Blue Jays set the tone with emotional comeback win in season opener

Hazel Mae and Arden Zwelling discuss Teoscar Hernandez's consistently impactful bat and Jose Berrios' performance on opening day.

TORONTO – Anyone else experiencing déjà vu?

You’ve got the Texas Rangers in town for a big game, the seventh inning features an error from a Rangers infielder along with a pivotal replay review and the slugging right fielder delivers a memorable three-run home run. Finally, after an emotional night, the Blue Jays win.

Of course, the stakes are lower now than they were back in 2015, when Jose Bautista’s bat flip home run sent the Blue Jays to the ALCS, but this win was not insignificant, either. By coming back to win a game they once trailed 7-0, the Blue Jays set the tone for a season that began with high hopes.

Along the way, they rewarded the patience of the first sellout crowd at Rogers Centre in more than three years and won their home opener for the first time since 2011. If Friday’s 10-8 win is in any way indicative of what’s to come, these 2022 Blue Jays are in for a memorable season.

“There’s not a single player in this clubhouse who’s going to forget what happened today,” said Teoscar Hernandez, who hit the game-tying home run in the fifth and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh. “We never panic. We know what we’re capable of. We trust in each other and, little by little, we came back.”

Yet for a while, the Blue Jays appeared to be headed toward yet another disappointing opener. Making his first start in Toronto since signing a seven-year, $131 million contract, Jose Berrios allowed a home run to the first batter he faced and it only got worse from there. The next six hitters also reached, and Berrios had recorded just one out when he gave way to the bullpen. Just like that, it was 4-0.

“Tonight I wasn’t locating well,” Berrios said. “I was trying to be too perfect, I think. Too nasty.”

“I’m upset at the way I pitched obviously, but I’m happy that I have a great team that has my back.”

While Berrios topped out at 96.5 m.p.h., he generated just one swinging strike on the 34 pitches he threw. His curveball consistently missed its target, meaning his most important off-speed pitch was essentially neutralized.

The way manager Charlie Montoyo saw it, the Blue Jays were on edge early on – eager to impress the sellout crowd of 45,022 perhaps. That led to some defensive misplays which, when paired with a lack of command from Berrios, helped Texas build an early lead.

“Everybody was a little nervous at the beginning – the whole team,” Montoyo said. “It’s to be expected with so many people and wanting to give a good show, but then we settled down and came back.”

Once Berrios left, the Blue Jays’ bullpen kept the game close thanks to the combined efforts of Tayler Saucedo, Trent Thornton, Ross Stripling, Julian Merryweather, Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia and Jordan Romano. On a night Berrios recorded just one out, that group had to combine for 26.

“We believe in every guy in that room,” Berrios said afterwards. “Everyone here can help the team … They battled, they pitched and they competed.” 

After a slow start, the offence got on the board with a three-run fourth. Then, with two outs in the fifth, George Springer got the Blue Jays started with a walk. Singles from Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. brought Springer home and Hernandez stepped up to the plate with the chance to tie the game.

With a 1-1 count, catcher Mitch Garver called for a fastball up and away and reliever Josh Sborz hit the glove with a 98 m.p.h. fastball. Even in the big leagues, hitters aren’t supposed to be able to do much with that. But Hernandez stayed back, swung hard and sent that Sborz fastball flying to the opposite field for a three-run home run. Tie game.

“He’s that good,” Montoyo said. “He’s a Silver Slugger. We’ve got a really good lineup. If you don’t want to pitch to Vladdy, go ahead, pitch to Teo. I love watching that stuff. Opposite field? That was a bomb.”

Two innings later, Hernandez would again figure into a pivotal play. Bo Bichette was picked off after reaching on a Corey Seager fielding error, but Hernandez walked to bring Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the plate. Gurriel Jr. lined a ball down the left-field line, sending Hernandez around third while the Rangers relayed the ball home. Hernandez was initially ruled out, but the play was overturned on replay review, giving the Blue Jays the lead for good.

“I felt like I got my feet into home plate, but it was really close” Hernandez said. “There’s not a better moment in a game like that than when you score on a really close play.”

Danny Jansen would later homer to give the Blue Jays an insurance run before Romano came in to close out the team’s first win of the season.

Clearly, there’s plenty of work remaining for the Blue Jays, who open their year with 10 consecutive games and 30 contests within the season’s first 31 days. Starting the season with a depleted bullpen is less than ideal and either way – it’s far too early to ride the emotional roller coaster just yet.

But starting 1-0 certainly beats the alternative, and winning in dramatic fashion will only reinforce this team’s belief in itself. To borrow Guerrero Jr.’s analogy, if this year is the movie, it’s off to a gripping start.

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