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Blue Jays miss chance to build on momentum after avoidable loss to Mariners –



TORONTO – All night, the Blue Jays appeared to be on the brink of breaking out offensively, and when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. finally hit a game-tying home run in the eighth, a fourth consecutive win seemed well within reach for the Blue Jays.

But with Patrick Murphy pitching and runners on the corners in the 10th inning, Dylan Moore hit a three-run homer deep over the left field wall at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field. With that, a team that’s struggled in close games faltered in the late innings once again, missing an opportunity to build further momentum and enduring an avoidable loss as a result.

Despite a 10th-inning rally of their own, the Blue Jays lost 9-7, falling to 2-5 in extra innings and 41-37 on the season.

“We scored enough to make it a game, it just wasn’t enough there at the end,” manager Charlie Montoyo said afterwards.

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From the start, the Blue Jays were in trouble as Steven Matz’s first start in 18 days was a brief one – the left-hander allowed four earned runs on five hits before exiting after just 2.2 innings. While he did top out at 95.1 m.p.h., his average fastball velocity was down 1.1 m.p.h. compared to his yearly average and he generated just four swinging strikes.

“My velocity was a tick down today, the life on my fastball wasn’t quite there, the curveball wasn’t as sharp and the command was up in the zone a bit as well,” Matz explained. “That’s what I mean when I say the sharpness on pitches, that little extra life on pitches, just wasn’t there.”

Though he tested positive for COVID-19, Matz said he was largely asymptomatic. Still, he had to isolate for 10 days after the test, and his regular throwing routines were thrown off as a result. From Montoyo’s perspective, Matz’s stuff wasn’t as lively as usual because of that absence.

“It looked like rust,” Montoyo said. “He wasn’t sharp, (but) I’m expecting him to be sharp next time because now he’s had this outing.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Once Matz exited, the Blue Jays turned to Trent Thornton, who allowed two runs of his own, and Anthony Kay, who looked sharp over four scoreless innings while striking out five. But by then, the damage had been done, and though the Blue Jays kept adding baserunners, they didn’t convert enough of them as the game unfolded.

To be fair, ­­­­­the game wouldn’t have been as close as it was without a big offensive game from Gurriel Jr., who got the start at first base Wednesday with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at DH. Before hitting his game-tying homer, Gurriel Jr. also brought the Blue Jays to within one with a fifth inning single.

The difference between wins and losses is minuscule on nights like this, as the Blue Jays know all too well. But if there’s an antidote to losses in close games, it’s quality relief pitching. With that in mind, the more the Blue Jays can add to their pitching staff, the better they’ll be able to withstand those disruptions and let their offence do its thing.

To be fair, it sounds as though the Blue Jays see it that way, too. At this stage, GM Ross Atkins is open to starting pitching, relief pitching or defence – anything to keep the opposition from scoring.

“The run prevention category will take up the bulk of our focus,” Atkins said.

For instance, the right starter could bump Ross Stripling to more of a long relief role and better equip the Blue Jays to handle nights like Wednesday. Along those lines, further bullpen upgrades would mean the Blue Jays can ease rookies like Murphy in instead of immediately relying on them in leverage.

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With relievers Rafael Dolis, Ryan Borucki and Julian Merryweather all trending in the right direction, some bullpen help is coming from within. More immediately, the addition of submariner Adam Cimber will help.

“Elite soft contact, elite ground balls and strike throwing ability,” Atkins said of Cimber. “What we see as three elite weapons in the four-seam, two-seam and slider were very attractive in addition to it being a unique look for our bullpen.”

But with Nate Pearson’s status still uncertain, it’s hard to count on much from him at this point. The Blue Jays continue seeking opinions on the groin strain that forced him to the triple-A injured list in case there’s a reason Pearson’s groin has already sidelined him twice this season.

“It’s starting to feel as though there could be something underlying (with) the nature of this reoccurrence, but at the same time we still have no evidence of that after multiple opinions,” Atkins said. “There’s the potential of it.”

At this point Pearson’s “frustrated, but coping with it well,” according to Atkins, who says the Blue Jays are hopeful their top pitching prospect will return this year. But it’s also possible some sort of surgery will be required depending on what else the Blue Jays learn.

With or without Pearson, there’s work to do on this team. The Blue Jays are acting and talking like a team intent on making further improvements, so the opportunity here isn’t lost on the front office. What they do with it over the next month or so will be nearly as intriguing as what happens between the lines.

“I feel like there’s going to be more opportunities for us and we’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to execute on them, but feel like we’re in a good position,” Atkins said. “I feel like Charlie Montoyo and his staff and our players have earned the right for us to continue to complement this group. We’ll work hard to do that.”

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Canadian flag-bearer's parents delightfully cheer on daughter from across the world – Yahoo Canada Sports



Miranda Ayim’s parents were ecstatic to watch their daughter carry Canada’s flag at the Opening Ceremony. (Photo via @CBCOlympics/Twitter)

When Canadian women’s basketball player Miranda Ayim triumphantly led the Canadian contingent into the opening ceremony at Tokyo 2020, a small group of friends and family gathered back in London, Ont., to cheer her on.

