Before the game, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins was remarking how he liked the veteran makeup of his team and the accompanying will to win that he says comes naturally with all that experience.
“Pick which one you think is stronger – our offensive production or starting pitching,” Atkins said.
As the Blue Jays gear up for the 2017 season with expectations running high for a third-straight playoff appearance, Toronto starter Marco Estrada at least lived up to Atkins’s billing.
As for the offence, well, it’s still a work in progress – as the Baltimore Orioles scraped out a 3-2 win in 11 innings in the season opener for both American League clubs Monday here at Camden Yards.
And the loss reinforced just how much the Blue Jays might miss closer Roberto Osuna, who started the season on the 10-day disabled list with a cervical spasm.
Veteran Jason Grilli, who has been anointed Osuna’s primary replacement in the interim, was on the mound in the 11th and served up a fat, 81-mile-an-hour slider to Mark Trumbo.
Trumbo, who led the majors last season with 47 home runs, did what he does best – walloping the ball over the wall in left field for the walk-off winner.
Trumbo’s “got thump in his bat,” said Toronto newcomer Steve Pearce, who rapped out three of Toronto’s nine hits against his former club. “He can change the game with one swing. Unfortunately he did it.”
The last time these two clubs met was in last October’s emotionally charged A.L. wild-card playoff game, a 5-2 Toronto win in 11 innings.
And that only added to the loathing the Blue Jays face in these parts – the result of a rivalry that has heated up over the past few years.
By no means did Kevin Pillar, Toronto’s starting centre fielder, help tame those hard feelings when he twice helicoptered his bat into the third-base stands during the same at bat in the eighth inning.
But most of the fans’ venom was heaped on Jose Bautista, the Toronto slugger who was roundly booed when his name was announced as the starting right fielder – and every time he came to bat, for that matter.
Bautista did his best to silence his critics, but it wasn’t with his bat. He went 0-5 with a walk, but he shone defensively in right, throwing out Chris Davis, who was trying to stretch a single into a double in the third inning. And in the ninth, Bautista made a difficult diving catch running in on a sinking liner off the bat of Joey Rickard. He then threw to first base to double up on Welington Castillo, who was running on the play.
On the other side of the diamond, Baltimore’s Manny Machado made a terrific play at third, diving toward the bag in the top of the 11th to vacuum up a scorched ground ball off the bat of Devon Travis. From one knee, Machado then made an accurate one-bounce throw to first to nip Travis by a hair. It was the defensive play of the game.
The stadium was jumping for the early (3 p.m. ET) start, and the weather, for early April, was overcast but still a scrumptious 18 degrees at first pitch.
Many fans were outfitted in the distinctive orange Baltimore jerseys. The woman working the media elevator even had her long, manicured nails painted the same vibrant hue.
Former Baltimore great Cal Ripken had a choice seat in the front row behind home plate and was afforded a hearty cheer when the camera zoomed in on him in the top of the third inning.
Pearce, one of Toronto’s off-season free-agent signings, is expected to get most of his starts in left field, but he was at first to start the game Monday in place of Justin Smoak. Ezequiel Carrera got the nod in left.
Manager John Gibbons said Smoak will get plenty of work at first.
“We got Pearce because we want his bat in this lineup,” said Gibbons, explaining the rationale for his opening-day lineup. “I’m thinking today, Marco’s pitching, a fly ball guy … We want our best defence in the outfield to catch those fly balls, run them down. And that’s where Carrera fits in there.”
That reasoning did not exactly pan out in the second inning when Carrera and Pillar got crossed up on a fly ball to left centre by Castillo. It should have been caught but it fell between the two players for a lead-off double.
Carrera more than made up for the gaffe with his bat, collecting two hits, including a big double down the right field line in the sixth inning that evened the score at 2-2.
The Orioles had led 2-0, both runs coming in the third inning off Estrada, who was clipped for three hits, including doubles by Seth Smith and Trumbo.
But Estrada was solid after that, retiring the next 10 batters before departing a tied game after the sixth, having held a pretty good Orioles squad to just five hits while striking out four.
After falling behind by two, Toronto started its comeback in the fifth.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly made a reference to Cleveland fansReport Typo/Error
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