The Toronto Blue Jays are surfing a wave of optimism with David Price’s stellar debut on Monday after winning a veritable war over Kansas City. The excitement surrounding the team arguably hasn’t been this great since 1993 when the Jays last won the World Series.
Things have come a long way from when promising young pitcher Marcus Stroman was lost for the season during spring training with a knee injury. But now, the strengthened team proved it can hang with the big boys and is poised to grab a playoff spot, having won five of its last six games.
Price did exactly what an ace pitcher is expected to do. He went eight innings, yielding only three hits, and retired the final 15 batters he faced after falling into a hole in the fourth inning. The Jays won 5–1 and climbed into a share of the final wild card spot with their opponents, the Minnesota Twins.
The Blue Jays had their sixth sellout of the season and Price said to Sportsnet about the crowd of 45,766: “That was hands down the best atmosphere I’ve ever pitched in. That takes the cake. That was crazy.” Price managed the occasion masterfully, striking out 11, the most for the Jays all season.
The Jays now have both 2012 Cy Young Award winners in their starting rotation. R.A. Dickey, the “other” Cy Young winner, has won his last three starts, pitching a total of 23 1/3 innings, and giving up just two earned runs.
“I’m definitely thrilled with the way today went,” Price said in his postgame press conference.
Jays manager John Gibbons talked about the different levels of starting pitchers in the majors and said, “David’s at the top.”
“Great way to make your debut for your new team,” Gibbons added.
Price’s fastball reached speeds in the high 90s (miles per hour), but the few times the Twins hit him, they hit him hard. Their three hits all went for extra bases.
The fourth inning, though, was an example of how an ace gets through a jam. In a bases-loaded no-outs situation after giving up a double and two walks, Price got a shallow pop up and two strikeouts.
“Tulo [Troy Tulowitzki] made a really good play on that shallow fly ball to centre,” said Price.
Price also has an excellent rapport with Canadian catcher Russell Martin. The duo didn’t miss a beat.
“It went as smooth as it could’ve gone,” said Price. “If you could pick a couple of guys to throw to, he [Martin] is always up there.”
Price was given an extra day’s rest and it showed. He threw 119 pitches, just two shy of his season-high. He can potentially start another 11 times before the end of the season and is now 8–0 in his career pitching at Rogers Centre.
The Jays not only have a superstar pitcher in Price, they also have a class act. When a photo of a young Jays fan in a t-shirt with Price’s name and number taped on the back came to the attention of the former Cy Young winner, he took it up on himself to send the youngster and his brother authentic Blue Jays jerseys.
Price’s excitement at being in the Jays dugout was also evident in the July 31 7–6 win over the Kansas City Royals. And who could blame him—the Jays came back from three-run deficits twice and won the game in extra innings.
The Royals provided the opportunity for a serious test, having made it to last year’s World Series and being current holders of the best record in the AL.
Sunday’s fourth game of the series brought added adversity to the Jays as they had to deal with highly questionable calls from home plate umpire Jim Wolf. Wolf shortchanged the Jays by ejecting pitcher Aaron Sanchez and manager John Gibbons, while Royals’ pitchers hit two Blue Jays and got off with just a warning.
Wolf dug his own hole by losing control of the game when the benches cleared after Sanchez’ ejection. But the Jays didn’t get rattled after K.C. rallied to within one run and they held on to take the series.
A war of words has since ensued between the two rivals.
“That jumpstarts what we’re trying to accomplish over the next two months,” Sanchez said in an interview with Sportsnet.
The Blue Jays currently hold MLB’s longest post-season drought. Clearly, the management thinks enough is enough. The next couple of months will be the most interesting in years as the Jays try and reel in the wild card spot or even the AL East pennant.
They’ve got the hitting and the pitching to do it.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports