MONTREAL — It was a magic night at Olympic Stadium for Russell Martin and the Toronto Blue Jays, even if they didn’t get the victory.
Skip Schumaker drove in two runs with a double in the eighth inning as the Cincinnati Reds downed the Blue Jays 2-0 in an exhibition game Friday night before a crowd of 46,314 that seemed only to have eyes for local favourite Martin.
An obviously keyed up Martin went 0 for 3 at the plate and was replaced at the start of the eighth inning by Dioner Navarro, but there were a handful of ovations for the nine-year major league veteren who grew up in Montreal.
"It’s not many times you get recognized in your hometown like that," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Why wouldn’t he? He’s probably the most celebrated local boy, and now he’s playing with the Blue Jays.
"He’ll have another good day (Saturday) and then we’ll be off to start the real season and things will probably settle back to normal."
It is a second straight year that fans flooded into the Big O for pre-season Jays games, many for the party atmosphere, but also looking to convince Major League Baseball that Montreal is ready to get a team back after losing the Expos in 2004.
The teams meet again on Saturday afternoon.
While the game was mostly uneventful, it gave fans a chance to show their appreciation for Martin, who signed a five-year US$82 million deal with Toronto in the off-season.
Martin was leaking tears when his father, jazz musician Russell Martin Sr., played the national anthems on a saxophone. And he got a standing ovation as he went to bat in the first inning, only to strike out swinging.
"I definitely wanted to do well, but it ended up that way," said Martin. "I hoped to do something cool, but (Reds starter) Jason Marquis ended up doing something cooler."
It was no easier for Toronto native and Reds’ star Joey Votto, who went 0 for 2 and was replaced after five innings.
Martin said some of his teammates were surprise at the crowd reaction, and even that he can speak French.
"It was fun. The fans were sick," he said.
The game was scoreless into the eighth when reliever Aaron Loup walked Ray Chang and Jim Riggleman got to first on an infield hit. Two hitters later, lefty-hitting Schumaker went opposite field with a smash that got through third baseman Munenori Kawasaki for a double.
Ryan Goins opened the ninth with a single for the Blue Jays, but closer Nate Adcock then struck out two and got Jon Berti to pop up for the save.
The games in Montreal don’t count in the standings, but pitcher Mark Buehrle said the big crowd will be good experience for the Blue Jays’ younger players heading into their regular-season opener Monday against the Yankees in New York.
"It’s good to get out of spring training, to play under lights, play a night game," said Buehrle. "It doesn’t count, but it means a little more.
"It gets your engine revved up a bit and gets you ready for the regular season. It’s a totally different atmosphere. It’s kind of like a playoff atmosphere."
Buehrle gave up no runs and three hits in four innings. Matt Boyd, Liam Hendricks, Todd Redmond and Brett Cecil had a scoreless inning each. Loup (1-1) took the loss.
Marquis ceded one hit in five scoreless innings. Burke Badenhop (1-1) got the win.
Marquis and outfielder Marlon Byrd are the only current Reds to have played against the Expos in Montreal.
Note — Former Expos Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cabrera got a huge ovation in a pre-game ceremony.