If you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a good couple of weeks.
After 670 days playing home games in Buffalo and Dunedin, the team finally returned to the Rogers Centre, something that the players seemed to have been every bit as excited for as the fans were. What followed was nothing short of magical. The Blue Jays won 9 of their 11 games on the homestand, sweeping the Royals in the opening series, then taking 3 of 4 from both Cleveland and the Red Sox respectively.
There’s an argument to be made that this was the greatest regular-season homestand in team history. I’m sure it’s far from the first time the team has taken 9 of their 11 games, but the combination of a playoff race heating up, and the fans getting a chance to see their beloved team for the first time in almost two years builds a pretty strong argument.
I haven’t been able to get these last 11 games off of my mind, and based on the current state of the Blue Jays online community, it appears I’m far from alone. All I want is a time machine to be able to experience it again. Unfortunately, I don’t have those resources available to me (for now), so I’m going to do the next closest thing. Without further ado, in chronological order by date, here are my 9 most captivating moments from the homestand, one moment for each sweet, glorious victory.
The first of the moments came before the first pitch was even thrown. I’d like to give a shoutout to everyone involved in coordinating the pregame festivities on that beautiful Friday night. They absolutely nailed it. The entire team emerging from the centerfield wall was majestic, something I’d never seen before in baseball. As always, the team’s multimedia production did a spot-on job with the hype video. The four first pitches thrown out to the four All Stars giving the fans an opportunity to acknowledge their first half performance was a nice touch. But what stole the show was the video that was played which featured a compilation of fans telling the team what it means to them that they’re back on home soil. Perhaps I’m biased here, as my dad was one of the featured fans, but that video seemed to perfectly sum up why this moment was so special. Manager Charlie Montoyo’s comments after the game about how he was holding back tears during the video particularly struck me. The fanbase loves to criticize Charlie, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, but there’s no denying that he’s a guy who wants everything we want every bit as much as we do, and I think his reaction to that video made a lot of us realize just how tough it must have been to manage a ballclub without a home for the better part of two years.
We began before the game, and we end with the final play of the opening night of the homestand. With two outs in the top of the 9th inning, Jordan Romano threw a 97 MPH fastball that got in on the hands, jamming Kansas City’s Jarrod Dyson, who muscled a little looper towards the third base bag. With third baseman Santiago Espinal playing at the edge of the grass to guard against a possible bunt from the speedy Dyson, this ball had base hit written all over it. Espinal immediately got on his horse and sprinted back towards the ball, and in a last-ditch effort, he reached with his bare hand and caught the ball on the fly. The crowd erupted as the victory horn sounded at the dome. It was one of the best plays you’ll ever see a Blue Jay make, and for it to come to end such a monumental game, it’s not one we’ll soon forget. Espinal has legitimate fan favourite potential with his dazzling glove and infectious personality, and unlike other fan favourite utility players of the past, he’s pretty damn good.
I think it goes without saying that the MVP of the homestand was none other than George Springer, who took home not just one, but two American League Player of the Week awards during the stretch. This moment took place over the course of multiple games, as Springer led off three separate games with a leadoff home run. He hit one against Kansas City’s Mike Minor, and the next two off of Cleveland’s Zach Plesac and J.C. Mejia. With 42 in his career, Springer is no stranger to the leadoff longball. If he sticks in the leadoff spot until near the conclusion of his career, he has a legitimate shot to break Rickey Henderson’s all-time record of 82. Having that kind of power threat in the leadoff spot is going to be a joy to watch for the next 5 years. If you’re going down to the dome, it’s more important than ever that you’re not late, because George will not wait for your arrival.
Joe Panik and Andrew McInvale for Corey Dickerson and Adam Cimber. Thank. You. Ross. Adam Cimber, the right-handed submarine-throwing reliever, has been nearly perfect since he was acquired at the end of June. In the second game of the Royals series, he came on in the 8th and closed the rest of the game out with each of his four outs coming via the K. After getting Hunter Dozier to swing through a nasty sinker to record the final out, Cimber’s reaction was the most animated I’ve seen from a Blue Jays pitcher in a long time. A triple fist-pump and and a ferocious hug with Alejandro Kirk, the Blue Jays came away with the sweep. I don’t have anything against pitchers who tend to keep their cool in celebration, but it’s undeniably more fun to watch a guy go nuts, a la Brett Cecil and Jason Grilli from the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
The prize addition at the trade deadline wasted no time announcing his presence to the Blue Jays faithful. In the final game of the opening series against Kansas City, Jose Berrios fired six innings of scoreless ball with seven strikeouts. He looked a bit shaky early, but got out of every jam and made sure that his new team was able to break out the brooms on the Royals. It felt oddly similar to the 2015 debut of David Price. A premier pitcher acquired from the American League Central who worked his way around a couple of early jams to toss an absolute gem and immediately endear himself to the fans who greeted him with passionate support on every big pitch. Funny how a proven All-Star leading a contender to an important victory can make you forget all about prospects, huh?
