Jays have opening day to remember

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edwin encarnacion

 * The Blue Jays opened with a 6-1 win over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. An opening day diary of how things unfolded at the small ball park in the Bronx, one of the key moments being a home run by Edwin Encarnacion.

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Letters of Intent

By Bob Elliott

NEW YORK _ This was not a four-point game.

When they add up all the win-loss totals at the end of the season Monday afternoon’s Blue Jays opener at Yankee Stadium holds the same weight as the May 29 game against the Minnesota Twins.

Or the June 10 matinee against the Florida Marlins or the Sept. 15 match against the Atlanta Braves.

Yet it is … it is more important than one game.

Monday was opening day.

Opening day is when Time Begins as Tom Boswell wrote. When you can see omens of what lies ahead — will the young guys hit? Do the older guys have anything left.

The first game provides lasting memories and it’s up to the outcome to decide whether it is opening day or Opening Day.

A time line of the Jays opener …

7:16 AM _ Rosanna Scotto tells viewers of Good Day NY “if you’re going to the Yankee game … get there early due to increased security.”

8:02 _ The first Jays bus from their Manhattan hotel arrives with R.A. Dickey, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Aaron Loup, Liam Hendriks, Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro.

9:32 _ The first obnoxious scalper asks if I want to buy a ticket outside the stadium.

9:36 _ Phones and anything metal were placed in plastic basket as Yankee Stadium security X-rayed myself and a Japanese camera crew. Then the bags and satchels are placed on the X-ray belt. The wanding of each and every person is new this year … in all 30 parks to guard against fans bringing weapons into parks.

10:15 _ Someone spots an unmarked trophy in manager’s office. John Gibbons is asked if he won something. No one knows what it’s for. “Looks like a urn for ashes,” jokes George King of the New York Post. Gibbons laughs loudest.

10:20 _ Travis is asked where he opened last year with double-A Erie.

“Altoona, Pa. … and it was cold,” he says.

10:38 _ Donaldson walks by the door sees Gibbons talking to four reporters and says “Gibby how long are you going to talk … you’ve already put one guy on the couch to sleep.”

11:03 _ Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale shakes hands with Hall of Famer Joe Torre behind the batting cage.

11:20 _ Jose Reyes jumps into the cage as the Blue Jays begin batting practice. No one has an oh-fer going at this point of season. It’s like Paul Molitor used to say “maybe this is the year they won’t get me out and I’ll hit 1.000.”

11:24 _ Pablo Cruz is sitting in the Jays dugout. His son Ismael Cruz is the Jays director of Latin America scouting His first sign? Miguel Castro after Castro had been signed and released by the Philadelphia Phillies since he only had one tendon in his right elbow. The Jays flew in scout Sandy Rosario, along with the Cruz father and son combo to Dunedin so they could be in the room when Castro was told he made the team.

They accompanied the Jays to Montreal. Pablo used to be big in Quebec playing for the 1972-73 Sherbrooke Pirates and stealing 33 bases his second season. What does he think is going through Castro’s mind? “We pray for him,” said Cruz.

11:25 _ It must be a big game: WWNY’s Russ Salzberg is on the field with his camera crew in tow. Salzberg broke in at CITY-TV and asked about CITY alum Howie McKenney, the former Maple Leaf. Salzberg has the famous interview with Mike Tyson and twice appeared on Law and Order.

11:37 _ It must be a big game II: ESPN’s brilliant writer T.J. Quinn is in the house. “I’m here for the DH,” he says. Some one asks “you’re doing an opening day piece on Dioner Navarro?” Ah, no. Alex Rodriguez.

11:42 _ Jayden Stroman, seven, has his picture taken with Encarnacion in the Jays third base dugout. He’s wearing a Raptors cap. His pal Luciano Lorefic, nine, is wearing a Yankee lid. Jayden’s pop, Earl Stroman, reports his son Marcus, who blew out his knee fielding a bunt, begins classes at Duke University May 3.

12:02 PM _ Someone asks Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star where his trophy was. John Starzynski, chair of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and board member David Morneau presented Griffin a tray on the field standing beside a three-foot Graney trophy in Montreal. They gave him a tray which he left at his New York hotel.

