Teo fuels Toronto's epic comeback in opener

Hernández races home for go-ahead run as Blue Jays erase 7-0 deficit

April 9th, 2022

TORONTO -- After two-plus years, it’s easy to forget what it sounds like when 45,022 Blue Jays fans yell about the same thing at the same time.

Friday night’s home opener at Rogers Centre was billed as a grand return to normalcy in Toronto, but after moonlighting as a snoozer for an hour, mayhem took hold. Roaring back from a seven-run deficit to beat the Rangers 10-8 -- the biggest Opening Day comeback in 72 years -- the 2022 Blue Jays proved that they’re completely incapable of normal.

This was the first time in 1,471 days that the Blue Jays sold out a ballgame at Rogers Centre, stretching back to March 29, 2018. It wasn’t even an option in 2020 and ‘21 as they lugged their suitcases from city to city, carving out a life as baseball’s nomads. Friday night felt a million miles away from Dunedin, Fla., Buffalo, N.Y., and those seasons that came prior, though, all of which were setting the stage for moments like Teoscar Hernández’s slide into home plate in the bottom of the seventh.

Hernández had already tied the game with a three-run shot in the bottom of the fifth, which left the stadium rattling. As he raced home in the seventh on a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. double, Hernández was first called out, but the replay review that followed the Blue Jays' challenge showed his foot sneaked just under the tag. As the umpires huddled, the Rogers Centre crowd chanted, “Safe! Safe! Safe!” growing louder by the second.

When the umpires finally agreed, the big dome in downtown Toronto erupted again.

“This moment is very special,” Hernández said after the win. “There’s not a single player in this clubhouse that will forget what happened today.”

This is, very simply, who the Blue Jays are. If they’re down, they’re capable of coming back. If they’re up, they’re capable of tacking on a dozen more, turning a slim lead into a laugher.

Hernández isn’t always the face of this, but therein lies the beauty and the power of Toronto’s offense. Hidden behind George Springer, Bo Bichette and the mighty Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the lineup is Hernández. In many ways he’s this team’s iteration of Jose Bautista’s years with the Blue Jays, only with the stern stare flipped for a bright smile.

“He’s that good. He’s a Silver Slugger,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We have a pretty good lineup, so if you don’t want to pitch to Vladdy? Go ahead, pitch to Teo.”

Montoyo’s tone didn’t convey that as a challenge, necessarily, but it should be. Even at the bottom of the lineup, No. 8 hitter Danny Jansen got the early rally rolling with a single, then homered in the eighth to hand his team a late cushion. Santiago Espinal, who entered midway through the game batting ninth, ripped an RBI double, the hardest-hit ball of his career.

There’s no place for an opposing pitcher to rest.

These moments salvaged what could have been the ultimate letdown. The air was sucked out of Rogers Centre in the early innings, but the energy in the building prior to first pitch matched July 30, 2021, when they finally returned to Toronto after years away.

The celebrations started with Hernández and Guerrero receiving their Silver Slugger Awards alongside Marcus Semien, their former teammate who was in town with Texas. Then came the finest moment of the ceremony, when Montoyo escorted Billye Aaron, wife of the late Hank Aaron, to present Guerrero with the 2021 Hank Aaron Award.

There was a full light show, flexing the stadium’s upgraded system to create something that felt far closer to a party than anything we saw in 2019 and the years prior. With 14 Canadian Olympians and Paralympians lining the infield, 240 members of the Canadian Armed Forces stretched the biggest Canadian flag you’ll ever see across the outfield, just one of the many traditions that is finally back.

“Awesome. That was just awesome,” Montoyo said. “It seemed like everybody was a little bit nervous at the beginning, the whole team. That’s to be expected with so many people because we wanted to give them a show.”

Whether it’s a show or the movie promised by Guerrero, this Blue Jays team is built to tell some wild stories.