Stroman sets tone, Blue Jays hold off Rays in opener
Chris Archer was good on Sunday afternoon, setting a Rays Opening Day record. Marcus Stroman was better, leading the Blue Jays to a 5-3 season-opening win, with a sellout crowd of 31,042 watching at Tropicana Field.
Stroman held the Rays to three runs on six hits in eight-plus innings to pick up the win. Prior to the ninth, the only blemish to his line came via Evan Longoria's RBI single in the third. Perched on the brink of a complete game, Stroman got chased in the ninth after Corey Dickerson homered to lead off the inning and Desmond Jennings followed with a single. Jennings scored on a Kevin Kiermaier single off Roberto Osuna, who got Hank Conger to end the Rays rally.
"What can you say? Well-pitched ballgame, really well-pitched," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Stroman had everything going. Locating really well, and you add to that with the late life and that's why he got so many ground balls. ... He made it tough."
Meanwhile, Archer struck out 12 and allowed three runs -- two earned -- in five innings, but came away with the loss. Archer established a new team record for strikeouts on Opening Day. Seattle's Felix Hernandez was the last Major Leaguer to strike out a dozen on Opening Day, when he did so on April 2, 2007, against Oakland. The Rays' previous record for Opening Day strikeouts was seven, achieved by Steve Trachsel in 2000 and David Price in '11.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tulo time: Tulowitzki put the game out of reach with his two-run shot to left field. Toronto was leading 3-1 with Encarnacion at first when Tulowitzki lifted a 1-2 pitch from Webb over the wall for his first of the year. According to Statcast™, the ball landed a projected 400 feet away and left his bat at 101 mph. It was the Blue Jays' first home run of the year after they led the Major Leagues with 232 in 2015.
Out at third: With two outs in the fourth and the Rays trailing 3-1, Conger drew a walk, which would have put runners at first and second. But Kiermaier tried to steal third on ball four, and Jays catcher Russell Martin alertly threw to Josh Donaldson, who placed the tag on Kiermaier for the third out.
Nothing to it: After Logan Morrison flied out to centre field in the fifth inning, he appeared to get a little chippy, exchanging words with Stroman, who yelled back that he wasn't talking to Morrison. According to both parties, what happened was a misunderstanding.
"It was my first time facing him, so I forgot about that he yells at himself," Morrison said. "But I thought he was looking at me when he was saying something."
Starting early: The Blue Jays had the best lineup in baseball last season, and it didn't take very long at all for the offence to heat up in 2016. With one out in the first, Donaldson singled,Jose Bautista walked and both runners moved up a base when Archer threw a wild pitch. Encarnacion then came through with a two-run single to right-centre field as Toronto went up two runs before Stroman even stepped onto the field.
QUOTABLE "Chris, obviously really talented young player and part of a generation of young players that we feel very, very fortunate to have because of the level of talent and ability that they bring to the game on the field. Like a lot of his counterparts, Chris is a great ambassador for the game off the field. He's worked with some of our business units in New York during the offseason. He's quotable, he's articulate. Couldn't have a better ambassador for the game." --Commissioner Rob Manfred, on Archer
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Stroman threw first-pitch strikes to 15 consecutive batters during a stretch that began in the second and lasted until the end of the fifth. Toronto's No. 1 starter threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 29 batters he faced overall, and threw 74 strikes compared to just 24 balls in his outing.
Longoria made his eighth straight Opening Day start (all at third base), tying Carl Crawfordfor most Opening Day starts in club history.
UNDER REVIEW Blue Jays manager John Gibbons won his first challenge of the season when he asked the umpires to take a closer look at a play in the second inning. With one on and two outs, Kiermaier hit a chopper to first base. Chris Colabello came off the bag to field the ball, but when he went to tag Kiermaier, Tampa Bay's centre fielder sidestepped the glove before touching first and was called safe. The call went to review, and it was overturned, as it was ruled that Colabello's glove touched Kiermaier before his foot was on the base.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will take the mound when the Blue Jays continue their four-game series against the Rays on Monday night at Tropicana Field. Dickey will be looking to avoid the slow start which plagued him during the early stages of 2015, when he posted a 5.77 ERA by May 26.
Rays:Drew Smyly will make his first start of 2016 after an injured shoulder cost him most of the '15 season. The left-hander has pitched well when healthy for the Rays. Since joining Tampa Bay via a July 31, 2014 trade with the Tigers, Smyly has gone 8-3 with a 3.24 ERA in 19 starts.