April 2008

Now that was an opener

TORONTO — I’m only in my fourth season of covering Blue Jays games, but I can say without a doubt that tonight’s home opener against the Red Sox will be a game I’ll always look back on with a smile. It was just an electric atmosphere that you rarely see at Rogers Centre in the middle of the season.

I’m not from Toronto, so I can only recall TV footage of the old SkyDome days when the stadium was packed on a daily basis and the Jays rolled out great teams year in and year out. Tonight was fun, though. Seeing the Jays in the retro powder blues, having 50,000-plus in the seats waving towels, and having the Red Sox in town to top it off.

Now, I typically make an effort not to mention fans who disrupt the game, or those of us trying to work, as to not encourage this type of behavior, but tonight is an exception. From our view in the pressbox, we have a nice angle of a few fights in the upper deck, where at one point the crowd was chanting “Let her stay!” while ushers tried to kick out a female fan who, how shall we say, didn’t mind being a little revealing.

Speaking of which, Jeremy Accardo had his ninth-inning save attempt interupted by a pair of fans who ran on the field without their shirts on — a man and a woman. She kept her undergarments on, but the crowd still gave a loud “Boooo!” when a security guard decided to cover her up with a jacket.

After the game, one reporter kiddingly asked Jays President Paul Godfrey if he hired the girl to run out on the field.

“No, but I’m firing the guy who covered her up,” Godfrey joked back.

Accardo was asked if he tried to sneak a peak.

“I watched, if that’s what your asking,” he said with a smirk.

Said Aaron Hill: “We were wondering when it was going to happen. Doc actually called it. He said, ‘What’s the ETA of a streaker coming on the field?’ I think he said it on the field and then there they go. It’s always funny, I guess. It’s annoying, because you have to wait. You’re on a roll and you get a couple outs and you just want to get it over with. Then you have to wait for guys to have their fun, and girl have her fun.”

As for the retro unis, Jays starter Shaun Marcum said, “That was kind of fun to see everyone running around out there like a little Smurf.” Nice.

More Accardo on the crowd: “It was awesome. If we could get this crowd every day, it pumps up all the players. The towels and stuff, it makes the game fun. I mean, it’s fun every day, but when you have 55,000 behind you and you’ve got the chants, even the running on the field, the streaking, hopefully a lot of people liked it and they’ll come back to some more game.”

It was definitely a fun night for all. Oh, and the Jays won, 6-3. We also got our first look at Toronto’s new clubhouse, which is GINORMOUS. Lots of places for players to hide from reporters now. I can’t even begin to describe it and do it justice. Just take it from Hill:

“This is a country club. Good Lord.Who wouldn’t want to come to this place? Every one of these guy’s who have been on different teams say this is by far the best place they’ve been in. I told my wife, I said, ‘When you’re not here, I might just stay in here the whole time.’ This awesome. I’ll bring the dog in here and the guitar and I’ll have a blast.”

Lounging on one of the couches, Alex Rios jokingly said, “I didn’t know they had this kind of money to do this.” Yeah, should’ve held out for a bigger deal, Lexi.

Catch you all tomorrow.

Jays lock up Rios, Hill

TORONTO — Seeing Aaron Hill standing in the hallway wearing a suit was definitely a surprise when we were heading to the presser to announce Alex Rios signing a six-year deal. As it turns out, both Rios and Hill inked extensions today.

Rios’ contract is for six years and $64 million with an option for the 2015 season that could make the deal worth near $80 million. Hill signed a four-year, $12 million deal with club options for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. According to Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto has once chance — prior to the 2011 season — to choose either a one-year, two-year or three-year extension. It’s be $8 mil for one more year, $16 for two or $26 for three.

Ricciardi said he preferred not to comment about any trade clauses, but I believe it’s limite no-trades for both players. Ricciardi did note that the players cannot opt out at any point. Rios’ deal takes effect next year and Hill’s goes into effect immediately. I don’t have a breakdown of the annual salaries or bonuses or anything yet.

The presser was quite entertaining, with Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay, Matt Stairs, Lyle Overbay and John McDonald making appearances. We jokingly asked Wells if he had to give up some of his salary to help the club afford the new deals for Rios and Hill. When asked if he was picking up the next tab for a team meal, Rios said that’s Vern’s department. Nice.

Back with more later…

UPDATE — 5:46 pm: OK, some clarification on the contracts for Hill and Rios. For Hill, by Opening Day 2011, the Jays need to decided whether or not to pick up three additional years for $26 million, running through 2014. If the team declines, the Jays then has to decide at the end of the ’11 season to either decline the option altogether or to pick up either a one-year extension worth $8 million or a two-year worth $16 million. For Rios, his contract is six-years worth $64 million, but there is a $1 million buyout for after the 2014 season. Should Toronto decide to keep Rios around through 2015 with the club option, it’d be another $13.5 million. So essentially, it’s either a six-year, $65 million deal or a seven-year, $77.5 million deal. Now that we’re clear…

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (1-2) at BOSTON (3-1)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Matt Stairs, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C

PITCHING: RHP Shaun Marcum

RED SOX
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
David Ortiz, DH
Manny Ramirez, LF
Mike Lowell, 3B
J.D. Drew, RF
Julio Lugo, SS
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Kevin Cash, C

PITCHING: RHP Tim Wakefield

Jays call conference

TORONTO — Out walking the dog this afternoon, braving the cold and rain back home in Toronto, and I saw that the giant Troy Glaus poster that used to cover the windows on the south side of the Rogers Centre has finally been replaced with Scott Rolen.

