By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
The Blue Jays’ first home opener in Toronto in three years won’t soon be forgotten by Teoscar Hernández, his teammates, or the sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre.
Hernández had a three-run blast and scored the winning run as Toronto rallied for a raucous 10-8 win over the Texas Rangers on Friday. It was the first time Rogers Centre had hosted a home opener since 2019, as COVID-19 restrictions forced the Blue Jays to play all of 2020 and most of 2021 in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y.
When the team did return to Toronto late last summer Ontario still had capacity limits in place for most venues, limiting the cavernous Rogers Centre to just 15,000 fans.
“The moment was very special,” said Hernández of Friday’s win. “I think there’s not a single player in this clubhouse that is going to forget today, what happened today.”
Hernández played in Toronto’s last home opener at Rogers Centre, a 2-0 loss to Detroit, but the Blue Jays’ core of young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio had never experienced it until Friday.
They got the full experience with a crowd of 45,022 at Rogers Centre, the first sellout at Toronto’s ballpark since March 29, 2018, wildly cheering and booing with every lead change in the back-and-forth game.
“We always knew it was going to be like that from the beginning,” said Hernández. “We’re just excited to be back and enjoy every single moment with the fans.”
Danny Jansen added some insurance with an eighth-inning homer as Toronto (1-0) came back from a 7-0 deficit.
José Berríos gave up four runs in just a third of an inning as Toronto’s Opening Day starter escaped with a no decision. Berríos said that he felt good warming up before the game but when he got to the mound he was throwing instead of pitching.
“When it came to game I was trying to be too perfect, I think like too nasty and I didn’t throw the ball over the plate,” he said.
Seven relievers came out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, with Adam Cimber recording the win and Jordan Romano of nearby Markham, Ont., earning the save.
“Everyone here can help the team win ball games and we saw that tonight, our bullpen kept us in game,” said Berríos. “They battled, they pitched, they competed.”
Mitch Garver’s two-run home run helped Texas (0-1) build a 6-0 lead by the end of the second inning. Brad Miller and Adolis Garcia added solo blasts for the visitors.
Jon Gray struck out four but allowed three runs over four innings for the Rangers and left the game when he developed a blister on his throwing hand. Dennis Santana, one of four Texas relievers, took the loss.
A lengthy pre-game ceremony kept the crowd on its feet for more than 35 minutes. Guerrero, Hernández, and Marcus Semien — who signed with Texas in the off-season after playing for the Blue Jays last year — formally received their Silver Slugger awards. Guerrero earned the loudest cheers, including M-V-P chants, as he trotted out from the dugout during team introductions.
Miller, leading off for Texas, immediately quieted the Rogers Centre crowd when he bounced a 1-2 pitch from Berríos off the stadium’s second deck.
Berríos’s struggles didn’t end there. He couldn’t get his first out until he was six batters into the Rangers’ lineup and Toronto was trailing 3-0. By the middle of the fourth inning Texas had built a 7-0 lead.
“It’s funny because it seems like everybody was a little nervous at the beginning because we expected so many people and we want to give them a good show,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo.
“But then we settled down.”
Guerrero singled home George Springer in the fourth and advanced Bichette to second. Hernández then walked to load the bases and brought Lourdes Gurriel Jr., up to bat.
Gurriel hit into a fielder’s choice scoring Bichette and Alejandro Kirk’s sacrifice fly brought in Guerrero to cut Texas’s lead to 7-3.
“You give them a little bit of hope, they’re going to feed off of that,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. “They’re a very talented but also emotional team, so they feed off of that emotion.”
The top of Toronto’s batting order kept chipping away in the fifth.
Springer drew a two-out walk before Bichette and Guerrero had back-to-back singles to score again. Hernández then smashed a pitch just over the right-field fence to tie the game 7-7.
Santiago Espinal, pinch hitting for Biggio, gave Toronto its first lead of the game with a double in the sixth, cashing in Jansen. But Garcia tied it back up for Texas in the seventh with his homer.
A controversial play in the bottom of that inning put Toronto back ahead.
Hernández was called out at home plate by umpire Bill Welke when Gurriel doubled to deep left and advanced to third on Miller’s throw. Fans chanted “Safe!” as umpires reviewed the play but erupted with cheers when the call was reversed and Hernández was ruled safe.
“I mean, there’s not a better moment than that,” said Hernández.
Jansen gave the Blue Jays more of a cushion with a one-out home run for the game’s final score.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2022.
Feature image via The Canadian Press