At the centre of the group were Ayim’s parents, Gus and Sandy Ayim, who were understandably beaming with pride.

Any parent of an Olympic athlete would be on the edge of their seat watching their child enter the Olympic Stadium, but when they are the ones leading the team and carrying the flag, the emotions are surely that much stronger.

“Exhilaration, nervousness, anticipation as we just saw the flag…the Canada flag in the corner in the back, in the tunnel, and then that ratcheted everything up just a little bit as we saw the anticipation of them coming out,” Gus told CTV News.

Suddenly, all those long years of early morning drives to practices and weekends spent on the road at basketball tournaments don’t seem like much of a sacrifice at all. Not when this was what they were leading to.

But still, Ayim knows she wouldn’t be in this spot without the support of her parents. In fact, back in 2018, she thanked her parents in an Instagram post for all they have done for her.

“Of all the people in our lives we take for granted, parents seem to continually rank at the top of the list,” Ayim wrote in the caption. “Without them, there would have been no rebounder in the gym at 6 in the morning, no driver to countless practices and games, no cheerleader in the stands, no consoler after a hard game, no counsellor in the face of hard decisions.”

Now, with the opening ceremony behind her, Ayim can turn her focus to basketball.

The 33-year-old forward and the rest of her Canadian teammates will begin their pursuit of a medal when they face off against Serbia on Monday.

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Canadian cyclist Michael Woods just misses podium after gruelling 234-km ride –



In a race that lasted nearly six hours and traversed more than 200 kilometres, in the end it came down to a matter of inches for Canadian cyclist Michael Woods.

With Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz capturing gold, Woods was among a group of five riders who were in a flat sprint over the final 100 metres, jockeying for silver and bronze. With a few metres to go, Woods appeared to get boxed out by two other riders, ultimately finishing fifth and missing out on a medal by less than a second.

“I am really happy with how I rode but just off the podium which was my big goal,” Woods told CBC Sports after the race. “I tried to get some separation as much as I could but it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Woods final time was six hours, six minutes and 33 seconds, 1.07 behind Carapaz.

Belgium’s Wout van Aert captured silver. Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar took the bronze.

Woods overcame gruelling conditions, on what riders called the toughest Olympic course ever, to be in contention at the finish.

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The 34-year-old was barely mentioned during this race before, like a coiled spring, thrusting himself into the top group with about 30 kilometres left of the 234-kilometre race.

Coming into this race, the Toronto native and Ottawa resident said the brutal course, full of deadly climbs, “really suited him.”  He was right.

“I thought I was the strongest climber today, but I had to roll the dice [and] it didn’t play out as I’d hoped,” Woods said.

“I really didn’t want it to come down to a sprint. I tried to attack several times and I wanted to get away like Carapaz did, but I just wasn’t as lucky as him and able make the move that he did.”

This race had an Olympic feel that’s been lacking here in Tokyo as for the first time athletes had a crowd cheering them on. Thousands of fans welcomed the riders as they entered the Fuji Motor Speedway two hours from Tokyo, where the race finished. Riders also received strong encouragement from locals who lined parts of the course as the race snaked through the mountains, where COVID-19 protocols aren’t as restrictive as in Tokyo.

A pack of riders goes past Yamanaka Lake during the men’s cycling road race on Saturday. (AFP via Getty Images)

While countries like Italy and Belgium and France had five riders who were able to control the pace throughout the race before launching waves of co-ordinated attacks, Woods did much of the work on his own.

About 80 kilometres into the race, it appeared that Woods might have been involved in a crash that sidelined a pair of British riders, but he escaped contact. He did have to drop back from the pack momentarily as he appeared to have issues with one of his shoes before getting a fresh pair from his team car.

With the iconic Mount Fuji looming over many parts of the course, the 130-rider field had to navigate a series of five gruelling climbs adding up to nearly 5,000 metres, a more arduous challenge than even the most difficult mountain stages at the Tour de France.

As one commentator put it: add in the humidity and it will feel like they are climbing Mount Everest.

The toughest challenge of this race came near the end, after nearly 200 kilometres of racing, called the Mikuni Pass, the steepest climb in cycling.

Woods said before the race that the steep ascents made it a “good course for him.”

“It is a really challenging climb, really steep, but it really suits my skill set. I think with the heat, particularly with the amount of climbing in this race, it really does suit my abilities,” Woods told CBC Sports.

WATCH | The Olympians: Mike Woods

Watch CBC Sports’ The Olympians feature, on Mike Woods. 3:06

Beyond the brutal climbs, riders also had to endure the searing heat. Early this month, Woods actually decided to leave the Tour de France early so he could come to the Olympics early to help acclimate himself to the heat.

“I did three hours in the peak heat of the day, sweating profusely, and I was really happy that I got that in. I think I need a couple more days of that heat exposure and I think I’ll be good in terms of actual race day preparation,” Woods said.

