DUNEDIN, Fla. — The nomadic Toronto Blue Jays came up just short in their latest home opener location.
David Fletcher had a two-run single in the 11th inning, and the Los Angeles Angels beat Toronto 7-5 on Thursday night in the first regular-season game played at the Blue Jays’ spring training ballpark, which Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said felt like home.
“The Blue Jays (organization) did an outstanding job,” Montoyo said.
Fletcher’s hit to centre came on the first pitch from Rafael Dolis, who replaced Ryan Borucki (1-1) with runners on second and third and two outs.
“He hit it hard enough, yet soft enough,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what he does. He’s a winner.”
Junior Guerra (2-0) worked a scoreless 10th before Raisel Iglesias struck out the side for his second save.
Toronto became the first team in major league history to play home openers in three different cities over three consecutive seasons. The Blue Jays played in Toronto in 2019 and last year moved home games to the ballpark of their Triple-A team in Buffalo, New York, after the Canadian government barred them due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
TD Ballpark, also the home of Toronto’s low Class-A minor league club, last year completed a renovation that cost more than $102 million. Four trucks with additional lighting were brought in for this year’s regular-season games. Toronto’s first three homestands at least will be played in Dunedin, through mid-May.
“It’s actually pretty good,” Maddon said.
One reason the Blue Jays opted to stay in Florida was the weather, which was an ideal 80 degrees at first pitch — surprisingly, it was around the same temperature in Buffalo.
In a sign of the times, a number of Toronto players were vaccinated before the game. Montoyo got his second shot and said he felt tired.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio homered for the Blue Jays, who won their home opener in Buffalo last season 5-4 in 10 innings over Miami to end a streak of eight consecutive home opening losses. That skid was tied for the third longest in major league history.
Los Angeles star Mike Trout went 3 for 5 and had the first regular-season hit at the ballpark, a first-inning double, and also homered. He also had a potential go-ahead hit off Julian Merryweather with two on and two outs in the ninth taken away on a diving catch by centre fielder Randal Grichuk.
Guerrero connected for a 404-foot, two-run homer to centre off Griffin Canning during a three-run first. Biggio’s s solo shot and a run-scoring single by Guerrero in the sixth gave Toronto a 5-4 lead..
Trout put the Angels up 4-3 on a long solo drive to left off Ross Stripling in the fifth that went 444 feet. Shohei Ohtani pulled the Angels even at 5-all on a seventh-inning RBI single.
Ohtani had been expected to pitch this weekend, Maddon said after the game the start will be pushed back due to a blister on the righty’s throwing hand.
OTHER SPRING SITES
The Blue Jays also played regular-season games at a Florida spring training park in 2008. Toronto was swept by host Tampa Bay in a three-game series in April at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando. The facility was used by Atlanta during spring training.
The Blue Jays were planning to open the 1995 season in Dunedin, and even sold tickets, if MLB opted to use replacement players stemming from a work stoppage. An agreement between the players and owners was reached before any replacement players took the field.
Angels: RHP Luke Bard has decided to have season-ending right hip surgery. It is scheduled for May 20.
Blue Jays: OF George Springer is not expected to make his Toronto debut during the seven-game homestand. He started the season on the injured list with a strained left oblique muscle and now has a right quadriceps strain.
Angels LHP Andrew Heaney (0-1) is scheduled to start Friday night. Toronto has not announced its starter.
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Mark Didtler, The Associated Press