TORONTO -- This is what home-field advantage is supposed to look like, feel like and sound like. When George Springer put barrel to ball then sauntered out of the batter’s box, the excitement at Rogers Centre swelled with his every step.
The Blue Jays had trailed by five runs early with their ace ousted, but they battled back. And in the eighth inning, as the game inched toward its fourth hour, most of the 14,776-strong crowd was on its feet by the time Springer pranced around first base in celebration of his go-ahead three-run home run, which lifted Toronto to a stunning 9-8 victory over Boston.
“It’s just indescribable,” Springer said after his biggest hit as a Blue Jay. “We just fought and battled and scratched and clawed all day.”
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, brimming with pride and sweating from the team’s postgame party, couldn’t contain his grin.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Montoyo said. “We kind of needed to win this game. And I don’t want to say needed, because every game counts … [but] if we take today, that’s three out of four against a good team. And to come back like this, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Yes, Sunday’s win marked three wins in four games against the Red Sox, who own the top American League Wild Card spot. The book is now closed on the Blue Jays-Red Sox season series, with Toronto going 9-10 despite a plus-30 run differential. The Blue Jays won five of the final seven matchups, however, suggesting that the power balance between the teams is shifting.
A huge reason for that is a healthy, red-hot Springer. He’s been among the league’s most dialed-in hitters the past few weeks, and now his home fans have seen it for themselves. Entering Sunday, the center fielder had a .353/.411/.776 slash line in 22 games since the All-Star break. He added to that with a walk, a single and the game-altering home run.
Blue Jays fans, who learned patience while their baseball team spent a season-and-a-half south of the border, had to wait a few months to see Springer in his top form. Those injury-plagued weeks weighed on him, too, but he’s just happy to be past it.
“It’s been hectic, it’s been crazy,” Springer. “Didn’t really start the way I’d like it to start. Obviously getting hurt. But at this point, it’s about staying in the moment.”
On Sunday, the moment belonged to Springer. But it took an unsung effort by catcher Reese McGuire to get there.
With one on and two out in the eighth, McGuire worked a nine-pitch walk to keep the inning alive. He took strike two, a fastball on the inside edge, and proceeded to foul off three more heaters before a fourth sailed well outside.
Springer called it the “at-bat of the game,” which is modest but not totally untrue. One at-bat leads to another, and McGuire’s run counted just as much. And with that, a near-perfect homestand was complete.
Ten days prior, the Blue Jays’ long-awaited homecoming had been met with justifiable pomp and circumstance. Toronto basked in its exuberant crowd and treated fans to nine wins in 11 games at Rogers Centre, saving its most heart-racing triumph for last.
After an off-day Monday -- Toronto’s first in two weeks -- the Blue Jays head to the West Coast, where their momentum born from the comfort of home will be tested. They are finished with the Red Sox, but key series with the Rays and Yankees loom. Only 2 1/2 games separate Boston (65-49) and Toronto (60-50), with New York (61-50) squished in between. Buckle up for this finish in the loaded American League East.
“I’m expecting it to go down to the wire,” Randal Grichuk said Friday. “I wish we could play all the teams even more so in September, just to create more drama, but it’s four really good teams, really good offenses, really good pitching staffs, and it’s gonna come down to the wire.”