TORONTO — Just past 9 a.m. at Rogers Centre - four hours from first pitch - there was a rehearsal for the unfurling of the 45,000 square foot Canadian flag featured prominently during the national anthems.
An hour later, the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse opened to the media to reveal custom red name plates on every locker. A clubhouse attendant buzzed between the stalls getting the right custom bright-red hats to the right ballplayers.
Little Canada Day touches were all around the park on Monday beyond the red jerseys and a playlist that leaned on the likes of Shania Twain and Carly Rae Jepsen. The top of the dugouts were redecorated, the WestJet flight deck redone, and the colour palette of every video board above the 200 Level made as red as humanly possible. Even the bases and the mound got an extra maple leaf flourish.
Although every Blue Jays game is a show to some extent - one with hundreds of small moving parts that escape our notice - Canada Day is a show.
“Before the game when I saw everything, all the ceremonies, I thought it was pretty cool,” shortstop Freddy Galvis said. “It got me going a little bit.”
One day a year, a country that makes fun of its southern neighbour for their over-the-top patriotism leans into its own, and in Toronto Rogers Centre has been the place to be. An abnormally large crowd has tended to amass as folks have been happy to kill time, and a few beers, at a ballgame before the night takes off.
This year, Rogers Centre didn’t manage to be a destination. With a struggling Blue Jays club, the team drew just 29,339 fans - far fewer than previous Canada Day games.
Even playing to far bigger audiences on Canada Day lately, the Blue Jays have been tough to watch, losing their last three July 1 tilts by a combined score of 18-3. On Monday, the worst Blue Jays club we’ve seen in a while actually put on a show with a 11-4 win.
The Blue Jays put their foot on the throat of the Royals in the early going with seven runs in the first two innings and never looked in danger for the rest of the day, despite a big third inning from Kansas City.
It seemed like almost everyone who got into the game had something to add to the performance.
Clayton Richard posted his second straight quality start, giving the club some hope that he can bring a level of competence to one of its rotation spots. The southpaw kept the Royals to three runs in six frames, striking out four and walking one.
“Getting ahead of hitters is a big reason for that,” the southpaw said. “Jano’s been calling terrific games and I’ve been pretty much just relying on what he’s putting down.”
Cavan Biggio was typically clinical at the plate, wearing down the Royals with a series of drawn-out at-bats. He saw 25 pitches on the day and was able to convert his grinding approach into tangible production with three hits and four runs batted in.
“One of guys I liked today was Biggio,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Yesterday I gave him the green light 3-0 and he grounded out to second. Today I gave him the same thing and so many guys would think ‘I’m just going to take it this time’ and he ripped a double and two runs scored. I just like the way he plays.”
Galvis became the fourth Blue Jay with multiple homers on Canada Day, including back-to-back bombs with Teoscar Hernandez in the second:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also made his presence felt, and not just by being in the lineup. The rookie had a very good day at the plate, but he also got the crowd fired up with his work in the field and on the bases.
After taking some criticism for turning doubles into singles earlier in the year, he put his head down and ran for a first-inning two-bagger, sliding in without issue.
An inning later he’d go first-to-third on a double to left field, locking in a day of aggressive running. He also impressed with a nifty double play on a chopper that required him to move to his left and throw on the run.
With the exception of Rowdy Tellez and Danny Jansen, who went a collective 1-for-9, there’s a case to be made that every player did something to enhance the spectacle. Even when things didn’t fall the Blue Jays’ way, they still had exciting moments - like a brilliant near-catch from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that had the fans erupting in cheers for his effort.
All in all, it was an objectively fun game to see. Unfortunately, for all its virtues, it taught us more about the interest level in the Blue Jays than their talent level.
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