ST. PETERSBURG -- Bo Bichette needed just two pitches to announce his return to town on Monday night, and two more to send the crowd behind the plate into a frenzy during the Blue Jays' 2-0 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
With Bichette’s high school about four miles away, a swarm of family, friends and former teammates packed the lower level around the visitors’ dugout. They were eager to glimpse a familiar face of the kid they’d known “forever,” as he strode to the plate as a Major Leaguer in his hometown for the first time.
“Every time he played, Bo was so far above everyone else,” said Rigsby Mosley, who grew up with Bichette in Orlando, Fla., and made the two-hour drive to cheer him on. “We always knew he’d be [in the Majors] one day.”
Bichette, whose career was eight days old on Monday, quickly made Mosely’s commute worth it. The 21-year-old rookie took the second pitch of the game off the wall in right field to lead off with a double. Cavan Biggio flared the next pitch over the hole at shortstop to score Bichette and give Toronto the only lead it would need against its American League East foes.
“It was cool [to be home],” Bichette said. “I didn’t even know how many people were here, so when I came out after to say hi to them, there were a lot more than I thought.”
The game-opening double marked the young shortstop's sixth in as many days, and it extended his career-opening hit streak to eight games. It’s something just two others in team history have done, Bichette joining Jesse Barfield (1981) and Ryan Goins (2013).
“He’s a stud,” Rays shortstop Willy Adames said. “He can hit, man. He has an easy swing. I know he’s going to be a superstar.”
Bichette also moved into a tie with the Twins’ Max Kepler for the second-longest doubles streak in the Majors this season, but he wasn’t done there. The Blue Jays’ shortstop parked the second pitch of the third inning beyond the right-field wall for his third home run of the year to pad Toronto’s lead.
Four pitches, two extra-base hits, two runs scored -- one heck of a homecoming party.
“He was around with me a lot; he grew up on it … so he kind of gets it,” said former Major Leaguer and four-time All-Star outfielder Dante Bichette, Bo’s father. “He’s always been impressive. He does things, really, a lot better than I ever did. It’s been really cool to watch.”
While the younger Bichette boosted the offense early, Blue Jays starter Jacob Waguespack made the lead stick with six scoreless frames during which he yielded four hits, struck out four and walked one. From there, relievers Justin Shafer, Tim Mayza and Derek Law combined to shut out the Rays the rest of the way.
“Last time around, [the Rays] kind of hit me a little hard,” said Waguespack, who allowed three runs on six hits over five innings against Tampa Bay on July 26. “Today was just going after them and attacking. In my last start, I nitpicked a little around the zone, so today, I wanted to attack and be aggressive.”
The elder Bichette said the most pleasant surprise for him so far hasn’t been his son’s hot streak at the plate but his speed and defensive range. According to Dante, Bo’s speed was “below average” when he was drafted, and the younger Bichette spent countless hours in the gym to evolve into a more well-rounded threat.
“Now he’s … kind of a burner, really,” Dante Bichette said. “He’s got a pretty good range at shortstop now, and that’s really from just pure hard work. It was kind of neat to see.”
Just 21 years old, a learning curve is bound to emerge for Bichette eventually, but he is smart enough to know it’s impossible to keep up the torrid pace at which his career began. He committed a pair of fielding errors on Monday night but didn’t appear to let either affect him. Bichette’s home run came just five pitches after he booted a ground ball in the second, echoing his father’s sentiments about his son’s longstanding approach to the game.
“We’ve had a lot of talks about how [baseball] is a grind, and I think he gets it,” Dante said. “He tries to keep even keel, and really, he’s always been like that.”
The home run marked the ninth extra-base hit in Bo Bichette’s first eight games, tying him with Alvin Davis (1984) and Trevor Story (2016) for the most in MLB history.
Bichette said his upbringing combined with a perfectly timed debut to create a unique advantage to boost the start to his career.
He’s also leaning on the same aspects as he continues to forge ahead.
“I think my dad helped me more with the transition to pro ball, just being ready from 18 years old to compete and to be ready and to prepare, to slow the game down in ways other 18-year-olds couldn’t,” Bichette said. “And then Vladdy [Guerrero Jr.] and Cavan and Lourdes [Gurriel Jr.], the pitchers, there are a lot of guys out there that I’ve played with this year and in the past three years.
“To have them out there and have them know what I’m capable of, there’s no feeling that I need to prove anything. It allows me to play pretty free and to have fun out there.”