TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays opened their 35th season Friday night with a nostaligic look back.
They almost made Pat Gillick cry. They painted a grin on Roberto Alomar’s face.
But this edition of the Blue Jays is showing symptoms of not only being able to celebrate the glories of the Alomars and Gillicks, they’re starting to look like they can achieve some of their own.
The evening began with a video of the Hall of Famers and a banner celebrating their Cooperstown election lifted to hang alongside those of the 1992 and ’93 World Series. It ended even better, the Jays sending a sellout crowd of 47,984 into ecstasy with a display of power, aggression and future glories.
Jose Bautista crushed his first homer. Adam Lind hit one that went third level in right field. J.P. Arencibia, their new catcher, went deep. Twice. And Rajai Davis is going to be giving Twins’ starter Carl Pavano nightmares for the next month.
When it was done, Toronto starter Ricky Romero had a tidy 13-3 win, becoming the first Jays left-hander to win a season opener since Jimmy Key in 1989. That season, of course, ended with a pennant hanging from the rafters.
Not to suggest that one game will a similar season make, but ...
“There were a lot of good things that happened tonight,” said manager John Farrell, now unbeaten in his major league managerial career. “Ricky went out and put zeros on the board ... that first inning was as good as we could’ve drawn it up.”
That would be the one in which Davis might’ve been out. Twice. Instead he scored the first in a four-run inning. “It set the tone,” said Arencibia.
Davis hit a grounder to the right of shortstop and beat Alexi Castilla’s throw. It set the rally towels to waving and the Blue Jays running. The Twins actually had Davis out a second time when Pavano picked him off, but in the ensuing rundown, the Jays’ speedy new centre fielder dove safely back into first.
Yunel Escobar singled, then, on the first pitch to Jose Bautista, the fans got a flashback to the days of yore with Devon White and Alomar — being treated to a double steal. “A lot of people don’t know (but Davis) is unbelievable,” said Arencibia. “He’s got the confidence you need to be great. He has brought a lot to the team just by playing hard, turning singles into doubles. He’s an indication of what this team can be.”
Suddenly, the 14-year veteran Pavano looked like the rattled kid. There was a balk, a hit batter, and a 4-0 Toronto lead. “A very efficient inning,” noted Farrell.
As debuts go, this one can’t help but get rave reviews — except for the fools disguised as fans who interrupted play tossing giveaway rally towels on to the field. Actually, the fans showed more fight than the Twins — maybe too much. Several altercations broke out in the upper deck. Guess they call ’em the cheap seats for a reason.
The Jays, though, could do no wrong. Romero took a shutout to the seventh inning, before departing to a standing ovation, scattering seven hits. The Twins didn’t get a runner beyond first until the sixth.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos of Romero, who struck out seven in allowing one earned run. “He’s one of my favourite players on the team just because of who he is. His ability speaks for itself but he’s an anchor. He’s what we want every Blue Jays starter to be about, in terms of work ethic, competitiveness, humility, community affairs, all of it. Total package.”
Actually, the entire Jays’ lineup was the total package — at least for one night. The club that led the majors in homers last year flashed familiar muscle, along with a hint of small-ball.
Lind’s homer was his third in three season openers and Bautista hit his after being awarded his Silver Slugger Award between hurrahs for Alomar and Gillick.
The only foible came when Gillick bounced the ceremonial first pitch. But, Alomar grabbed the bounce, flipped it back to Gillick and the do-over was, well, perfect. Kind of like the game.
For instance, maybe folks can stop fretting about Arencibia. The rookie also spanked a two-run triple off the wall in centre that polished a four-run fifth inning to give Romero a 10-0 cushion.
By then, the Rogers Centre was in party atmosphere. Farrell was, by comparison, low-key but allowed he might keep the lineup card of his managerial debut.
“When I was standing in line during the anthems,” he admitted to feeling the “electricity in the building ... it was a special night, especially when you have people honored like Pat and Roberto and what they meant to this organization.”
Which makes sense because for one shining night, the crowd cheered, and it was like 1993 all over again.