Canada's Toro helps JV make history in Toronto

Astros INF, an injury replacement, hits HR to back Verlander's no-hitter

September 1st, 2019

TORONTO -- was not supposed to play Sunday. But roughly an hour before first pitch in the Astros' game against the Blue Jays, Toro found out he was replacing Yuli Gurriel, who was dealing with elbow soreness.

Three-and-a-half hours later, Toro made the play of the game with a two-run homer in the ninth inning to snap a scoreless tie and open the door for Justin Verlander’s third career no-hitter in Houston's 2-0 victory at Rogers Centre.

“Toro was unbelievable,” Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “Guy from here, from Canada, having a chance to come in the ninth and do what he does. It was unbelievable.”

Toro, a native of Longueuil, Quebec, had drawn attention all weekend for making his home country debut. He had friends and family in town to watch (sadly, none of his family was in attendance Sunday) and drew loads of attention from local media.

“I know he wanted to do really well here [in Canada],” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “He got as much attention in these three days as he’s gotten in his entire career.”

All eyes were on Toro when he came to bat in the top of the ninth with two outs and a runner on third in a 0-0 game. If that wasn’t enough, add the fact that Verlander was 106 pitches into a no-hit bid and would likely have just one inning left to make it happen.

Toro was aware of all of this when he stepped in against Ken Giles and fouled back a first-pitch slider. Then Toro stepped out, cleared his head and stepped back in. Pausing for a moment helped Toro’s nerves.

Two pitches later, he got a fastball in the same spot the slider had been and didn’t miss, sending the ball sailing the opposite way over the left-field wall.

Toro ran hard out of the box because he didn’t immediately know if he’d hit a home run. Two innings prior, he’d hit a fly ball with a 101.5 exit velocity that traveled a projected 384 feet (and had a .750 expected batting average, according to Statcast). But this time, the ball did leave the yard. And the Astros' bench erupted.

“The whole dugout was going crazy because everybody knew what was on the line with JV at the time with the [no-hitter],” Toro said. “It was huge.”

Even Verlander, who was stoic throughout the game (as pitchers typically are when they have a no-hitter going), gave Toro a hug when he came back to the bench. No words; just an embrace. But still, the moment transcended tradition.

“My reaction on the outside probably didn’t reflect what it was on the inside, because I knew I had one more inning to go and I wanted to stay focused,” Verlander said. “But I could not be happier for that kid. Just an incredible moment for him, from Canada, being able to do that. … Such a special moment, and I’m happy I was able to celebrate with him.”

Toro added another special moment in the bottom of the ninth, fielding a Bo Bichette grounder at third and throwing it to first for the game’s final out.

Again, Toro wasn’t supposed to be in the lineup. But he was, and he scripted a storybook ending to a dream weekend.

“It’s been unreal,” Toro said. “First no-hitter, first time playing in Canada as a professional -- it’s something I’ll have forever.”