A card game scrambled together by Jason Grilli, the newly minted closer during the absence of the sore-necked Roberto Osuna, was unfolding on one side of the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse.
It was before the game Wednesday afternoon and the baseball players were acting baseball player-like as they whiled away their time before the finale of their season-opening series against the Baltimore Orioles.
On the other side of the room, his feet propped up against his locker as he lounged in his chair, newcomer Kendrys Morales appeared right at home.
The beefy new Toronto power bat was playing DJ before DH and his music, blaring from his portable Bluetooth speaker, filled the room, drawing smirks from players as they sauntered by.
What an eclectic mix it was.
First it was the musical stylings of Alberto Barros, a Colombian musician who is nicknamed the Titan of Salsa and it was easy to understand why. You expected the Rumba to break out at any moment.
After a couple of songs, Morales then directed his smart phone to transition into the country flavourings of the deep-voiced Josh Turner before Mungo Jerry’s 1970s megahit In the Summertime took the room to a whole other level.
The baseball season is still in its infancy, and the Blue Jays, oh so confident in their abilities, remain loosey-goosey.
A win would be a way to back up some of the bravado, but the Blue Jays did not provide one. The Orioles utilized the home run ball to spank Toronto starter J.A. Happ 3-1 to win their second in a row to mark the start of the season.
The Orioles once again stymied the Toronto batters, with starter Dylan Bundy controlling most of the way. He allowed just one run and four hits with eight strike outs over seven innings of solid work. He was especially effective against the so-called meat of the Toronto order with Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Morales and Troy Tulowitzki, batting two through five, going a combined 3-for-16 with all of Bundy’s punch-outs coming against this group.
Zach Britton, the usually reliable Baltimore closer, came on in the ninth and was wobbly, walking Russell Martin to load the bases with one out.
But Britton shut the door after that, regrouping to get Steve Pearce to hit into an inning-ending double play.
“Early,” came the succinct answer from Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar, when asked afterward to summarize the two Toronto setbacks to start the year off on the wrong foot. “Two of 160 [games] left.
“Opportunities were there, we just didn’t capitalize.”
The Blue Jays, who dropped the season-opener 3-2 to Baltimore on Monday on an 11th-inning walk-off home run by Trumbo, felt pretty good about their chances heading into Wednesday’s second game.
They had Happ, a 20-game winner a year ago, on the mound. And the long-legged lefty has been among the game’s best starters since he reinvented himself in Pittsburgh following a trade there midway through the 2015 season.
After tinkering with his delivery, Happ went 7-2 with the Pirates with a sparkling 1.85 earned-run average, which paved the way to his joining Toronto last season as a free agent.
Taking into account his stint with the Pirates and then last season, Happ had an impressive overall mark of 27-6 through 43 starts heading into Wednesday’s game. His 2.86 ERA is fourth lowest among the game’s starters for pitchers who have logged at least 250 innings.
Toronto manager John Gibbons said before the game he is expecting Happ to pick right up where he left off last season.
“He had a tremendous year last year, he set the bar high,” Gibbons said before the game. “And he looked good in spring training. But he’s a new pitcher now. He gets ground balls so he can bail himself out a little bit easier than he used to be able to.
“I don’t see why he can’t do it again.”
Happ was effective, striking out nine over seven innings while allowing just five hits – but two of them were home run bombs from Adam Jones and Chris Davis.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the third after Devon Travis went the other way into left with a single that scored Justin Smoak from second.
Then Baltimore went to work with the long ball.
First it was Jones teeing off a Happ fastball in the third, a two-run shot to left that vaulted the Orioles in front 2-1.
The inning concluded with Pillar making another of his now-patented circus catches in centre field. He tracked back quickly to haul in a laser shot by Manny Machado and somehow hung on after his body crashed into the padded outfield wall.
“That’s just what I do, I try to go make plays,” Pillar said.
In the fourth, Davis followed Jones’s lead, launching another misguided Happ fastball a long way over the wall in straightaway centre to make it 3-1.Report Typo/Error
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