TORONTO -- It took all of one game for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to prove that he has a flair for the dramatic.
Guerrero sparked a late rally with a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth for the first hit of his Major League career on Friday night. Three batters later, Brandon Drury came through with a two-run homer as the Blue Jays picked up their first walk-off victory of the season with a 4-2 win over the A’s at Rogers Centre.
In what was being dubbed “Vlad Jr. Day” north of the border, Guerrero made a pair of slick plays at third base, just missed hitting a couple of home runs -- including being robbed at the wall by Chad Pinder in his second at-bat -- and most impressive of all, sparked Toronto’s walk-off win. Drury technically was responsible for the go-ahead run, but make no mistake about it, Guerrero was the true hero.
“He was comfortable,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said of Guerrero, who finished 1-for-4. “That’s how he plays. I figured he would be. I was more nervous than he was. I can’t imagine handling all of that pressure, all of this press. He is who he is. He’s comfortable, relaxed and he enjoyed the game.”
Right-hander Marcus Stroman received a no-decision after tossing seven scoreless innings, while Eric Sogard hit a leadoff home run, but each of those performances was overshadowed by “The Debut.” The crowd of 28,688 was at the game for one reason and one reason only -- to get their first look at someone they hope turns into baseball’s next big star and give him multiple standing ovations.
It became obvious from the moment Guerrero arrived at Rogers Centre that his debut was going to dwarf everything else. Fans camped out early to be first in line for batting practice, they chanted his name during warmups and they greeted him with a standing ovation every time he stepped into the batter’s box. Social media hung on every word and reporters tracked every movement.
All of the buildup and all of the anticipation led to the moment of Guerrero running to third base in a big league uniform for the very first time at 7:07 p.m. ET. Once he stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the second, Guerrero also made sure he got his money’s worth.
“I was just concentrating on every at-bat, trying to do my job,” Guerrero said through an interpreter after the game. “I was excited. … It was just the way I dreamt it. I tried to make contact in my first at-bat and I did.”
Guerrero grounded out to first base on a ball that left his bat at 106.8 mph. In the fourth, he was robbed of extra bases on a leaping grab at the left-field wall by Pinder. Guerrero stepped into the box again in the sixth, and for the second consecutive at-bat, hit a long fly ball. This time he lifted the ball to right field, and it hung up long enough for Stephen Piscotty to make an easy grab.
Three balls, all put in play, two with exit velocities above 99 mph, and yet nothing to show for it until he led off the ninth with a double down the first-base line off right-hander Yusmeiro Petit. Guerrero sprinted into second base, where he was lifted for a pinch-runner with nobody out. A few batters later, the game was over. The Blue Jays were impressed, even if the A’s weren’t.
“I’m sure [the crowd] was excited, especially a guy like that -- Hall of Famer’s son and what he’s done in the Minor Leagues,” A’s right-hander Mike Fiers said. “But for me, it was another guy -- I had to attack him just like everybody else. I’m sure it was exciting for him and for everybody here in Toronto and for their team. … It’s a cool experience, I guess, for Toronto.”
Stroman was the one who made sure the Blue Jays had a chance in the ninth inning. The 27-year-old was perfect until Marcus Semien led off the top of the fourth inning with a single to center. Stroman allowed just that one hit while walking two and striking out seven. Toronto’s Opening Day starter threw 61 of his 97 pitches for strikes, and he has now surrendered three earned runs or fewer in all six of his starts this season. But even for Stroman, this night was all about Vlad Jr.
“I was probably just as excited as the entire fan base, to be honest with you, getting Vladdy up here,” Stroman said. “It’s like having Zion Williamson on your team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent. Just to have the opportunity to play with him is amazing, to look out there and see him behind me at third base. I think it’s going to give us a huge mental edge.”