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Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alex Manoah acknowledges the crowd as he leaves the game against the Chicago White Sox after being pulled in the eighth inning, in Toronto on June 2.Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press

Toronto Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah received a loud standing ovation inside Rogers Centre when he left Thursday’s game after pitching deep into the eighth inning of an 8-3 win over the Chicago White Sox.

He was shy of that first complete game he’s neared a few times – and he even shared a little joke about that with manager Charlie Montoyo as he handed over the ball. But it added to a string of long outings for the Blue Jays’ young right-hander, and Manoah mirrored the crowd’s applause as he walked to the dugout, smiling and clapping on his red baseball glove.

He helped the Jays extend their winning streak to eight games and kept his own stretch alive, too – he’s now 9-0 with a 2.12 earned-run average in career home starts. This one was especially impressive because he had to weather adversity in the first inning.

It was Manoah’s 10th start of the season, and just his 30th since his major-league debut slightly more than a year ago. The Blue Jays are 23-7 in his starts. On Thursday, he struck out five, allowed six hits, three earned runs, and a walk to improve to 6-1. It was his ninth quality start of the season – the most for an American League pitcher.

He’s thrown at least five innings with no more than two earned runs allowed in each outing this year. That includes his recent his six-inning performance in Anaheim against the Angels, in which he tossed a season-high nine strikeouts. Also the eight-inning performance to help beat the Cincinnati Reds last month – his career high in innings pitched – when cameras captured him imploring the manager and pitching coach to let him finish the game.

He understood when Montoyo took him out this time.

“It will come. I think it’d be pretty awesome, especially since you don’t see [many complete games] nowadays,” Manoah said afterward about his desire to go nine innings. “It’s something I pride myself on, just going out there and being a horse and eating up innings.”

Before Manoah’s start Thursday, the 24-year-old warmed up by playfully tossing a football in left field with Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos. Eventually they switched to a baseball, and the distance between them kept increasing, Manoah stepping further backward with each throw, until he’d crept his way to right field. He kept casting long, looping throws clear across the width of the vast green outfield. Then he paused, turned toward the wall and got down on one knee for a few minutes alone.

After that Manoah moved progressively closer again and his throws began to resemble pitches – knee up, velocity up, gaze increasingly intense. Then he disappeared into the bullpen for his final preparations. When he emerged, it was with a big smile, his arm draped boyishly around the shoulders of catcher Alejandro Kirk, as they walked to the Jays’ dugout in the minutes before the game.

The Jays’ starter chooses the team’s uniforms for each game. Manoah chose white, but asked for white hats, too, instead of the blue hats typically paired with that set.

The first inning was tense. Manoah gave up hits to his first two batters – a shallow pop-up that fell just shy of Bradley Zimmer’s glove in centre field, and a line drive bobbled oddly by Gold Glove infielder Matt Chapman. Manoah walked one to load the bases, too. At one point, he threw six straight balls, and Chapman went to the mound. It helped. Manoah managed two strikeouts and a pop-up to escape the inning and keep the White Sox without a run.

“Manoah is one of the best pitchers right now in the big leagues,” said Teoscar Hernandez, the Jays slugging outfielder. “Every time he goes to the mound, he’s going to give us a good game.”

The Jays drafted Manoah 11th overall in 2019, out of West Virginia University. He pitched in nine minor-league games before earning his big-league call-up last May. His debut was a six-inning runless performance against the New York Yankees.

“He’s got the mindset – it’s off the charts. Like you don’t teach that,” said Montoyo, recalling that when Manoah first arrived with his family, he said something to the manager such as, ‘I’m ready, man’.

“Yeah, [that mindset] is rare,” Montoyo added. “But the good ones have it.”

Montoyo said Manoah never took his foot off the gas since establishing himself in the majors. Even during MLB’s work stoppage in the spring, the Florida native put in a lot of work at Miami Dade Community College.

“He didn’t just take it for granted, ‘I’m good at pitching in the big leagues,’” Montoyo said.

Manoah said pitching nine innings crossed his mind in the eighth, when he gave up a two-run double to Luis Roberto to end his night.

“Baseball is great man; it teaches you lessons all the time,” Manoah said. “That’s a good lesson for me – to not worry about pitch count or look ahead in the game, just kind of stay in myself, continue to attack and what’s meant to happen will happen.”

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