April 12th, 2024

Blue Jays play long ball, rip Rays 8-2 in season opener

By Fred Goodall, The Associated Press on March 28, 2024.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. lingered coming out of the batter’s box long enough to watch a towering drive off his bat sail well over the centre-field wall. Then he broke into a home run trot.

The sixth-inning shot – part of a five-run rally that helped Toronto beat Tampa Bay 8-2 on Thursday – travelled an estimated 450 feet.

Guerrero, though, wasn’t so sure.

“I thought it was more than 450,” the Blue Jays star said through an interpreter. “But hey, after 400 it’s all good.”

George Springer and Cavan Biggio also homered to pace the season-opening victory. Alejandro Kirk and Bo Bichette drove in two runs apiece for Toronto, which erupted after being limited to one hit – Springer’s solo homer in the fourth – off Rays’ starter Zach Eflin (0-1) through the fifth.

José Berríos, making his second opening-day start for the Blue Jays and fourth overall, gave up a leadoff homer to Yandy Díaz on his fifth pitch of the day and also yielded an RBI double to the defending AL batting champion in the sixth.

“Obviously, we don’t want to start the game the way it started, but I had a mindset this is an opportunity to bounce back, you know, stay in the game. Do your thing, show people that you can control the damage and I did,” Berrios said. “Our guys scored a bunch of runs in the fifth. “¦ and we win the ball game.”

The Toronto right-hander allowed two runs and six hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out six in the matchup of American League East rivals who both made the playoffs last season.

Eflin, who won 16 games in 2023 after signing a $40 million, three-year contract in free agency, allowed six runs and six hits over 5 2/3 innings in his first career opening-day start. The first three hits off him were homers, including Guerrero’s for a 3-1 lead.

“He got that one pretty good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash acknowledged.

Biggio also homered in the sixth, and the Blue Jays broke it open later that inning after Eflin yielded an infield single to Bichette, hit Justin Turner with a pitch and walked Daulton Varsho to load the bases. Kirk followed with a two-run single before Kevin Kiermaier added an RBI single to make it 6-1.

Despite the rocky sixth, Cash felt good about Eflin’s outing. After only needing 55 pitches to get through five innings, the right-hander threw 26 in the sixth.

“I don’t know if there was that big a difference. It’s a good hitting team over there,” Cash said. “It looks like they got a couple of breaking balls that they could handle. Then, they started piecing together some good at-bats.”

The opener before a sellout crowd of 25,025 at Tropicana Field was the start of a three-city road trip for the Blue Jays, who are playing their first 10 games on the road while renovations are completed at Rogers Centre.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: Manager John Schneider said ace Kevin Gausman (shoulder fatigue) could make his season debut Sunday or Monday. The right-hander went 12-9 with a 3.16 ERA in 31 starts last season.

Rays: Opened season with nine players on the injured list, including starting RHPs Taj Bradley (right pectoral strain) and Shane Baz (left oblique strain), who are on the 15-day list. Three other starters – lefty Shane McClanahan (Tommy John), right-hander Drew Rasmussen (right elbow) and lefty Jeffrey Springs (Tommy John) – are on the 60-day list and expected to miss either all or a significant portion of the season.

UP NEXT

Friday is the second day of a four-game series between the AL East rivals, with right-hander Aaron Civale (7-5, 3.46 last season) starting for Tampa Bay and Toronto countering with right-hander Chris Bassitt (16-8, 3.60).

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

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