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The Red and White was swinging with all its might on Canada Day.
Also known as the Blue Jays when not donning the national colours on these special occasions, they pounded the Tampa Bay Rays 9-2 in the Friday matinee, riding a wave of northern pride in a sold out Rogers Centre.
“This reminds you how great it is to play for Canada, to play for a country,” said Puerto Rican-born manager Charlie Montoyo.
“I actually get nervous because there are so many people here and I want to win so bad. I went outside after my (morning) run to say ‘Happy Canada Day’ and to take pictures. I don’t take these games for granted.”
The 44,445 present, many wearing No. 4 George Springer giveaway sweaters, delighted in a pre-game ceremony honouring Jays’ Canadian catcher Russell Martin’s retirement in 2019.
Then they saw Springer add to the attack with a two-run single in the sixth. The bulk of the damage was by designated hitter Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from the seventh spot with a double, walk, single and solo homer.
In making it two straight wins over one of their chief wild-card competitors in this series, Toronto sets up a Saturday doubleheader (12 noon and 6 p.m.) against the Rays with a record of 26-16 since flirting nervously with .500 in mid-May.
The Jays continue jockeying for the first and second wild-card spots with the Boston Red Sox behind the New York Yankees machine, but this series is so far helping keep the injury-riddled Rays from tightening up the American League East.
Utility man Cavan Biggio also reached base four times as the No. 9 hitter on Friday.
“This was definitely amazing, to say the least,” Biggio said. “In 2019 (the last Canada Day game here), we weren’t this calibre of team and the stadium wasn’t as full. We missed this place in 2020 and ’21 and now we’re experiencing the energy.”
The team was serenaded with an impromptu O Canada by the crowd as the last outs were recorded.
“I heard a lot about this day, but to (pitch) here was so special,” said Puerto Rican starter Jose Berrios. “I know a lot of Canadians want to be in the ball park today. We gave them a win.”
After not lasting four innings in his previous two starts, both losses, Berrios held the Rays to one run and one extra base hit through four and gave up just one more in the fifth before handing off to Trent Thornton, Sergio Romo and Max Castillo. The bullpen trio did not allow a hit until one off Castillo in the ninth.
Berrios received a lot of offence in the third when mates batten around the order on Tampa’s Corey Kluber, while pounding out five doubles.
They included two-run pokes by Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., both hustling to beat tags at the bag. Alejandro Kirk also delivered a double down the line as Kluber exited after the Jays threatened again with bases loaded. In addition to 11 team hits, the top four in the Jays order drove eight balls to the outfield that the Rays had to hustle on for outs.
Montoyo was also pleased to see his team strand six Rays’ runners, capped by a difficult throw from Bichette to escape trouble in the fifth.
By the sixth, all of Toronto’s starters had reached base once when leadoff man Springer added his two-run single off David McKay, the latter also giving up a solo shot to Gurriel, who came out of June with the fourth highest batting average in the majors at .355.
The Rays’ long list of injuries is part of the reason they rank second in the league in unearned runs allowed, but all of the Jays scoring Friday was clean.
“Berrios kept us in the game and our offence took off,” Montoyo said.
Kevin Gausman pitches the first game Saturday, Thomas Hatch the second … Third baseman Matt Chapman was given Friday off until the ninth inning as a defensive replacement, with the doubleheader looming Saturday. He started a game-ending double play. “Too many games, everybody is going to get a day,” Montoyo said of little break in the schedule and an unusual five-game set versus Tampa. “No way you can play that many or somebody’s going to get hurt.” … Among the Canada Day video gags, were the Jays attempting to sing O Canada in tune and players such as Guerrero taping a hockey stick.