TORONTO — Charlie Montoyo’s old locker in the coach’s room at Tropicana Field used to be quite the scene, overflowing not only with clothes and gear, but also with a vast array of Tampa Bay Rays promotional merchandise. By the end of each season, it was all there, from the year’s lineup of bobbleheads to things like wristbands, seat cushions and even boogie boards.
“Charlie was very passionate about the giveaways at the Trop,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He made sure he always had enough.”
That’s why when the American League East leaders arrived for their first series of the season against their former bench coach and the Toronto Blue Jays, they brought a couple of boxes stuffed with more giveaways. Cleverly, the swag found its way into Montoyo’s new office and was spread all over his locker stall, offering quite the surprise when he walked in Friday.
“We wanted to make sure he had all of his Christmas gifts aligned,” said Cash. “Hopefully he received them well and he can put them to good use.”
“When I got into the clubhouse I got presents,” Montoyo told reporters gathered for his daily media briefing before dumping them all on the floor. “You guys can have them.”
The pre-game hijinks had Montoyo vowing revenge — “Yeah, buddy, there’s going to be something in their clubhouse tomorrow” — even before the Rays pounded two home runs into the fifth deck off starter Trent Thornton and withstood a late rally for an 11-7 victory.
Thornton was roughed up for five runs on eight hits — Austin Meadows hit a leadoff homer and then put one into the 500 level in the third inning, as did Brandon Lowe four batters later — and the Blue Jays fell behind 8-0 before a six-spot in the seventh tightened things up.
Things got wilder in the eighth when Richard Urena ripped a ball through Ji-Man Choi at first to bring home Justin Smoak and make it an 8-7 contest. Then, after an intentional walk to Alen Hanson (true story) loaded the bases, Luke Maile was called out on strikes on a couple of borderline breaking balls from Diego Castillo.
The Rays capitalized on that in the ninth against Javy Guerra, using an RBI double by Mike Zunino and a two-run homer from Willy Adames to push the game out of reach.
Aside from trying to pawn off items like a DJ Kitty mascot head and reconnecting with friends from an organization in which he spent two decades, Montoyo formulated a batting order designed to counter Rays opener Ryne Stanek and the parade of relievers to follow; received bad news on Ryan Borucki, who had a cortisone shot to ease new pain in his elbow; and spent nine innings trying to navigate a batting order that beat up everyone but Sam Gaviglio and Daniel Hudson.
Thornton, his role in the rotation all the more important now in the wake of Borucki’s setback even with Clay Buchholz set to start Saturday, generated eight swinging strikes, but also surrendered an average exit velo of 99.8 m.p.h.
“I wasn’t locating my fastball very well,” said Thornton. “Off-speed stuff was OK. They hit a lot of balls hard and obviously I suffered from that. If I locate my pitches better and execute my pitches, throwing stuff I want to throw where I want to throw it, it’s a different outcome.”
After Gaviglio settled things down, Lowe hit his second two-run homer of the night off Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, who proceeded to load the bases before a 6-5-3 double-play ball by Meadows got him out of a jam.
The Blue Jays offence finally got going in the sixth, getting an RBI double from Teoscar Hernandez, a two-run single from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., an RBI single from Hanson and a two-run shot from Maile. The inning ended when Freddy Galvis tried to advance to third when a ball squirted away from Zunino, but it hit Smoak, leading to an out at third base. The Blue Jays didn’t challenge, even though a replay suggested Galvis might have been safe.
“Our process said no, from what I hear,” Montoyo said of the decision to not challenge. “We should have so I guess we have to review our process to make it better.”
Then the rally in the eighth fizzled and it all went for naught, the Blue Jays reminded that they’re still chasing the Rays, both on the field and in pranks, too.
“They’re my friends, Kevin is one of my best friends but the moment the game starts, I want to beat him just like he wants to beat me,” said Montoyo. “Of course I wish them the best, they’re doing good, good for them, but I would love to take three from them.”
All he can do is shoot for two, now.