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.
Monday in Panama, Canada took on perennial baseball powerhouse Japan. Shawn Hill (amateur) went 5 innings striking out 3, and allowing 3 hits and 1 walk. Japan’s only run came in the 6th inning off of Jay Johnson (Phillies A affiliate) in the 6th inning after he went 0.2 innings and walking 2 batters. Chris Kissok (Phillies AA affiliate) and Dustin Molleken (Rockies AAA affiliate) both threw to a handfull of batters before Jimmy Henderson (Brewers AAA affiliate) pitched the 9th to earn the save.
On the offensive side of the field, Jimmy Van Ostrand (Astros AA affiliate) went 1 for 4 with an RBI while Cole Armstrong (Angels AAA affiliate) was 1 for 3 driving in 2.
The 2-0 Canadians will try to continue their torrid pace in the tournament Tuesday with a 2:00 first pitch against Greece.
Canada won bronze in the 2009 world cup and has begun the current incarnation off with a big win in Panama against Puerto Rico. They blew it open early with a 3-0 lead after the first, a 6-0 lead after the 3rd and added three more runs in the 6th to eventually wind up with a 9-1 victory.
Canadian starter Andrew Albers (Twins AA Affiliate) went 5 innings giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks, and didn’t allow any runs. Mop up duty was handled by Mike Johnson (amateur) and Scott Richmond (Blue Jays AAA Affiliate). Jimmy Van Ostrand (Astros AA Affiliate) was the offensive star Sunday, finishing with 3 runs scored and 3 RBI.
Canada will take on perennial favourite Japan on Monday afternoon, once again at Rod Carew stadium.
Chase Field – Phoenix, AZ
- David Ortiz 4 – Two Round Total: 9 *Eliminated
- Robinson Cano 12 – Two Round Total: 20
- Adrian Gonzalez 11 – Two Round Total: 20
- Prince Fielder 4 – Two Round Total: 9 *Eliminated
Chase Field – Phoenix, AZ
- Adrian Gonzalez – 9 (447′ Longest, 422′ Avg)
- Matt Holiday – 5 (443′ Longest, 418′ Avg) [2 in swing-off] *Eliminated
- Robinson Cano – 8 (472′ Longest, 449′ Avg)
- Rickie Weeks – 3 (427′ Longest, 420′ Avg) *Eliminated
- Jose Bautista – 4 (412′ Longest, 401′ Avg) *Eliminated
- Matt Kemp – 2 (427′ Longest, 425′ Avg) *Eliminated
- David Ortiz – 5 (452′ Longest, 413′ Avg) [4 in swing-off]
- Prince Fielder – 5 (452′ Longest, 419′ Avg) [5 in swing-off]
As I tuned in to watch Roy Halladay make his in game return to Toronto as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies I thought it would be an exciting game. No matter how cool Halladay is, I figured the emotion of coming back to the place where it all began would be overwhelming for the tall right hander. The city that treated him as a king gave him an ovation deserving of royalty as he took the field in the bottom of the 1st inning. Surely the first time he started a game in Toronto on the bench while his team was at bat. Oh, and give the props to the Phillies who waited in the dugout for Halladay to trot out to the mound by himself. Letting the fans give him a proper thank you before they start jeering him as the opposing pitcher.
Unfortunately this game will be marred by the absolutely terrible display put on by Alfonso Marquez. It was apparent that Marquez was going to make himself the centre of attention right from the first inning. When Toronto’s new hero Jose Bautista was wrung up on a 3-2 count while he trotted towards 1st with an apparent base on balls. As Pat Tabler showed us on the replay, the pitch trax perhaps called the pitch a strike right on the bottom part of the zone. However if your watched the top half of the inning you would see that at least 3 Phillies were given balls on the same pitch. You could see the frustration building through the innings as borderline pitches would go Halladay’s way but when the Jays were in the field the calls were clearly against them. You heard angry yelps from Aaron Hill, Jose Bautista, and notably Jon Rauch when blown call after blown call came from Marquez. You knew something was about to happen when Rauch threw 2 perfect pitches in a row, 1 on the corner and 1 at the knees of Ryan Howard only to have them called balls. He bent over with his hands on his knees in exasperation, shaking almost as if he was laughing at the ludicrous call. After Shane Victorino lashed the very next pitch into left for an RBI, Rauch let Marquez know what he thought about his strike zone. Of course this led to Rauch having to be held back by 3 coaches in a clip I’m sure we’ve all seen by now. However if you haven’t, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xzeRV24oSI
Long story short the Blue Jays were beat by Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Halladay was spectacular, and his return to Rogers Centre was epic. In the 1st inning I tweeted the following:
After the Bautista strike out I tweeted:
At the time I called him star struck. Thinking maybe Doc Halladay was getting a couple benefit of the doubt calls. Thought maybe the emotion was getting to him too and it would settle out as the game went on. I thought maybe the Blue Jays would get some make-up calls later on. As we saw though the bias continued straight through to the 9th inning. This needs to be dealt with! Discipline for umpires is non-existant. Sure the umpires are rated every year but really what does that mean? So this year a bad rating for Marquez means he won’t get to umpire the World Series. That’s really not a punishment. When CB Buckner can be continually rated the worst umpire in the league by the players and still come back year after year tells us the umpire ranking system means nothing. I know the umpire union stands in the way, but something needs to be done. Maybe poorly ranked umpires can be sent to the minors, or suspended without pay. No matter what the MLB decides, they have to do something. Accountability needs to happen soon.
Instant replay with Managers Challenges would be a good place to start, but that’s a discussion for another day.
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to comment.