The Olympic road race is usually held on a circuit, but at these Games, riders began at Tokyo’s Musashinonomori Park then passed through Kanagawa and Yamanashi Prefectures before finishing at the Fuji International Speedway. As riders wound their way through the Japanese countryside, they were treated to small slices of Japanese culture, including ancient temples and ornate fountains.

Just two weeks ago, Woods was involved in a crash at the Tour de France, where he suffered a severe road rash. But coming into these Games, Wood said he felt healthy and in great spirits.

Back home, his wife Elly is just about to have a baby boy. Despite changes coming at home and a career that has now included two Olympics, in the moments after this narrow defeat, Woods said that you may see him in Paris, the site of 2024 Olympics.

“We will have to see what the course in Paris is like,” he said. “I will be 38 at the next Olympics, So it’s difficult to say. But this has me all the more motivated and if the course in Paris is challenging, I will be there I think.”

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Canadian medal hopefuls Humana-Paredes, Pavan start beach volleyball with easy win –



Under a scorching sun, brilliant blue sky and temperatures that soared above 38 degrees Celsius at the Shiokaze Park in Tokyo, Canada’s dynamic beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes wasted no time taking it to their Dutch opponents. 

The No. 1-ranked and defending world champions took a few minutes to get their footing in the golden sand at the venue, but when they did, they were a force to be reckoned with. 

Pavan and Humana-Paredes defeated the Netherlands duo of Katja Stam and Raisa School in straight sets (21-16, 21-14) on Saturday to open their Olympics. 

“I think today we made it clear that everything we’ve been working on has paid off,” Pavan said after the victory. “The three times we’ve played that team it’s gone down to the wire. Today we took care of it.”

The duo fell behind early to the Dutch, trailing 5-2 in the first set and looking somewhat frustrated. But after an end change Canada rallied, stringing together four straight points, the fourth a huge Pavan block at the net, to take a 6-5 lead.

She pumped her fist in the air before sharing a high-five with Humana-Paredes.

“Regardless of the empty stadium I was shaking like a leaf,” Humana-Paredes said. “I was so nervous and so excited and put on a brave face.”

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The team talked about needing to feed off one another’s energy on the court because they normally thrive on the crowd. So any chance they get to ignite one another here at the Olympics, they take full advantage of it. 

Thousands of blue seats around the venue sat empty because of COVID restrictions — a similar scene at every Olympic venue in Tokyo, still in a state of emergency.

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes win opener in straight sets:

Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan opened their Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball campaign with a straight-sets (21-16, 21-14) win over the Netherlands’ Katja Stam and Raisa School. 5:34

The Canadians started to pull away slowly from the Dutch. Pavan’s 6-foot-5 frame was a huge advantage at the net, blocking another Dutch smash to make the score 14-10. 

The Dutch were visibly frustrated by Pavan’s daunting presence at the net and started making unforced errors. The Canadian duo then cruised to a 21-16 opening-set victory.

“We came out a little slow just getting used to the environment, nerves, excitement, everything. We settled in pretty quickly,” Pavan said. 

The Dutch weren’t about to go away too easily in the second set, going shot for shot with the Canadians. Canada mounted a 12-9 lead before a technical timeout for crews to rake the sand court.

Humana-Paredes then took her defensive game to a different level and at times was seemingly all over the court, digging up balls that seemed destined to touch sand. 

Pavan’s presence at the net continually frustrated the Canadians’ Dutch opponents. (AFP via Getty Images)

The experience, poise and power of the Canadians proved to be too much for the Dutch duo. Pavan and Humana-Paredes finished off the match winning the second set, 21-14. 

“Our game plan was on point. We executed our serving game very well and our defensive system. We were very prepared,” Pavan said. 

She finished with four block points and 11 attack points. 

One of the key strengths to Humana-Paredes and Pavan’s game is their ability to communicate. Because of the silent venue their strategy could be heard very clearly throughout the venue. They were constantly talking to one another and sharing information to each other and it slowly wore down the Dutch. 

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes headed for history:

On this week’s episode of Team Canada Today, we go behind the scenes at training while Andi Petrillo tells you all you need to know about Olympic beach volleyball. 7:57

“That’s something we’ve been working on and it’s a cornerstone of our team,” Humana-Paredes said. “Our communication on and off the court, we put so much work into that. Communication is what we always come back to.”

Pavan and Humana-Paredes now take on Germany in their second match of the tournament in Pool A. 

There are 24 teams competing at the women’s beach volleyball tournament, including another Canadian duo made up of Heather Barnsley and Brandie Wilkerson. They play China in their first game on Saturday night in Tokyo. 

There are six groups made up of four teams. The top two teams from each group advance, with four more joining them in the round of 16. Then that gets trimmed down to eight teams, four teams and then the gold medal game. 

That’s the game Pavan and Humana-Paredes are targeting and are off to a perfect start. 

“It’s such an honour to be here and surreal. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was a little girl. I just want to soak it all in.”

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