Worth the wait: Ryu deals in 1st start at home

Lefty impresses in front of Rogers Centre crowd as Toronto eyes playoff push

August 4th, 2021

TORONTO -- It’s been 585 days since Hyun Jin Ryu stepped onto the podium at Rogers Centre and pulled on a Blue Jays jersey for the first time. His first words were, “Hello, Canada. Bonjour.”

To Ryu’s left was general manager Ross Atkins, smiling wide as the cameras flashed. On his right, agent Scott Boras. It was a few days after Christmas 2019, and it was a pivot point for the franchise. Toronto had traded away the remaining pieces of the 2015 and ‘16 postseason runs and gone young, turning the keys over to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. But when Ryu walked into that room, the Blue Jays started to move back in a competitive direction.

Nobody imagined that Ryu would pitch home games in Buffalo, N.Y., and Dunedin, Fla., before throwing a pitch at Rogers Centre. Ryu was on the mound when the Blue Jays clinched their 2020 postseason berth -- ahead of schedule -- on Sept. 24 last season with a win over the Yankees. Finally, on Tuesday night, the ace took the mound in Toronto, leading his club to a 7-2 win over Cleveland.

“The atmosphere right now, being back in Toronto, is really good,” Ryu said via an interpretor. “Especially being able to play in front of our Toronto fans. I understand that we lost yesterday, but we were able to compete and show a better result with the wins while we’ve been here. Just the fact that we played in front of our actual Toronto home fans means a lot to us. The fact we get to play in front of them amplifies everything that we do here.”

This is a city ready to embrace Ryu -- and the rest of the star-studded roster -- after doing so from afar. Both Ryu and manager Charlie Montoyo noticed the support from his Korean fans in a city that’s home to Canada’s largest Korean population, with several large Korean flags on display through the bleachers. It’s hard to quantify this energy, but all week, players have spoken of the value of returning home and having a true home crowd after the year and a half spent on the road.

On the mound, Ryu did what he always does, finessing his way through seven innings of two-run ball. He struck out eight, didn’t walk a batter and set the table for the Blue Jays’ offense, which jumped on Indians starter Zach Plesac early.

Reigning AL Player of the Week George Springer opened with another leadoff home run in the first, and Teoscar Hernández followed that with a two-run shot, his 17th of the season. Hernández finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs, and even with American League MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. going an uncharacteristic 0-for-5, the lineup put together 12 hits. Hitting late in games is one of the Blue Jays’ remaining weaknesses that they’ll need to solve down the stretch, but jumping on starters early has never been an issue.

“We did everything right today,” said Montoyo. “As a manager, you’re happy because the defense was good, the execution at the plate was really good and of course, the pitching was outstanding. Ryu was outstanding. Overall, it was a great game.”

The win puts the Blue Jays (55-49) three games ahead of the Indians (52-52) in the American League Wild Card race, but both are still looking up at the Mariners and Yankees before they catch the A’s and Red Sox, who hold the two spots. 

“After going past our second-half mark of the season, the most important thing for us as a team is to make sure we have a winning mindset, try to compete out there and make sure that we come out every game on the winning end,” Ryu said. “I think I speak on behalf of all the players, from now on, [we need] to push for the playoffs by winning as many games as possible. It’s very important for us.” 

This marks the end of the homecoming tour, too. Ryu was the last big name who hadn’t played in front of Blue Jays fans at Rogers Centre, but the rotation turns over Wednesday as the series continues against Cleveland. Now 4-1 since their return to Toronto, though, the Blue Jays have all of the pieces in place to pull off a late run, and they’ll need Ryu to be at the forefront.