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‘Old Jays’ are battered and bruised but ready for battle

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Jason Grilli reacts in the 8th inning against the Texas Rangers during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016.

Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Jason Grilli is 39 and proud of it.

The Toronto Blue Jays reliever, a 14-year veteran, wears his longevity like a crown, gracefully enduring ribbing from his teammates about an old coot playing a kid's game.

The onset of middle age among some Blue Jays has been a running joke in the clubhouse, ever since the likes of Grilli and Joaquin Benoit, who is also 39, joined the team in mid-season trades.

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Josh Donaldson, the 30-year-old Toronto third baseman, has been a leading protagonist, even using his Twitter account to poke fun at the so-called "Old Jays."

Donaldson was at it again Monday, after the Blue Jays swept the Texas Rangers from the American League Division Series to afford them a break before starting the league championship against the Cleveland Indians.

The best-of-seven AL Championship Series begins Friday night in Cleveland.

"Thanks to Jason Grilli and Benoit and a few other guys, we have the oldest team in baseball … oldest roster," Donaldson just had to point out. "There's going to be some guys who are a little bit older [who are] going to need a few days rest."

Grilli is used to the jabs. "Age is just a number," he said in a recent interview.

Now the question is, does baseball's geezer squad have enough left in the tank as the season extends into its seventh month to get past the Indians and continue its march towards the ultimate goal – the World Series?

Grilli thinks that having a strong veteran presence will go a long way toward achieving that.

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"I think having a good mix in ages is vital," Grilli said. "I think there's a lot of cross-sectioning of things, the variables that make a good team. I think when you have the demographics, whether it be age or certain amount of Latin guys, or whatever, mix sometimes comes together. It's a team-chemistry thing.

"I know I'm an old man around these parts but I feel I'm just as young, and act just as young, as some of the guys around here who keep me feeling young."

The Blue Jays began the season as the sixth oldest team in the majors with an average age of 29.9 years.

It is a number propped up by pitcher R.A. Dickey, baseball's third oldest performer who, at 41, has been left off Toronto's postseason roster.

Jose Bautista, who struggled this season with injuries, is 35, but he has two home runs in the playoffs.

Edwin Encarnacion, who pounded 42 regular-season home runs and has three more in the playoffs, is 33, as is catcher Russell Martin, in the most physically demanding position in the game.

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Toronto got even longer in the tooth after Grilli joined the team in a trade with the Atlanta Braves on May 31, and the aging process did not halt there.

The July 31 trade-deadline additions of Benoit along with pitchers Francisco Liriano (32) and Scott Feldman (33) officially made Toronto baseball's oldest side, according to data supplied by the league, with an average age of 31.4.

The San Francisco Giants, who were eliminated in their National League Division Series by the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night, are the second oldest team at 30.1, followed by the Kansas City Royals, last season's World Series champion, at 29.8.

When it comes to age and championships in sports, the Blue Jays appear to be on the wrong side of recent history.

Last season the Pittsburgh Penguins won hockey's Stanley Cup with an average age of 28.3, considerably younger than the Blue Jays.

Still, the Penguins ranked as one of the NHL's more senior outfits, tied with the Vancouver Canucks as the third oldest among the 30 teams.

In the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers captured the championship with an average age of 28.1, seventh oldest in the loop.

The Denver Broncos, led by then 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning, won the Super Bowl last year with an average age of 26.2, ranking them as the 18th-oldest team in the NFL.

Grilli points out that baseball, while not a cakewalk with 162 regular-season games crammed into six months or so, is perhaps not as physically demanding as other sports.

That might explain why, in a sport in which the average age of a player is just over 28, many older players approaching 40 and older are still able to keep at it.

"Baseball is not a sport like football, where it's like you're in a car accident every week and they need all that recovery time," Grilli noted. "Baseball's a grind because you do play it every day. The little small nicks and bruises and things of that nature can add up pretty quickly to make you slow up."

And the Blue Jays have certainly had their share of injuries this season, although it can be debated how much advancing age played a role.

"It's nice to have a team that goes out there and battles, guys that play hurt," Martin said. "Guys play banged up. No excuses. Just really proud of this team and the way we handle ourselves."

Donaldson, last season's AL MVP, had a solid season this year (37 home runs, 99 runs batted in) despite battling through several nagging injuries, including a sore hip that has plagued him down the stretch.

After some games the past month Donaldson has remained in the trainer's room getting treatment for long stretches, often exceeding 30 minutes, in order to help him get ready to play the next day.

After Sunday's 7-6 win over the Rangers, Donaldson was asked just how good he was feeling with the team heading into the series against Cleveland.

" I want to say I'm not physically restricted," came Donaldson's rather measured response.

"Just lie," interjected Martin, before Donaldson continued.

"When you have 50,000 fans screaming, it kind of numbs the pain a little bit," he said. "It gives you that little extra jolt of adrenalin. So I'm going to leave it at that."

So on it goes for the Blue Jays, the game's greybeards, who will be looking to wheeze their way past another opponent in the Indians.

Grilli was asked if it is a bad thing to be the oldest team in the majors.

"I think it's a credit if you can stay in this game as long as you can," he said. "It's a testament to having some things figured out by taking care of yourself. It's a grind of a season for everybody, whether you're a young guy or an old guy.

"You get to do this long enough, the whole reason to staying in the fight is to try to get a World Series ring out of it. I keep saying that redundantly, but that's what keeps me going."

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