They took the trophy back to St. Marys, which was good. For a time I thought my new boss John Lott of the National Post and I were going to have to lug the big trophy to New York and then to Baltimore. Like when the Mounties show up wearing white gloves carrying the Grey Cup in the game’s final moments.

1:08 _ Torre throws the ceremonial first pitch.

1:10 _ Masahiro Tanaka’s first pitch to Reyes is an 82 MPH slider for a called strike.

1:14 _ Martin has his first at-bat for the Jays. He’s the 662nd to appear in franchise history, from Jeremy Accardo (2006-10) to Eddie Zosky (1991-92).

1:22 _ Drew Hutchison takes the mound and throws a 90 MPH fastball to Jacoby Ellsbury for ball one.

1:25 _ Right fielder Jose Bautista crashes into the fence stealing an extra-base hit from Brett Gardner. Donaldson, the 663rd Jay, would say later “that’s how good teams win. Jose didn’t have a hit, but he makes a bunch of great plays in the field, one down the line, one in the gap, one where he had to run in … if you don’t get any hits, you can still contribute. He did that.”

1:29 _ Navarro reached on an infield hit with two out in the second … the 54,358th hit in this the 39th year of the franchise.

1:37 _ Bottom of the second … Marty Noble of MLB.com asks “is it just me or is this season dragging?”

1:52 _ Reyes drops a bunt to move Pillar and Travis, the 664th Jay who had walked, to second. Chase Headley fields the ball and bounces his throw, the ball bounding into foul ground, allowing Pillar to score. Reyes makes an abrupt turn and heads for second. Time is called and out comes assistant trainer Mike Frostad. Oh-oh. Reyes had only one at-bat last year at Tropicana Field before leaving with a pulled hamstring. Will his 2015 season last only two at-bats? Frostad checks Reyes’ Achilles tendon and the shortstop stays in the game.

1:54 _ After going hitless in Quebec in front of his family and 96,000 of his best friends, Martin hits the first pitch from Tanaka into right field for a two-run single and a 3-0 lead.

1:59 _ Edwin Encarnacion hit a 2-1 pitch to left centre for a two-run homer, the 6,184th since the Jays took the field in 1977 and Doug Ault hit the first.

2:02 _ Rodriguez makes his 2015 debut. He’s greeted by cheers and works Hutchison for an eight-pitch walk.

3:42 _ Justin Smoak takes over for Encarnacion at first base as a defensive replacement with the Jays up 6-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth. He’s No. 665 on the all-time list.

3:49 _ Castro takes over for lefty Aaron Loup, who walked Carlos Beltran with two out. Earlier Loup hit Didi Gregorius. Castro, the 666th Jay, throws strike one to Mark Teixeira as Gregorius break for third. Martin throws him out easily.

“This isn’t Lakeland or Clearwater, this is Yankee Stadium,” Encarnacion says after the game. “He came in and threw strikes. He’s not scared.”

Loup was impressed too at the one strike, one out approach by Castro saying “he saved my butt.”

4:11 _ Smoak spears a liner off the bat for Headley for the final out of the game.

Hold the elevators.

Warm up the bus.

The media mob talks to Hutchison, the same Hutchison who broke the Jays winless streak at Yankee Stadium last July, Martin, Castro and Travis, who homered in the seventh off reliever Chasen Shreve.

Travis sped around the bases as if the ball had conked off the outfielder’s head and was rolling around on the outfield turf and he was trying to beat a throw to the plate.

He reached the dugout and Mark Buehrle ordered the silent treatment. Travis came into the dugout looking for someone to dug or do a CFL-style handshake with and received nada until he reached the far end of the dugout.

Before you annoint Travis as the next Robbie Alomar(Travis made all the routine plays, including a tough one on the run from short right field, reached base three times out of four, with the homer and two walks) remember the last time a Jays player homered for his first big-league hit in his first game.

That was J.P. Arencibia against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.

“It is what it is,” said Donaldson. “It was one game.”

It was Opening Day.

You can‘t win ‘em all unless you win the first one.

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