughts on the ALCS possibly being against the organization he spent the last 25 years with, Shapiro admitted it's been on his mind. He even admitted he openly brought it up Sunday night to Cleveland president Chris Antonetti, the longtime former Tribe GM who followed Shapiro's path in Cleveland to the presidency when Shapiro came here last fall.

"It's something I've tried not to think about," he said. "But I texted Chris a two-word text about 10 minutes ago -- 'your turn.' I'm pulling for Cleveland up until the moment they play us. That would be really cool. "

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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