It’s George Springer’s time of year and Blue Jays ready for the ride after bombing Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — They’ll take his production any and every day or night of the gruelling Major League Baseball season.

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But the time that the Blue Jays want and need George Springer the most are about to be upon us.

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Almost on cue, to tune up for an October run with the team that made him the richest player in franchise history, Springer hit a pair of home runs Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field, sling-shotting his team to a resounding 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

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The enormity of the blasts wasn’t lost on anyone around the team, given Springer’s well-earned reputation for post-season prowess.

“He’s been through it,” manager John Schneider said outside a jubilant Jays clubhouse. “He’s been through the biggest games the sport has to offer and he doesn’t get too high or too low.

“He’s the definition of a gamer when it comes to this time of year.”

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The Jays hit four homers on the afternoon, accounting for six of the seven runs — including a 464-foot boom by Teoscar Hernandez in the eighth inning.

But the Springer bombs may have carried the most weight with this gung-ho group, given what lies ahead.

“He’s just so clutch, man,” said Jays starter Ross Stripling, who allowed six hits in his five innings to earn his career-best ninth win. “You can see it through his whole career and it’s like September and October and he just turns it on.

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“He’s just a guy we are going to lean on heavily here — 1) because he has the experience, and 2) he has the production in times like this leading into the post-season where he has kind of thrived.”

Though there is still work to be done to secure the top AL wild-card spot, there are signs that this group is indeed starting to thrive. And they are certainly in control of securing the favoured seed and home-field advantage for the entirety of a best-of-three opening-round series.

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In taking Saturday and Sunday games here, it allowed the Jays to split the four-game set to pull two games ahead of the Rays in the American League wild-card race and 2.5 up on the Seattle Mariners, who blew an 11-2 lead on Sunday en route to losing 13-12 to Kansas City.

Home runs No. 22 and 23 of the season were big ones for Springer (who moved one ahead of his 2021 total) and the Jays (who improved to 86-67.)

“I’m just trying to slow things down and be consistent,” Springer said of his plate approach. “Not trying to do too much.”

One of the clubhouse leaders on the team, Springer won’t get too far ahead of himself, but he likes the direction the Jays are heading.

“All of (these games) are big. There’s not a time left,” Springer said. “As a team, we (are showing) we can do it, that we can play in these high-stakes games. We understand what it takes. At this point of the year, everything matters.

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“I think over the last month, this has been a team that has been able to play some good baseball.”

That he’s been able to find ways to contribute with his bat despite playing through a persistent elbow ailment is testament to the competitive drive of Springer, who excels at critical times.

The 2017 World Series MVP has been steady as the Jays leadoff hitter all season and showed his touch on Sunday. His first homer of the day was an opposite-field shot to right. The second was a massive, 439-foot bomb to deep centre.

Now, Springer and the Jays return to Toronto for a six-game homestand — three against the New York Yankees starting on Monday and three against the Boston Red Sox starting on Friday. With their magic number trimmed to four with the Orioles losing on Sunday, there’s a chance to clinch a playoff spot while at home, while also setting the stage for a dome playoff date starting on Oct. 7.

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‘We know what kind of an advantage we can have if we can get a series in Toronto,” Stripling said. “It would mean the world. It’s going to be a spectacle for sure. It’s definitely one of the motivating factors for us. We can’t wait to see a packed house.”

But there’s some business to take care of first, starting in what will be an electric atmosphere with the Yankees in town and the duelling watches of Aaron Judge’s home-run history chase and the visitors looking to clinch the AL East title.

“We have (nine) games left: Show up and prepare to win,” Jays third baseman Matt Chapman said. “At the end of the day, it’s playoff baseball every day now.

“At this time of year, when you know you have an opportunity, that’s all that matters … seize the day and opportunity and just keep going.”

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With a 16-8 record, September has been the winningest month of the season for the Jays, who have gone eight consecutive series without a defeat (6-0-3) dating back to Aug. 29-31 … Kevin Gausman is expected to get the start in Monday’s opener against the Yanks, followed by Jose Berrios and Mitch White … The Hernandez homer was the second longest of the season by a Jays, second only to Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s 467-foot shot on April 10 vs. Texas … Springer now has 20 multiple-homer games in his career and two this season. His 23 home runs this season are his most since belting a career-high 39 with the Astros in 2019.

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