Winning. It’s a feeling that is unforgettable – and indescribable – but so easily lost in even the shortest of droughts. That feeling is fresh after today. Charged by a Kendrys Morales grand slam in the third inning, the Blue Jays take their first win of the season over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in front of a small but (relatively) loud crowd of 12,678 fans (who raised a total of $121 in the 50/50 raffle). Marcus Stroman, although struggling with his control, was phenomenal in his first start of the season.
The game seemed to be headed in the same direction Toronto’s first two finished – with low scoring and great pitching, but, in the end, a loss. In the third, however, Darwin Barney singled then pitcher Blake Snell walked Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista back-to-back, bringing up Kendrys Morales. He fouled off the first pitch, but didn’t miss the second, launching the four-seam fastball down the centre of the plate to deep left centre field for a grand slam – the first Blue Jay home run of the 2017 season.
In the bottom of the fifth, Steven Souza, Jr. doubled and was moved to third on a groundout. On the following play, Tim Beckham hit a ground ball to pitcher Marcus Stroman, who made a high throw to Russell Martin. Souza, sliding feet-first into home plate, collided with Martin’s knees and was subsequently called out before limping off the field. Rays manager Kevin Cash, in an attempt to capitalize on the first potential run of the game for Tampa Bay, challenged the call, questioning whether Martin was blocking the base path. Souza remained out after the challenge.
Blake Snell’s night ended in the top of the seventh after giving up five runs and walking five. The Blue Jays started the inning with a walk to Russell Martin, followed by a single from Justin Smoak. Martin, with a good jump on the ball, could be expected to easily reach third, but with a perfect – I mean perfect – throw from Kevin Kiermaier, Martin is safe by a matter of milliseconds. After Kevin Pillar flew out for the first out of the inning, Darwin Barney bunted perfectly down the first base line. Logan Morrison, coming in from first, bobbled the ball and Martin scored to make it 5-0 Blue Jays.
In the bottom of the seventh, Stroman gave up three singles while recording just one out, giving the Rays their first run of the game. On Joe Biagini’s first pitch of the game, Beckham grounded a ball to third, where Josh Donaldson recorded the force out and completed the double play with a throw to first.
Marcus Stroman, like Snell, ended his night in the seventh inning. His control was visibly missing, but Stroman was able to muscle through the game without allowing more than one run. He walked two and gave up six hits while striking out five. Coming off of his stellar start against Puerto Rico at the World Baseball Classic, Stroman was able to maintain the momentum of that thrilling game in his first start of the regular season. He received a standing ovation when exiting the field from the Blue Jay fans in attendance at Tropicana Field.
Things went smoothly until the bottom of the ninth. Joe Smith, after recording the first out, walked Brad Miller and gave up a double to Steven Souza. Russell Martin, with Jason Grilli pitching, let a passed ball get by him and Miller came home to score the Rays second run of the game. Grilli subsequently struck out the next two batters the end the game with the final score of 5-2.