Meltdown Against Beantown

TORONTO (Apr. 9) — Where have we seen this before… a Toronto professional sports team coughing up apparent–to–certain victory against a rival from Boston?

Okay, the stakes weren’t nearly as high on Friday night as during the Causeway St. Calamity nearly three years ago, when the Maple Leafs legendarily gargled on a 4–1 third period lead in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Bruins. For the Toronto Blue Jays, it was merely the first of 81 home games in a season of considerable expectation. But, the joint was packed at Rogers Centre and the locals somehow mangled a 7–2, sixth–inning lead, ultimately surrendering, 8–7, to the Boston Red Sox.

Reining American League MVP Josh Donaldson belted a grand slam in the fourth, but was later matched by Brock Holt of the visitors. It isn’t often you get two salamis in the same game, and delirious fans at the Dome would have been happy with one. The Toronto bullpen offered up nightmarish visions of yesteryear, though it’s rather early in the Major League schedule to begin drawing parallels.

I was at Rogers Centre for the Blue Jays 40th home opener… with my trusty NIKON:

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THE SECURITY LINE–UPS OUTSIDE ROGERS CENTRE WERE TYPICALLY MASSIVE.

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PAINTED IN FOUL TERRITORY ON THE FIRST AND THIRD–BASE SIDES.

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LAST SEASON’S AMERICAN LEAGUE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER — JOSH DONALDSON — WAS PRESENTED A PRE–GAME PLAQUE FROM THE BLUE JAYS 1987 A.L. MVP, GEORGE BELL.

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JOSE BAUTISTA PRESSES FLESH WITH MANAGER JOHN GIBBONS DURING PRE–GAME INTRODUCTION WHILE KEVIN PILLAR AND JOSH DONALDSON LOOK ON.

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O CANADA AND THE BLUE JAYS NEW ALL–DIRT INFIELD.

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FORMER BLUE JAYS PRESIDENT PAUL BEESTON THREW OUT THE CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH; HUGGED JOSE BAUTISTA; THEN POSED WITH BAUTISTA, JOHN GIBBONS AND BEESTON’S GRANDSON.

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GIBBONS LISTENED TO INSTRUCTIONS IN PRE–GAME MEETING AT HOME PLATE WITH THE UMPIRING CREW, THEN SHOOK HANDS WITH BOSTON MANAGER JOHN FARRELL.

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MARCUS STROMAN DELIVERS THE FIRST PITCH OF THE BLUE JAYS 2016 HOME SCHEDULE TO RED SOX RIGHT–FIELDER MOOKIE BETTS AT 7:27 P.M.

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STROMAN MADE HIS SECOND START OF THE YOUNG SEASON, GOING 5.1 INNINGS.

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DAVID ORTIZ IN THE ON–DECK CIRCLE. “BIG PAPI” IS BEGINNING HIS FINAL MAJOR LEAGUE SEASON.

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ROGERS CENTRE WAS FILLED TO CAPACITY — 48,871 — FOR THE 2016 HOME OPENER.

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HOTEL ROOMS FACING THE FIELD WERE MOSTLY OCCUPIED.

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AS ALWAYS WHEN AT THE DOME, I PAUSED TO REMEMBER THE BLUE JAYS LEGENDARY RADIO VOICE AND HIS REMARKABLE CONSECUTIVE–GAMES STREAK. TOM HAS BEEN GONE NOW FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS, HAVING DIED OF BRAIN CANCER IN OCTOBER 2005. HE WAS A GREAT FRIEND AND MENTOR.

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HASH–TAGS AND THE 2016 SEASON LOGO ON TOP OF THE BLUE JAYS DUGOUT.

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KEVIN PILLAR WAS NEARLY BEANED BY RED SOX STARTER JOE KELLY WITH THE BASES LOADED IN THE FOURTH INNING — KELLY’S INSIDE PITCH HITTING THE BILL OF PILLAR’S BATTING HELMET, FORCING IN A RUN. THAT BROUGHT DESIGNATED–HITTER JOSH DONALDSON TO THE PLATE.

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DONALDSON TURNED ON KELLY’S FIRST PITCH AND SENT IT OVER THE WALL IN LEFT FIELD FOR THE SECOND GRAND SLAM OF HIS CAREER — SCORING PILLAR, RYAN GOINS AND DARWIN BARNEY.

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EDWIN ENCARNACION CHATS WITH DAVID ORTIZ AT SECOND BASE.

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JESSE CHAVEZ RELIEVED STROMAN WITH THE BASES LOADED IN THE SIXTH… AND SERVED UP A GRAND SLAM TO BROCK HOLT. A 7–2 TORONTO LEAD WAS SUDDENLY 7–6.

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BLUE JAYS INFIELDERS (FROM LEFT–TO–RIGHT) DARWIN BARNEY, RYAN GOINS, TROY TULOWITZKI AND EDWIN ENCARNACION LOOK ON FORLORNLY DURING PITCHING CHANGE.

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A MOUND MEETING WITH ENCARNACION AND CATCHER RUSSELL MARTIN DIDN’T HELP BRETT CECIL.

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DAVID ORTIZ AND HANLEY RAMIREZ SINGLED OFF CECIL… BOSTON TOOK AN 8–7 LEAD.

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RALLY–TOWEL HANDED TO ALL FANS AT THE DOME FRIDAY NIGHT. TWIRLED IN VAIN.

30th or 29th?

Balls are on the line tonight in Newark and Vancouver.

Lottery balls, that is. By 1 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday, we’ll know which team — Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers — finishes 30th in the National Hockey League standings, thereby grabbing (pun intended) the best percentage–odds of winning the Apr. 30 NHL draft lottery… and a guaranteed top–four selection. The Leafs and Oilers each have 69 points. Toronto plays at New Jersey (7 p.m. EST); Edmonton is at Vancouver (10 p.m.). Both games will be televised by CBC and Hockey Night In Canada.

If the clubs remain deadlocked after tonight, the Leafs finish last in the overall standings. The first tie–breaker is ROW’s (regulation or overtime wins); Edmonton leads, 27–23. Toronto can remove suspense from the late game by losing in regulation time at the Prudential Center. If the Leafs gain a point or two against the Devils, Edmonton has to match. Otherwise, the Oilers take their customary spot in the cellar.

Who said there are no playoffs for Canadian teams?

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LEAFS FANS SHOULD BE HOPING FOR LOTS OF THIS TONIGHT.

REMEMBERING RON

IN THE SATURDAY TORONTO STAR:

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EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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