ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Cavan Biggio hit a three-run homer and the Toronto Blue Jays began their still-in-progress odyssey by topping the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 Friday night in a season opener.
Earlier in the day, the Blue Jays announced they will play the majority of their home games at the stadium of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, though it's not yet certain when the park will be ready.
The Blue Jays were blocked by the Canadian government from hosting this season because of coronavirus concerns, and hopes of shifting home games to other big league cities didn't work out.
“First of all, this whole year has been crazy, but it’s been especially crazy for our team,” Biggio said. “Not being able to find a home, being turned away from Toronto, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Landing at a Triple-A field, I think our team is playing with a little bit of a chip on a shoulder.”
Biggio's infield single began a three-run fourth inning off 36-year-old Charlie Morton, who made his first career start on opening day. Randal Grichuk, Rowdy Tellez and Teoscar Hernandez drove in the runs.
Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, homered in the fifth for a 6-1 lead.
Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo homered in his major league debut for the Rays. Tampa Bay signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal after winning 96 games last season and making the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Morton (0-1), beginning his second year with the Rays, was a big part of the success in 2019 and an easy choice for his first opening night assignment after going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA.
The veteran right-hander, who beforehand said it would be somewhat bittersweet to take the mound for the start of the pandemic-delayed season because fans, family and friends couldn't be in the fans to share the moment with him, was at a loss to explain why he allowed six runs and seven hits in just four innings.
“For me it's more abut the fact the team gave you the ball. You get an opening day start usually because of what you did the year before," Morton said. “At the end of the day, you go out there to get and outs and try to give your team a chance to win. I gave up six runs."
Blue Jays starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, second in NL Cy Young voting when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, allowed three runs and four hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out three, but also walked three before being replaced after throwing 97 pitches.
Jordan Romano (1-0) finished fifth and got the first two outs of the sixth to get the win. Rafael Dolis escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and Ken Giles worked a scoreless ninth for the save.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said it felt “awesome” after all the uncertainty the Blue Jays have endured recently.
“Like we made it to the playoffs,” the second-year manager said. “It was Romano’s first win, we beat Charlie Morton, one of the best pitchers in baseball. It was a close game, it took almost everybody, relievers, position players, good plays to win this one. It was fun. It was a lot of fun.”
The Rays set the tone for a memorable evening with an early morning tweet focused on social justice issues, stating as an organization: “Today is Opening Day, which means it’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.”
Taylor was a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed in her home by Louisville police in March.
Players from both teams took the field during pregame ceremonies — the Blue Jays lined up along the third base and left field foul line, with the Rays positioned up the first base and right field line — and held a 600-foot long piece of black cloth in solidarity.
Toronto players Anthony Alford and Santiago Espinal knelt during the playing of the Canadian national anthem, then were joined by Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in kneeling during the U.S. anthem.
Ozzie Timmons and Rodney Linares, Tampa Bay’s first- and third-base coaches, kneeled during the U.S. anthem while shortstop Willy Adames stood between them with a hand on each of their shoulders.
DO YOU REMEMBER
The last season no major league games were played in Canada was 1968.
The Rays placed righty reliever Diego Castillo on the paternity list and recalled INF Daniel Robertson to fill his spot on the roster.
The middle date of a three-game series Saturday, with RH Matt Shoemaker (3-0, 1.57 ERA in 2019) taking the mound for Toronto and Tampa Bay countering with LH Ryan Yarbrough (11-6, 4.13).
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