Blue Jays give Gaston triumphant sendoff
Snider, Buck and Hill go deep in Rogers Centre finale
TORONTO -- With his hat still dripping and his jacket drenched, Cito Gaston smiled wide and soaked up his last victory at home as manager of the Blue Jays. His appearance was the result of a postgame celebration, one honoring a win and an outstanding career.
"The guys had some fun," Gaston said. "I got some Gatorade on me out there on the field and I got tons of beer on me in the clubhouse. I could be sitting in here nice and dry -- that means we had a bad day."
This was hardly a bad day.
The Blue Jays celebrated Gaston's farewell party with an 8-4 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre. New York had its fun the previous night, defeating Toronto to clinch a spot in the playoffs. This was the Blue Jays' time to play, but also the time to pay tribute to an organization icon.
Prior to the game, the Blue Jays held a ceremony to honor Gaston's achievements. After all the hugs and warm sentiments, Toronto gave its manager the gift of his 910th career victory. In the process, the Blue Jays also established a new franchise record of 247 homers in one season and secured a winning record for the fourth time in five years.
Gaston -- with four road games remaining before retirement -- could not have been more pleased.
"What a way to go out," Gaston said. "These guys really showed me all about the heart and hustle tonight. ... It means a lot to know that you're going to walk out of here for the last time as a manager and you did win that game. Your team, our team, won that game. It means a lot to me."
With a group of his former players in attendance -- George Bell, Joe Carter, Pat Hentgen and Devon White took part in the festivities -- Gaston watched his current group break through early against the Yankees (94-65). Only four pitches into the bottom of the first, the Blue Jays flashed their power.
Travis Snider, wearing eye black over his top lip in an effort to copy Gaston's signature mustache, belted a 1-2 offering from New York's Javier Vazquez deep to right field for a solo home run. That shot moved the Blue Jays (82-76) into uncharted territory, giving the team a club-record 245 home runs this season.
"I couldn't think of a better night for it to happen, to honor him," Snider said.
Toronto upped the ante in the second inning, when catcher John Buck blasted a solo homer for his 20th long ball of the year. That gave the Jays six players with at least 20 home runs in 2010. Within that group is second baseman Aaron Hill, who launched a three-run homer in the fifth to give Toronto a 7-0 lead.
Buck is only in his first season with the Blue Jays, but he already credits Gaston for helping him turn his career around. The catcher made his first All-Star team this year, and his home run total is the highest of his big league tenure. Buck sincerely feels Gaston is a big reason for that success.
"There's been a lot of stuff that he's helped me with," Buck said. "I'm aggressive, and I've obviously had people try to change me the other way and make me take more pitches. He seemed to get the most out of what I am and taught me how to use my aggressiveness to my advantage."
The offensive outpouring overshadowed another solid effort from left-hander Brett Cecil, who ends the season as the staff leader in wins with a 15-7 record. With the victory over the Yankees, Cecil also improved to 11-2 with a 3.38 ERA in outings against the American League East this season.
"It was just good to get a team win, but even better to give Cito a last win here," Cecil said. "I think everybody's happy with what he's done here, and it's meant a lot to the city of Toronto and the players who have played under him."
Cecil limited New York to three runs over 5 1/3 innings and blanked the Yankees' bats until running into trouble in the sixth. Alex Rodriguez opened that framed with a solo homer to left field and New York added two more runs before the inning was through. This night was not meant for a Yankees comeback, though.
This was an evening reserved for Gaston.
"Tonight was his night," Snider said.
Snider said Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells was behind the mustaches that many of the players and coaches wore in honor of Gaston before and -- in some cases -- during the game. When Gaston walked into the dugout shortly before the game began, he laughed upon seeing the unique tribute.
"Snider got up there with one on and hit a home run," Gaston said with a chuckle.
As much as it was a night filled with laughter, it was also an emotional day for Gaston. Typically collected, Gaston shed a few tears before the game, during the ceremony and when addressing Toronto's fans. With his wife, Lynda, at his side, Gaston allowed his emotion to show.
"I was certainly trying to hold it back," Gaston said. "You just can't hold that back after a while. I was just feeling that you try to do the best job you can at all times, but when you find out that you've touched that many people's lives and it's all for the good, I mean, how can you hold it back?"
Now, Gaston has time to reflect on his flight to Minneapolis, where the Blue Jays will play out their final series of the 2010 season.
Sitting at the podium, drenched, Gaston said he planned on getting dressed, getting warm and getting on the plane for a relaxing flight. He said he would probably put on some music -- perhaps The Manhattans or Robert Cray -- and close his eyes after a memorable day.
"I'm pretty sure I'll sleep good tonight," Gaston said.