KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The dream of an unbeaten 2016 came to a crashing thud for the Toronto Blue Jays as they suffered their first loss of the spring to a split squad of Houstons. But really, playing 208 games without a loss was pretty unrealistic, if you ask me.
Here are the things that stood out to me about the Jays’ 7-1 loss to half the ‘Sstros:
WHITHER THE LUMBER?
Whether they’d had their big boppers or not (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion excluded, they have yet to play this spring), the Blue Jays haven’t had a hard time scoring runs this month. They’d averaged 7.4 runs per game going into Sunday, with a minimum of four in each of their five games.
But against the Astros, the bats were completely stymied. The Jays were held to just a run on three hits and you could argue that none of the hits were legit.
The first 13 Blue Jays were retired in order by Scott Feldman (6), Asher Wojciechowski (6) and Brady Rodgers (1) before Domonic Brown finally reached. Brown hit a fly ball to deep right-centre, but Carlos Gomez lost it in the sun at the last moment and it landed about a foot to his left -- an eminently catchable ball that went for a triple. Matt Dominguez followed with a 53-hopper down the first-base line, escaping the limited range of Jon Singleton, who was shifted over towards second base and couldn’t get over in time.
The Jays’ only other hit was a little nubber out in front of the mound by Richard Urena in the eighth.
SUPERMAN MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE
The 2015 highlight reel for Kevin Pillar is probably about 20 minutes long. He made sensational catch after sensational catch all season long, thrilling Blue Jays teammates and fans alike.
His exceptional defence hadn’t been put to the test yet this spring until Astros’ nine-hitter Eury Perez hit a sinking liner to shallow centre with one out in the third.
As we’ve seen so many times -- and yet it still makes us jump out of our seats -- Pillar took off on a dead sprint towards home plate, dove headfirst and made the jaw-dropping, yet almost routine for him, mid-air catch to steal away a hit.
DOING IT ALL FOR MY BABY
One of the great things about cozy spring training stadia is how close the fans get to the players on the field. At Osceola County Stadium, there’s the added benefit of the broadcast booth being right on top of the fans, as well. Here, we’re so close that we can actually shake hands with the fans in the last row behind home plate.
The section right in front of our radio booth appeared to be the Astros’ family section, because there was a whole whack of Rasmi sitting about three rows beneath us. Colby Rasmus, the one-time Blue Jay, has found a home in Houston and his wife Megan and daughters Rylee and baby Teegan were at the game, along with what appeared to be some Rasmus in-laws.
While Colby was in the on-deck circle in the first inning, six year-old Rylee stood up and started chanting "Let’s Go Daddy!" prompting a smile and a wave from the long-haired, orange-high-top-wearing proud papa. He didn’t come to the plate then, as Luis Valbuena grounded out to end a perfect frame for Marcus Stroman, but Rasmus made his kin stand and shout in the bottom of the second when he led off with a high fly ball that just escaped the leap of Darrell Ceciliani at the right field wall, sneaking over for his first home run of the spring. It was the only blemish on Stroman’s otherwise-perfect three-inning stint.
The Blue Jays return home Monday, where they’ll try to get back on the winning track as they host the Atlanta Braves. R.A. Dickey will get the start -- he threw two very strong innings against the Phillies on March 2 -- against righty Aaron Blair, who was the top pitching prospect in the Diamondbacks’ organization before being sent east in a December trade for Shelby Miller.
Kevin Barker and I will have the call for you on the interwebs starting at 1 p.m. ET. Sign up for an MLB audio package to tune in -- it’s free for the spring.