Just like 29 other cities, we’re welcoming our home team back to regular season baseball this week. Not only that though, but we are truly welcoming back the BLUE Jays to major league baseball. Sure the name never was officially changed to the Toronto Jays, but you kind of got the impression that’s what the team was going for with the graphite and black colour scheme for the last 7 years. When the Jays took the field today at 3:05pm in Cleveland, they did so looking reminiscent of those World Championship teams that did so 20 years ago.
Spring was exciting for us this year. At 24-7 with a .774 winning percentage, the Jays were far and away the best team in the majors during the exhibition season. Unfortunately, aside from momentum, the spring season means absolutely nothing and now everyone is equal at 0s as we begin the push towards October. Major League Baseball has given us an extra playoff round this year, a one-game sudden death round between two wildcard teams. This extra round guarantees the excitement we saw with 4 teams playing for 2 spots at the end of 2011, every year. The way the AL East is shaping up in 2012, this extra round could very well play into the Jays favour. As the Cardinals showed last year, all you have to do is get in and anything can happen.
With all the momentum the Jays had leading into today’s season opener, and the disappointment put up by the Leafs and Raptors this winter, excitement is over flowing for this team. There’s still 161 games left, and the excitement for this young team is off the charts. Ricky Romero (0-0, ND) came out of the gate hot with a 3 up 3 down first inning, however the same could not be said about the second. Romero walked the lead off man, gave up a solid double, walked another man and a no doubter by Jack Hannahan to right field put the cap on the 4 run inning. Fortunately for Romero, DH Edwin Encarnacion (2-7, 2-Run 2B K) hit a 2-run double to tie the game in the top of the 9th off of Indians’ closer Chris Perez (0-0, BS). Unfortunately for the Jays however, if that double was inches higher the game would have ended 5-4 Toronto after 9. Only the first game of the year and already the Blue Jays are giving us extra baseball! The longest opening day game in the history of the Major Leagues.
Justin Masterson (0-0, ND) was outstanding today. Very efficient going 8 innings and only allowing 2 hits, 1 run and notching his 2nd career ten-strikeout game. He threw 99 pitches over those 8 innings, kept the Jays off balance with the sinker and just looked dominant in his season debut. The one black mark on Masterson’s day came in the top of the 4th when half an inning after an obviously struggling Ricky Romero hit Shin Soo Choo, the Indians’ starter immediately threw 2 inside pitches to Kelly Johnson. Home Plate Umpire Tim Welke immediately warned both benches, and from that point on the game was quiet until Choo furthered the bad blood when he took steps towards Perez in the 15th inning after another pitch sailed over his head. I can understand why Choo would be upset, however he needs to recognize that in an extra inning game, nobody wants to put free runners on base. Clearly Tim Welke agreed because Perez wasn’t ejected even though both benches had been previously warned.
Blue Jays fan favourite and offensive leader Jose Bautista (3-4, HR 2BB Sac Fly) picked up right where he left off last year hitting his first home run of 2012, and putting him on pace for 162 this year. I kid of course. Colby Rasmus looked terrible at the plate, making up for it with a defensive gem in Centre Field. The rest of the team was ineffective until the 9th inning at the plate, and while they were able to rack up a few more hits in the extra innings they weren’t able to cash in the runners. That is until the 16th, when JP Arencibia (1-7, HR 3RBI) drove home Brett Lawrie and Omar Vizquel to put the Jays up 7-4 for good.
As far as the pitching goes, the plan this year is to have the starters earn 21 outs (7 innings). As mentioned earlier, Romero was shaky and only went 5, allowing three walks of which two scored. This was part of the reason the Blue Jays had so many blown saves in 2011, an over-taxed bullpen that needed more rest. Of course this is only the first day of a 162-game season, but it is worth mentioning. A white-knuckled bottom of the 9th saw Francisco Cordero strand Jason Donald (pinch running from Travis Hafner) at 3rd after reaching the spot with only one out. Carlos Villanueva threw a spectacular 10th inning, allowing only two walks and a hit over 2.1 innings and putting to rest the concern of his early spring numbness. Luis Perez (1-0) gave up three walks and struck out three over 4 innings pitched to earn the first win of the season. Sergio Santos mopped up the last 2 outs for the opening day victory.
Defensively they Jays gambled in the 12th when they pulled Eric Thames from left field and inserted Omar Vizquel as a 5th infielder with the bases loaded and 1 out. The gamble paid off, and Luis Perez caused Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into a double play.
No matter what happened today though, baseball is back and for the first time in in a while excitement is over flowing for the Blue Jays in Toronto. Only 161 to go, hopefully plus playoffs.