BOSTON – Amid these early, growing-pain days of the Toronto Blue Jays’ rebuild, there’s some aspiration to be found in being force-fed the Boston Red Sox celebrating themselves for the better part of an hour.
To be fair, they earned it, and the defending World Series champions definitely did it up big Tuesday afternoon. Former stars like David Ortiz and Mike Lowell carried in the Commissioner Trophies from past titles. Players flashed their new bling collected during an on-field ring ceremony. Later, the New England Patriots showed up with their six Vince Lombardi Trophies for the ceremonial first pitch. There were chest bumps and selfies. The Boston Pops orchestra provided some backdrop the whole time.
For a team on the make, the lesson to be drawn was clear: Develop right, and maybe one day a party like this can be all yours, too.
“It’s the ultimate accomplishment in this game, right? It makes you hungry for it,” Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen said. “Props to them, they’re an outstanding organization, they deserved it last year but at the end of the day, we’re going to go out there and try to ruin their opening day.”
That’s precisely what the Blue Jays proceeded to do, cleverly clawing out five runs against ace Chris Sale – one of them on Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s straight steal of home, the sixth in franchise history – and then hanging on for a 7-5 victory.
Beyond the day’s pomp and circumstance and the surprising outcome, there was plenty going on at a bitterly cold Fenway Park, and that’s without counting the dude who proposed on the videoboard, got a yes, kissed his new fiancée and then opened up his jacket to flash a Yankees Suck shirt.
The game was the first to feature Puerto Rico-born managers facing off with each other, a milestone that carried meaning for both Alex Cora and Charlie Montoyo, who exchanged a hug at home plate after bringing out the lineups.
“I told Cora how proud I was of him and he told me how proud he was of me, it was a great moment,” said Montoyo. “He told the umpires it was a big deal for us, two managers born and raised in Puerto Rico. It was pretty cool.”
The game also featured two teams that have stumbled through the season’s first 11 games, each entering with 3-8 records. On the Red Sox side, Sale came in facing questions about a drop in his velocity, something Cora attributed to an illness last time out. “When you can’t work in between, it’s tough,” he said. “(Sale) spent a lot of time in the … bathroom.”
The TMI on the Blue Jays side of things was mostly related to their putrid numbers at the plate and the approach that generated them, a topic raised during the pre-game hitters meeting. “We’re chasing too many bad pitches,” said Montoyo. “They’re just not seeing the ball. When you’re chasing stuff in the dirt, it means you’re not really seeing it. … They’ve got to realize what the pitcher is trying to do to you.”
To that end, Blue Jays’ hitters were being urged to “stay to your strengths,” added Montoyo. “Don’t worry about what the other guy’s got. Whatever pitch, whatever zone you can hit, stay with that.”
Then, they went out and did just that.
Consecutive singles by Alen Hanson, Billy McKinney and Freddy Galvis – poking the ball through the right side on a perfectly executed hit and run – were followed by a Teoscar Hernandez sacrifice fly in the third. The outburst was just the third time this year the Blue Jays scored in the first three innings, and the first time they’d put a crooked number up on the board.
Then in the fourth, consecutive singles by Randal Grichuk, Danny Jansen and Gurriel put the Blue Jays ahead 3-2, before Jansen came home on a passed ball and Gurriel crept his way up the third-base line before a daring charge home, easily sliding under a wild Sale offering.
He popped up with a fist pump and returned to a fired-up dugout.
“That doesn’t happen every day, it was my first time, so I was very emotional in the moment,” Gurriel said of his reaction through interpreter Hector Lebron. “I was going crazy.”
The disciplined hitting and opportunism they displayed was unrecognizable from the grip-it-and-rip-it flailing on display in their previous 11 outings. Of their first seven hits, four went to the opposite field. Gurriel’s swipe of home was their first steal all year.
For context, during a four-game sweep in Cleveland over the weekend, the Blue Jays managed just six runs – in total – and had only three hits in three of the four games.
“I like bunting and doing all kinds of stuff, it’s more fun when guys get on base,” said Montoyo. “If the guys are swinging the bat good, I don’t do anything, I let them play. We’re kind of struggling, we tried to make stuff happen and it worked out great today.”
Even still, there was lots of grinding.
Matt Shoemaker allowed four runs but only two of them earned in 5.2 innings – his error in the second allowing Xander Bogaerts to cross on Dustin Pedroia’s double play ball, and Bogaerts later scoring when a running Hernandez muffed a Rafael Devers fly ball.
Fighting through grip issues due to the cold, Shoemaker gave up five hits and two walks with four strikeouts to win his third straight start.
“Early on I was throwing some sliders that were really up, they were just side-spinning,” he said, “so I really made an effort to dominate the top part of that baseball and start throwing better breaking balls.”
Grichuk’s RBI single in the seventh opened up a 6-4 edge, but Joe Biagini gave up consecutive two-out doubles to J.D. Martinez and Bogaerts in the eighth to narrow the margin once more.
Ken Giles finally locked things down in the ninth, ending a four-game Blue Jays losing streak while simultaneously extending the Red Sox’s misery, dampening their celebratory day.
“Why not us,” Montoyo replied when asked what his players could take from seeing Boston’s party. “Why not us.”
Well, right now, lots of reasons, but more performances like this one, and the ultimate reward the Red Sox got to fete, offered a reminder of what they’re striving for.
SHORT HOPS: Luke Maile was supposed to catch Matt Shoemaker but was forced to sit because of a sore neck. Richard Urena was positioned to serve as the Blue Jays’ emergency catcher if needed. … Justin Smoak was out again with neck stiffness, an issue he said isn’t getting worse, but isn’t getting better, either. The Blue Jays are giving him through Wednesday’s off-day before making a decision on whether an injury list stint is needed. … Clay Buchholz joined the Blue Jays after a rehab outing at triple-A Buffalo and will be activated Saturday when he’s scheduled to start against the Tampa Bay Rays. … Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is three games into his rehab at single-A Dunedin but Charlie Montoyo didn’t have a timeline of when he’d move up to Buffalo. They recently spoke and Montoyo told him, “just stay down there in that nice weather until you get good at the plate and feel comfortable, and then you’ll go to Buffalo. That could happen anytime.” … Marcus Stroman hosted a team dinner Monday to try and ease the sting of a four-game sweep in Cleveland. “We had a great time,” said Montoyo. “Everybody was relaxed.”