It’s safe to say that the lone negative from the homestand was the overall performance of MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He is currently enduring his worst slump of the season, something that shouldn’t continue to be a concern. Whether he was pressing a bit in front of the home crowd, or if he’s showing some fatigue, Vladdy will be fine. But you didn’t think we’d go through a whole homestand without one big time Plakata moment, did you? The game against Cleveland on Monday afternoon felt a lot like a first-half 2021 Blue Jays game. It actually felt like a Ryan Yarbrough special. Eli Morgan, a crafty soft-tosser was making the offence look silly with his changeup all day, with the lineup appearing mortal for the first time since they arrived at home. Robbie Ray was keeping the team in the game however, surrendering two runs over his six innings. Vladdy stepped up to the plate and turned on an inside heater, sending the ball 115 MPH straight into the second deck to tie the game at two in the bottom of the sixth. He put the finishing touches on the swing with a legendary bat-toss, and let out a roar along with the home crowd. This moment unfortunately came in a losing effort, but I have no doubt in my mind that Vladdy will provide more magic as the playoff push rolls on.
An Inning to Remember
As fun as it was taking at least 6 out of 7 from Kansas City and Cleveland, it what was required if this team wanted to get serious about contending in the highly competitive American League. Then, the Red Sox came to town, a team the Blue Jays are chasing in the standings, for the biggest series of the year to date. In the opener of the four game series, the Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead scoring a run in both the 4th and 5th. Then… something incredible happened. The bats came to life and exploded for a 9 run 5th inning. Runs driven in by Randal Grichuk, Breyvic Valera, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, and finally George Springer. Seven of the nine runs came with two outs. Hansel Robles threw a fastball at Randal Grichuk’s forearm, prompting a warning to both benches. I was in attendance for four of the 11 games on the homestand, and can say with confidence that the dome was at its loudest during this masterpiece of an inning.
As we look back on this homestand, one of the coolest things about it to me was the fact that every major contributor to the success of this team got their moment in the spotlight. Not many are more deserving of this shine than Marcus Semien. It took until the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader for Semien, but he made it count. In a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh, he sent Matt Barnes’ first pitch of the inning into the left-field seats, walking it off for the Jays and ensuring a series split at the very least. Semien has been one of the most valuable players in baseball, second in the Majors in fWAR for position players. He’s putting up numbers that rival his 2018 season, in which he finished 3rd in AL MVP voting. If he wasn’t a bit overshadowed by Vladdy’s performance, there’s no doubt he’d be in that discussion this year as well. We can all hope that this homestand made him warm to the idea of Toronto as his home for the foreseeable future.
8-3 would’ve been just fine. Hard to ask for more than that, right? That’s the line of thinking I was talking myself into when the Jays were down 7-2 in the 4th inning in Sunday’s series finale. The only poor start from a Blue Jays starter of the entire homestand came from Hyun Jin Ryu, as he surrendered 7 earned runs on 10 hits over 3.2 innings. We were due for one. That’s just baseball. Win the next four against the Angels and make us forget about this. Hmm, a Vladdy homer. 7-4. Semien sac-fly. 8-5. Teoscar RBI single. 8-6. Ok, they’re giving us some hope, but we know how this team usually is in late & close situations, they struggle to get come-from-behind victories, the Red Sox need this one. Valera single. Alright… McGuire walk. 2 on, 2 outs, for the reigning player of the week, George Springer. You already know how that turned out. A 2-2 middle-middle fastball from his old college teammate Matt Barnes, sent into the second deck in left-center. The biggest Blue Jays home run since Edwin Encarnacion’s wild card walk-off in 2016. Immediately posted on social media by every national outlet you can name.The side-angle, the dugout reaction, we need it all. We scramble to find the call from every broadcast in every language. A day has passed and none of us can stop talking about it. I know this feeling. I remember it from 6 years ago. The contending Toronto Blue Jays are back.
Let’s make the remaining homestands just as special as this one, shall we?
Bo Bichette’s two-run homer in the opening game that ended up being the difference.
Alek Manoah’s magnificent Rogers Centre Debut, 7 scoreless.
Reese McGuire’s battle with Matt Barnes in the finale: without that terrific plate appearance, we’re feeling pretty different about this team today.
The fact that while all these terrific things were happening to us, Red Sox fans were feeling the complete opposite way.