Good vibes at Jays' home opener
Toronto beats Boston on Big Hurt's go-ahead double
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays partied like it was 1993. On a day reminiscent of a previous era in Toronto history, Rogers Centre was packed with a sellout crowd, consisting of raucous fans who created an intimidating atmosphere for Friday night's home opener against the Red Sox.
The Blue Jays donned retro baby blue uniforms, and they were welcomed to the diamond by a dizzying sea of white towels being whipped around by the diehards in attendance. It was an image that was common in Toronto more than a decade ago, when the Jays were raising championship banners to the rafters inside the park many fans still refer to as the SkyDome.
On Friday, a 6-3 victory over Boston was in order for Toronto, which received a stellar performance from starter Shaun Marcum and a game-changing double off the bat of designated hitter Frank Thomas. It was a day of celebration for the Jays, whose pregame activities threatened to overshadow the game itself.
When the Blue Jays arrived to the stadium, they walked into a completely renovated clubhouse -- more than twice the size of the club's previous locker room. Prior to the game, Toronto signed right fielder Alex Rios and second baseman Aaron Hill to multiyear extensions, and the team honored former great Roberto Alomar in an on-field ceremony.
Even with so many things going on, Toronto's players couldn't stop talking about the fans. Sure, there were a few fights in the 500 level and a ninth-inning delay after two underdressed fanatics stormed the field, but the Blue Jays all agreed that the riotous elements made for added adrenaline.
"The fans were unbelievable tonight," Hill said. "They have no idea how big of a part they play in this. It would be so neat to see it like that every game. I know you have to prove to them that you're going to be a playoff contender and all that, and we're here to do that, but it's always fun and it's always emotional."
When Marcum took the mound to square off against Boston's potent lineup, he said the feeling he had must be similar to what Toronto ace Roy Halladay experiences in an Opening Day outing. Marcum (1-0), who finished with eight strikeouts, went on to spin six shutout innings to open the game, surrendering just one hit over that impressive stretch for Toronto (2-2).
"I felt like Doc out there on Opening Day," said Marcum, referring to Halladay. "He's always been the Opening Day starter ever since I've been in this organization. So I had the extra adrenaline going with the 50,000-plus here and the white towels and the blue uniforms and everything. It was a fun night."
Fittingly, it was Canada's own Matt Stairs who put the Blue Jays on the scoreboard first. In the sixth inning, the veteran outfielder drilled a 1-0 offering deep to right field for a solo home run against Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield. By the end of the frame, the Blue Jays had built a 3-0 lead over Boston (3-2) behind run-scoring singles from Lyle Overbay and Hill.
Toronto's lead was short-lived, though. In the seventh inning, Marcum worked Boston's J.D. Drew into a 2-2 count, coming within one pitch of striking the outfielder out for the third time in the contest. Marcum left a cut fastball up in the strike zone, and Drew sent it screaming over the right-field fence for a three-run home run that knotted the score at 3.
"Marcum had handled Drew all night long, and then he made a mistake," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I think he left it out over the middle of the plate and they came back and tied it. A lot of times that sucks the wind out of you, but we bounced back."
In the home half of the seventh inning, Thomas provided the decisive blow by ripping a pitch from Boston's Manny Delcarmen into the gap in left-center field for a two-run double. That put Toronto ahead, 5-3, and provided enough cushion for right-hander Jeremy Accardo to notch his second save of the season.
"The crowd tonight was incredible," Thomas said. "They were into the ballgame and we fed off that energy. Last year, when they were like that, we'd feed off their energy. Hopefully, we can start it early this year with the crowd."
That was the sentiment shared throughout Toronto's clubhouse, where players marveled at the 50,171 fans who helped make this year's home opener a special one. In recent years, it wasn't uncommon to have Red Sox fans outnumber and outcheer the locals on hand. That wasn't the case this time around.
"A lot of times when the Yankees or Boston come in," Accardo said, "we can hear the Red Sox and Yankee chants at the same time. Today, it was fun. It felt like playoff baseball. It just gets everybody pumped up and helps you perform on the field."
It's something the Blue Jays wished happened more often.
"I'll demand to pitch at home every time if the fans are going to be like that," Marcum said, with a smile.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.