TORONTO – Josh Donaldson’s first trip back to Oakland after the Athletics dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays was a big deal in the summer of 2015. There was a buzz at the O.co Coliseum, as baseball’s worst stadium was known then, a huge throng of media waiting for the star third baseman as he arrived, and grateful cheers from the crowd each time he came to the plate. A pair of doubles with an RBI for Donaldson helped deliver a 7-1 victory.
Marcus Semien, just 24 at the time and in his first full season as an everyday shortstop, noticed the fuss and still remembers that day, along with the return of Yoenis Cespedes that year, too.
“Those were the two fan favourites on those teams. You always heard about it,” said Semien, acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Jeff Samardzija about two weeks after Donaldson was dealt. “You talk to A’s fans and they were really hurt by losing Cespedes and Donaldson. I'm pretty sure Donaldson did some damage in that series, too. That's something everyone wants to do when they come back to their old team, have a good series. It's funny, you see some guys get booed, some guys get cheered. It's just part of the game.”
Semien was one of the guys who got cheered when he completed the lifecycle of an Athletics star player Monday, returning as part of a team willing to pay him market value. He had a quieter first night back than Donaldson, but still saw 30 pitches while collecting a walk in the second, a bases-loaded flyout in the third, a single in the sixth and a strikeout with the tying run at second in the eighth inning of a 5-4 Blue Jays loss. Two pitches before his flyout, Semien ripped a fastball over the left-field wall mere feet foul, a swing that nearly wrote a far different tale.
Steven Matz provided five innings for a beat-up pitching staff but also gave up all five runs in an outing where he, to some extent, outpitched the results. The damage came on consecutive doubles to Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie ahead of Stephen Piscotty’s homer in the third, and a two-run homer to Ramon Laureano in the fifth that put Oakland up 5-3.
Both longballs came on changeups “lolling through the zone,” he lamented. “It's mainly getting it more out of the zone and being aggressive with it and kind of using it almost as like a put away pitch from the start. I felt like I was able to get two strikes on a lot of these hitters and just wasn't able to put them away or execute good pitches.”
Hence his venting in the dugout when manager Charlie Montoyo approached him after the fifth and told him his night was through at 92 pitches. Matz stood up, appeared to shout some indelicate words and slammed down his hat.
“I was pretty fired up,” he said. “We had a tie game going. I know the bullpen has been working really hard. I want to just keep getting back out there and keep getting into a rhythm and everything. And to get snake-bitten by that (Laureano) home run right there and get pulled is extremely frustrating. You just want to go out there and compete for your team, so everything definitely was frustrating.”
Still, he did enough to ensure the Blue Jays could hold back Anthony Kay to start Tuesday, although whether George Springer will be ready following what Montoyo described as “an already planned” rest day is less clear.
The star outfielder left Sunday’s game, his fourth since returning from a quad strain, with what the team called fatigue and, before the game, Montoyo said he wasn’t sure if Springer would be available off the bench. A pinch-hit moment arose in the ninth when Danny Jansen came up, but Springer remained on the bench in his hoodie as the catcher struck out against Jake Diekman.
“If he could have, I would have. He couldn’t. That’s why he didn’t pinch hit,” said Montoyo.
As for Tuesday, the Blue Jays will check if he’s ready to DH in the morning, and when asked if Springer was still experiencing the residual effects of what he felt Sunday, Montoyo replied, “a little bit, yes. Enough that we couldn’t take the chance of pinch-hitting him there at the end.”
That further muddles the club’s roster situation, with Alejandro Kirk “for sure going to be out more than 10 days” with his left hip flexor injury, according to the manager, who was non-committal about Riley Adams getting a start this week.
The club is thought to be looking at bringing in the more experienced Reese McGuire to cover, although it’s not clear which way they’ll ultimately lean.
Despite all that, the Blue Jays grinded this one out. A string of five hits in six batters in the third highlighted by Bo Bichette’s RBI single and a two-run single by Teoscar Hernandez off Frankie Montas tied the game 3-3.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., ripped a leadoff double off Lou Trivino in the eighth and eventually scored on a wild pitch during Semien’s seven-pitch strikeout, making it a one-run game. Joe Panik flew out soon after to end the frame before a three-up, three-down ninth.
The Blue Jays took two of three from Oakland during that Donaldson return series July 21-23, 2015, and the next week they went through the transformative trade deadline that helped propel them to a 43-18 finish. Semien got the tribute video, cheers from fans and greetings from his former teammates during his first night back, just not a win.