There’s also some new banners hanging on the outside of the ballpark, including one of Tom Cheek that I saw while walking around. Every year it seems like they’re adding new little things to try to spice up the Dome. Today, they might officially be adding Alex Rios long-term.

The Jays have called a 3 p.m. ET news conference, likely to announce that Rios has signed a long-term deal. Also happening in today’s home opener, the Jays are elevating Roberto Alomar’s name to the Level of Excellence.

I’m about to head over to the ballpark, so more to come later. No fun travel stories today. Unfortunately — for blog purposes anyway – it was smooth sailing and I slept through the whole flight.

More later…

On the mend

NEW YORK – It was good news all around for the Blue Jays here at Yankee Stadium this morning.

Matt Stairs is back in the lineup after being sidelined with a sore left hip, Marco Scutaro remained in the lineup after X-rays showed no problems with his right hand that was struck with a pitch, and Dustin McGowan made his start as planned after being sent back to the team’s hotel on Wednesday with a stomach issue.

Before the game, the Globe’s Rob MacLeod asked Toronto manager John Gibbons how McGowan’s “tummy ache” was, leading to this comical exchange:

“Easy on the sarcasm. Tummy aches are for kids,” Gibbons said.

“I’m sorry, what’s it for men?” Mac countered.

After a pause, Gibbons replied with, “Stomach ailment.”

And I’m doing OK, too. I came mere feet away from being in what would’ve been a pretty wicked car accident last night. Our esteemed Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch nearly rearended a taxi cab while we were on our way out to meet up with our friend Katy. We avoided certain doom, but I did have a stiff neck the rest of the evening. Thanks, Bry.

Anyway, in honor of my little near-death experience — OK, I’m exaggerating at this point — I’m going to bust out a Song of the Day Cathal Kelly style, pointing you all to Pearl Jam’s Alive.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (1-1) at NEW YORK (1-1)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Matt Stairs, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, DH
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Hideki Matsui, LF
Jose Molina, C
Mekly Cabrera, CF

PITCHING: RHP Phil Hughes

Stairs to the DL?

NEW YORK — One day after manager John Gibbons expressed some optimism about Matt Stairs not needing a stint on the 15-day disabled list, Toronto’s skipper made it sound like a trip to the DL was now more of a possibility for the outfielder.

Gibbons said the Jays would have Stairs do some running in the outfield before Wednesday’s game against the Yankees to test his sore left hip, but he was still out of the starting lineup. He’s available off the bench, if needed, but Toronto won’t want to keep having him listed as day-to-day, leaving their bench short-handed.

Should Stairs still need more time to heal up, he’d be on the DL retroactive to March 23, when he last played in a spring game, and able to be activated in time for the April 8-10 series against the A’s. Gibbons said again that infielder Joe Inglett would be the likely callup if Stairs landed on the self.

Even if Stairs was ready to go, Gibby said he’d probably have stuck with Shannon Stewart, who owns a .295 career average against Yankees starter Mike Mussina. Gregg Zaun was also held out of the lineup, but Gibbons said that was simply to give Rod Barajas some early playing time. Gibbons said Zaun isn’t dealing with any health problems or anything.

Dustin McGowan was sent back to the team hotel prior to Wednesday’s game due to flu-like symptoms, but the Jays hope he can still make his start on Thursday. If not, Shaun Marcum would move up one day and take his spot.

B.J. Ryan threw in a simulated game in Florida on Wednesday, throwing 21 pitches and hitting as high as 88 mph on the gun. He’ll throw again on the fifth and then if he feels OK possibly transition into an every other day program.

USELESS TRIVIA: Jays DH Frank Thomas went 1-for-4 in Tuesday’s opener, giving him at leats one hit in 14 consecutive Opening Day games. That’s the longest active streak of it’s kind in the bigs.

QUOTABLE: “Tonight’s the big night. I might get ejected just so I can go watch it.” –Gibbons, referring to the hit TV show American Idol

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (0-1) at NEW YORK (1-0)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Rod Barajas, C

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Hideki Matsui, DH
*Jose Molina, C
Mekly Cabrera, CF

PITCHING: RHP Mike Mussina

*C Jorge Posada was a late scratch with a stiff right shoulder

Opening Day…again

NEW YORK — The Blue Jays are currently being introduced and taking their respective places along the third-base chalk line. The tarp came off the field about 45 minutes ago and it’s game on — finally. And so the 2008 season begins for Toronto, which has an early test against the Bronx Bombers.

“We’ve put out some competitive teams,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said before the game. “But we haven’t done enough to get over the top. Until you take that step, it’s really beating your head against the wall just talking about it. Sooner or later, you’ve got to do it.”

Well, they’ve talked the talk. Will they walk the walk?

Matt Stairs is still out of the lineup, but Gibbons said the outfielder is available off the bench and could play tomorrow, if needed. Still no update on the Alex Rios contract talks. That’s it for right now for the pregame. I have to try to remember how to write a game story…

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (0-0) at NEW YORK (0-0)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, C
Hideki Matsui, DH
Mekly Cabrera, CF

PITCHING: RHP Chien-Ming Wang

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