The “Let’s Go Blue Jays” chants broke out even before the first pitch and the nearly 14,000 fans who hadn’t seen live Jays baseball in Toronto since 2019 kept roaring the entire evening.
The raw emotion, pent-up longing to see Major League Baseball in a city where it’s been played since 1977, except not for the last nearly two years, was palpable.
By the end of the night, they celebrated a 6-4 win highlighted by a tape measure Teoscar Hernandez home run and a line drive Bo Bichette smash that had turned a two-run game into one with more breathing room for the home side.
“Really emotional,” was how Bichette described the atmosphere right before the team took the field and during the opening ceremonies for this season-opener in late July. “Everybody was looking at each other like, ‘I’ve got the chills.’ Trying to hold back tears,” he said.
“We’ve tried to pretend that we had a home. And then to be back here, just a big weight off our shoulders.”
Finally, the Jays were back in their nest. George Springer, playing for the first time as a Jay here said pre-game, sounding a bit like Dorothy, “there’s no place like home” and then delivered his second three-hit game of the season and some fine defence in centre field.
The Jays actually played well overall defensively, other than newcomer Brad Hand failing to cover home plate, allowing a run to score and got a win for a pumped-up Ross Stripling, who went 5.1 innings, surrendering four hits and two earned runs. Tim Mayza, Hand and Jordan Romano were strong in relief.
Manager Charlie Montoyo said there was simply no way he wasn’t going to put Romano on the mound, since he is from nearby Markham.
Montoyo was clearly moved by the entire evening.
“Today, honestly, was one of my best days in baseball. And I’ve been in it for a long time,” he said.
“I’m never going to forget this day.”
The Royals got one back in the ninth on a strange play off Romano, but the Jays picked up the second out on the play, after a challenge and Santiago Espinal – outstanding at third base all evening – made a spectacular bare-handed catch while running backwards to end the game.
Stripling called the Espinal catch the play of the year. “That was incredible. For one, he made a couple of great plays for me (earlier). He’s a defensive wizard, and that was as good as a defensive play I’ve ever seen.”
Stripling said being at home was thrilling. “The energy, you could feel it from the start and it just kept going,” he said. “We’re in Toronto for the first time in 650 days … a lot of guys went out on the mound at 4:30 in the morning. Guys are just full energy, really excited. This has been a long time coming.”