TORONTO — Auston Matthews is under fire to bring the heat.
The NHL's reigning MVP and former Arizona Little Leaguer is set to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday's Toronto Blue Jays–New York Yankees game.
And if there wasn't enough pressure to avoid a 50 Cent moment at a packed Rogers Centre, what with the Jays gathering playoff momentum and Aaron Judge barreling toward history, Matthews' teammates are doing their best to get in the pitcher's head.
"It'll be fun if he does chunk it or throw like (poop)," Mitch Marner chides. "It would be quite funny.
"Yeah, we're gonna get on Auston tonight. Make sure that he knows he's gotta throw some heat in there, and there's some high expectations."
Because Judge is sitting at 60 home runs (hey, the same number of goals Matthews scored last season), just one shy of tying Roger Marris's Yankees and American League record, Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly is predicting a few chirpping Leafs will be part of a packed dome.
"I think it's going to be pretty packed because of what Judge is chasing. So, there might be a little bit extra pressure. He was talking about using some Spider Tack, so we'll get the umps out and make sure it's legal," says Rielly, wryly.
"I think you got to put a little pressure on him. Maybe he puts one in the dirt. That'd be nice."
Has Rielly ever seen Matthews throw?
"I mean, we don't exactly play a lot of catch. But I know he's a good athlete, so I'm sure he'll be fine," Rielly replies. "Might throw some off-speed stuff."
Matthews knows what his buddies are up to, with all their encouragement to light up the gun.
"Maybe embarrass myself?" Matthews says of their objective. “I wasn’t much of a pitcher, honestly. I had a pretty wild arm, so I usually caught. I pitched a little bit, but not very good.
"I’d like to think growing up and playing that I have a decent throw. I should be able to get it there, I think."
Matthews' roots in the American pastime are legit.
His father, Brian, was a strong pitcher in his day. And Matthews himself played competitively — including one season of travel ball — until age 13, when he ultimately chose hockey after missing too many baseball practices.
In his youth, Matthews' specialty was Judge's — the long ball. A strength the lefthanded hitter showed off back in 2017 at Rogers Centre, when he crushed a home run taking batting practice:
"Growing up, my dad always told me the hardest thing in sports is to hit a little white baseball coming at you 100 miles an hour," says Matthews, who knows a thing or two about crushing longstanding team records. "So, it’s pretty cool to see what (Judge) has been able to do and the history of that franchise and how far back it goes.
"It seems like the last two months this guy is hitting homers every night."
How far Matthews will go Tuesday is all the way to the rubber. He won't cheat and lob his pitch in front of the mound, although Marner has warned him that the bump will make the toss more difficult.
Marner recalls his own first pitch, in June of 2017.
"I was too nervous to kind of throw some heat," Marner admits. "I was nervous as hell."
Marner was too shook to trot all the way out to the mound, until he got some advice and some guilt from the Blue Jays players.
"They're telling me how serious it is and that (extra) couple feet is how people ground the balls into home plate. I wasn't gonna do it," Marner says.
"Then Marcus Stroman forced me to do it, which ended up being a lot cooler of a moment. A cooler feeling, seeing how they really feel up there and how lonely it is and how far it is."
Matthews plans to warm up well before his big moment tonight. He doesn’t want to give Marner, Rielly and the boys any dressing-room ammunition with an errant throw.
"I wasn’t much of a pitcher, honestly. I had a pretty wild arm, so I usually caught. I pitched a little bit, but not very good," Matthews says.
"It’s been a minute since I’ve thrown a baseball, but I’m looking forward to it."