OAKLAND — In the course of a long season, all baseball teams experience their share of emotional highs and lows, but rarely are they as closely compressed together as they were for the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday.
First, Matt Shoemaker sprained his left knee in a rundown and fell to the ground in pain. He needed help from team trainers to walk off of the field but was able to walk gingerly around the clubhouse after the game. An MRI will reveal more Sunday. In the meantime his comeback season is on hold.
“There’s nothing we can do about it right now,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Hopefully it’s not that bad, it’s just a mild sprain and we lose him for a start or something. He’s been outstanding. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball.”
Then, just a few minutes after Shoemaker went down, Rowdy Tellez stepped in and provided one of the more memorable moments of the early season. Tellez, a native of nearby Elk Grove, Calif., had approximately 300 family and friends in attendance to see him play at the Oakland Coliseum. Among those seeing him in a big-league uniform for the first time was his paternal grandmother, Frances.
“That was something special for me,” Tellez said. “To have her watch me play here being that she’s from here and spent most of her life here. That was pretty cool.”
Of course, Tellez didn’t just play — he also contributed with three hits, the biggest of which came in his second at-bat. With two on and none out, Tellez hit a Mike Fiers offering 418 feet for his fourth home run of the season.
“Make sure to touch all the bases,” he told himself after the ball cleared the wall. “It was pretty special. It was a fairy tale moment being able to do that in front of my family and friends. It was like a dream to play in this ballpark and be as close as I can be to home. That was something pretty cool for me.”
All told, it’s been a family-oriented road trip for Tellez, who lost his mother to brain cancer at the age of 53 last summer. Earlier in the week he reconnected with family on his mother’s side in Minneapolis. As he said, “I’ve had two families on this trip.”
Between the Shoemaker injury and the Tellez home run, the Blue Jays had already seen more than their share of action by the middle of the fourth inning. From that point on, the Blue Jays just kept scoring on their way to a 10-1 win that improves their record to 10-12.
Along with Tellez, Brandon Drury and Justin Smoak also homered as the Blue Jays set season highs in runs and hits (15). The last of those runs came against Kendrys Morales, who pitched the final inning of an entertaining but rather chaotic game that saw two rogue fans race onto the field (the first ran at A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty while the second made a faux-pitch from the mound before second-base umpire Jeff Nelson body-slammed him to the ground).
Smoak has been especially tough to retire of late, and has now reached base in 22 of his 42 last plate appearances since recovering from some early-season neck stiffness. After another two-hit day, he’s now hitting .274/.416/.516 on the season.
The Blue Jays got their first back-to-back home runs of the season when Drury followed up Smoak’s home run with one of his own — his second in as many days. Drury also singled and doubled for his first multi-hit game of the season.
Once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arrives in the majors, Drury’s role will change and he’ll play a combination of second base, third base and DH. Until then, the Blue Jays are pleased to see him coming around at the plate after a slow start.
With Shoemaker sidelined, the Blue Jays turned to Sam Gaviglio for length out of the bullpen. They couldn’t have asked for much more from Gaviglio, who pitched four hitless innings while striking out five.
If necessary, Gaviglio will be a candidate to replace Shoemaker in the starting rotation, but the Blue Jays could also get by with just four starters until early May. Off days on April 22, 25 and 29 provide plenty of flexibility if needed.
On defence, the Blue Jays got a memorable play from Freddy Galvis, who turned his back to the infield on a Josh Phegley pop up before reaching out to make a sensational bare-handed catch that ended the eighth inning.
“Unbelievable,” Gaviglio said. “I think that’s probably the best catch I’ll see all season, or maybe in my life.”
More clarity on Shoemaker will allow the Blue Jays to determine what their pitching staff looks like moving forward. For now they have a lopsided win to celebrate thanks in large part to Tellez’s big day.
“Our pitching’s been there the whole time, so now that we’re swinging the bats we’re playing good baseball,” Montoyo said. “It’s been fun.”