Facing team that traded him, Thornton excels

Rookie right-hander backed by five home runs

June 16th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Who could blame if he brought a little extra something with him to his start against the Houston Astros on Sunday?

That's not to suggest Thornton isn't determined to win every time he takes the mound. But when a pitcher faces the team that drafted him, developed him and later, traded him, he might be just a tad more focused, aiming to send a not-so-subtle reminder to his former club of just what it gave up.

"I knew I was going to be pretty amped up for this game," Thornton said, following the Jays' 12-0 rout of his old team.

Pitching in front of his dad, Jeff, and a sellout crowd on Father’s Day at Minute Maid Park, Thornton was spectacular, scattering six hits while striking out seven over 6 2/3 innings.

"He was fired up and he did a great job," manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Thornton was still a little wound up after the game while discussing how much this start meant to him. The rookie right-hander was drafted by the Astros in the fifth round in 2015 and played at four different levels in their farm system. He still has many friends in the organization.

When Thornton was traded to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz last November, he immediately looked at the schedule to see when the two teams would be playing each other. He badly wanted to pitch against the Astros, and he got his wish in Sunday's win, shutting down one of the scarier offenses in baseball while enabling his team to conclude its road trip with a 3-3 record.

"I'm close with a lot of the guys over there," Thornton said. "It was just going to be a fun game to pitch, with a little chip on my shoulder. I was glad I ended up pitching."

Thornton allowed four hits in the first six innings and was hoping to finish out the seventh, too, though he also admitted that by then, he was "gassed." With two on and two out and Houston slugger Alex Bregman at the plate, Montoyo decided Thornton had had enough, and called for Justin Shafer to finish out the inning.

Thornton argued his case to stay in for one more out, but Montoyo didn't budge.

"I don't manage with my heart -- I manage with my brain," Montoyo said. "So to face Bregman for the third time, one of the better hitters in baseball, he's already up to 100 pitches … he did his job. 'Great job, Trent, let somebody else face Bregman.'"

There's some history there. Thornton had the upper hand over Bregman when the two faced off in the College World Series six years ago, and Thornton, who on Sunday had gotten the Houston third baseman out twice on fly balls, wanted one more shot at him.

"I was hoping to finish that seventh inning," Thornton said. "I got two guys on, two outs and he's one of the best hitters in baseball. I wanted to give him everything I got, and see what happens."

Shafer ended up walking Bregman, but struck out Michael Brantley to end the Astros' last real offensive threat. The Blue Jays ended up handing the Astros one of their most lopsided losses of the season.

"The bats just exploded," Thornton said. "That was awesome. That was just a really good team win."

Thornton’s outing was his longest since he threw seven shutout frames in Texas on May 3, and his strikeout total brought him to 80 for the season, the most by a rookie through 15 outings in club history -- one better than Ricky Romero in 2009.

A Gurriel-Gurriel-Gurriel kind of day
Before Sunday's game, Lourdes Gurriel Sr., father to Blue Jays left fielder and Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, was one of four dads to throw a Father's Day ceremonial first pitch. The elder Gurriel had never before watched both sons play in the same game in person.

"It's a marvelous gift because in this moment, the whole family is united," Gurriel Sr. said. "We've spent these past three days beautifully as a family. And today fundamentally, as Father’s Day, it’s very, very emotional. From the heart, I feel very happy to have all of my family together."

The Jays went on to hit five home runs, including one by Lourdes Jr. -- a 452-foot solo homer that clanked off the Astros '05 championship banner hanging over the facade in left field. At 109.6 mph, Gurriel’s blast was one of the harder-hit balls by an Astros opponent this year.

The Blue Jays telecast showed an excited Gurriel Sr. reacting to the home run. Gurriel Jr. later said he came into the clubhouse during the game to watch a replay, and saw his dad's reaction.

"Especially on Father's Day, it was great," Lourdes Jr. said. "I got the chance to come in here between innings. I saw him [cheer]. It was unbelievable."