Well, for a while it looked like the home opener curse (the Jays were just 2-8 in the past decade) would strike again. Alek Manoah battled but just didn’t have it at all tonight, and the offence wasn’t quite able to solve Matt Manning. Then they did solve him, in dramatic fashion, and the bullpen took care of business without much difficulty.
The starting rotation is a concern at this point, with Kevin Gausman the only guy who’s definitely looked trustworthy so far, but the offence is really hitting their stride and the past two games are a reminder that with these bats they’re never out of it.
It started well for Alek Manoah, with a 1-2-3 first inning that took just nine pitches. In the second he got a big boost from his defence when leadoff man Kerry Carpenter hit one over the wall in centre that Kevin Kiermaier was just able to reach up and bring back. I have a feeling Kiermaier’s going to wind up being a fan favourite this year, much like the last handsome and slick fielding Kevin to patrol the Rogers Centre turf.
That was the high point for Manoah’s night, though. He walked Javier Baez (a feat accomplished just 26 times in 590 PA last year), then allowed a single and a three run homer to put the Jays in an early hole. Two more walks and a single loaded the bases, but he was able, barely to escape the jam with a strikeout and a pop up. Over the next two and a third innings, he laboured, battling his command and ultimately issuing five walks to only three strikeouts, but he was able to avoid further damage on the scoreboard. It wasn’t a good performance, but it was a gutsy one, and you have to give some credit for managing to keep his team within striking distance on a night where absolutely nothing was working for him.
Meanwhile, the Jays got some pitches to hit from Matt Manning, but mostly missed for the first few innings. You could hear Vlad in particular shouting at himself after popping up very gettable pitches in his first two at bats. They managed to manufacture one run in the bottom of the second, on a Daulton Varsho walk (one of two on the night, bringing his season total to an encouraging seven for a hitter whose previous weakness was occasionally iffy plate discipline), a Brandon Belt single (one of an extremely encouraging three on the night), and an Alejandro Kirk sac fly.
Things got a little closer in the fourth, as a Matt Chapman solo homer made it 3-2, and the Jays drew level and then jumped ahead in the fifth with back to back solo shots from Kiermaier and George Springer.
Ultimately that was all they’d need. The bullpen shut the Tigers down, beginning with Zach Pop recording five outs facing five batters, and continuing with solid outings from Yimi Garcia, Erik Swanson and Anthony Bass.
Just to be sure, the offence tacked on five insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. Bo Bichette lofted one into the visitors bullpen, at 369 feet probably the first real use of the new short porch in right field. Varsho and Chapman walked and singled, respectively, and Belt brought Varsho home with a single. Kirk delivered the coup de grace with a laser down the left field line for his first home run of the season.
Jays of the Day: Pop (0.131), Garcia (0.117), Belt (0.102), and Kiermaier didn’t have the number but robbing a home run absolutely gets you on the list
Suckage: Manoah (-0.145), Biggio (-0.105)
Game 2 goes at 7:07pm ET (for real this time, no half hour of hype videos for the new bars) tomorrow night, with Kevin Gausman taking on Eduardo Rodriguez.