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Big Sixth Helps Blue Jays Beat Eflin On Opening Day

Yandy Diaz watches as his first-inning home run leaves the yard (photo: Tampa Bay Rays)

Yandy Diaz hit a lead-off home run to start the 2024 regular season, but the first baseman’s day was about the only bright spot for the Tampa Bay Rays, who were thumped by the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 at Tropicana Field Thursday.

Diaz’s solo homer off Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios was part of a three-hit day, and was the third Opening Day leadoff home run in franchise history.  Gerald Williams hit a leadoff homer off Minnesota’s Brad Radke April 3, 2000, and Austin Meadows took Houston’s Justin Verlander deep March 28, 2019.  The first baseman also drove in Tampa Bay’s second run in the sixth, following a Rene Pinto double with a two-base hit of his own, and finished a triple shy of the cycle.

“You ​see ​him ​all ​of ​last ​year ​and ​then ​all ​spring ​training, ​he ​knocked ​the ​cover ​off ​the ​ball,” manager Kevin Cash said after the game.  “He’s ​really ​good ​when ​he ​gets ​in ​that ​batter’s ​box.”

“I wish we all had what he had [today,]” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.  “Watching him hit was incredible.”

Toronto tied the game in the fourth, when George Springer took the first pitch of the inning from Rays starter Zach Eflin and deposited it into the seats in left, and took the lead in the sixth with Cavan Biggio‘s solo homer.  Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would add a solo shot of his own, Alejandro Kirk added a two-run single, and Kevin Kiermaier drove in the Blue Jays’ fifth run of the inning before Eflin was pulled.

The right-hander came into the sixth inning needing just 55 pitches to get the first 15 outs, but appeared to unravel after Guerrero’s blast landed in the netting atop the Budweiser Porch in center field, which Statcast estimated as a 450-foot shot.

“Just ​kind ​of ​lost ​my ​mechanics ​a ​little ​bit, ​started ​spraying ​the ​ball, ​four ​pitch walk, ​hit ​by ​pitch, ​and ​didn’t really ​execute ​anything ​after ​that,” Eflin said.  “[I] felt ​good ​for ​five ​innings, ​and ​then ​to ​give ​it ​up in ​the ​sixth ​really ​sucks.”

Bo Bichette pushed the Blue Jays lead to 8-2 in the sixth with a two-run double off reliever Shawn Armstrong.

Aaron Civale (7-5, 3.46 ERA in 2023) will look to even Tampa Bay’s record Friday, taking on Chris Bassitt (16-8, 3.60 ERA in 2023).  First pitch is scheduled for 6:50.

Written By

Steve Carney is the founder and publisher of St. Pete Nine. One of the people most associated with baseball coverage in Tampa Bay, he spent 13 seasons covering the Rays for flagship radio station WDAE, first as producer of Rays Radio broadcasts, then as beat reporter beginning in 2011. He likes new analytics and aged bourbon, and is the owner of one of the ugliest knuckleballs ever witnessed by baseball scouts.

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