DETROIT — Gabriel Moreno twirled his bat in the on-deck circle as he readied himself for his fourth at-bat of the game.
The stadium announcer belted Moreno’s name over the speakers, and, this time, Blue Jays fans in the Comerica Park bleachers remained quiet. Moreno got a hearty applause from the traveling Toronto faithful before his first MLB plate appearance earlier in the game, but not this time.
It was the ninth inning and Detroit Tigers closer Gregory Soto toed the slab. With two outs, he blazed a 98-m.p.h fastball down in the zone, and Moreno sent it right back where it came from.
The 105.2-m.p.h. liner skipped neatly into centre field, and as Moreno rounded first, he kissed his hand and pointed to the sky. The Blue Jays eventually lost Saturday’s game 3-1, but the 22-year-old got on the board with a knock.
“I wanted to get [my first hit] out of the way,” Moreno said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “Thank God it happened in my last at-bat. I really wanted it.”
The Blue Jays haven’t seen a prospect of this magnitude debut since Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette both arrived in the big leagues in 2019 to rescue a jaded Jays fanbase that had experienced losing baseball for a few years.
Moreno doesn’t boast the pedigree or famous last name of a Guerrero or a Bichette, but his rise to the top of prospect leaderboards was just as impressive. Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2016 for a mere $25,000, Moreno wasn’t ever expected to drive such a powerful hype train. Now, he’s the consensus fourth-best prospect in baseball — and on Saturday he finally joined a competitive Blue Jays squad that has playoff baseball on its mind.
Lauded on offence for his quick hands and above-average contact ability, Moreno flashed some hitting talent with a 1-for-4 day. His defence, however, was arguably more impactful.
Generously listed at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Moreno doesn’t carry the typical frame of a major-league catcher — he was originally scouted as a middle infielder before the Blue Jays moved him behind the plate.
If you watch Moreno catch, you’ll see his infield background creep through. Everything he does is fluid, almost dance-like. His God-given athleticism, dashing footwork, sound transfer and cannon for an arm arguably make him the best-throwing catcher on the Blue Jays.
He put all those tools on display when a runner broke to steal second in the first inning. Moreno stabbed at a diving splitter and fired a bullet to Bichette covering second, who slapped the tag down in time but dropped the ball.
The best catchers in history blend their physical skills with even greater mental prowess. Good catchers develop deep relationships with their pitchers, guide them through games, help sequence their pitches, and comfort or challenge them when things go awry.
Those intangibles are the hardest for young backstops to get a grip on, and oftentimes catchers develop those traits on-the-fly in the majors.
On Saturday, Moreno was tasked with catching Kevin Gausman, an early AL Cy Young candidate coming off his shortest start of the season. It was no small task for Moreno to debut with Gausman, the owner of a devastating splitter and a 10-year major-league track record.
Instead of fearing the challenge of catching Gausman, Moreno looked composed. He blocked and framed well during the starting pitcher’s six innings of work.
“That’s kind of my big question mark anytime I have a first-time catcher is how are they going to block this split,” said Gausman, who took the loss. “And so there’s a couple of times, guys on third, he had no hesitation calling it, and did a hell of a job blocking it today.”
And, to add even more emotional stimulation to his debut, Moreno played his first game against one of his baseball heroes, Miguel Cabrera. The aging Tigers legend is an icon in Venezuela and one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, so when he requested a meet-and-greet with Moreno, it was an easy decision.
“Meeting Miguel was unbelievable,” said Moreno, adding that he and Cabrera chatted about where their families were from back in Venezuela.
The quick but intimate moment with Cabrera offered a heartfelt bit of perspective to the youngster’s MLB debut. To the outside world, Moreno’s story is about an up-and-comer with wicked potential. To those who know Moreno best, it’s a story of a happy-go-lucky kid overcoming the odds and fulfilling a dream.
“You always see something special in him,” said Luis Hurtado, one of Toronto’s bullpen catchers, as he thought back to when he first laid eyes on Moreno years ago.
Hurtado, also from Venezuela, first managed Moreno in the Florida Coast League in 2018. The pair have remained close since, first bonding as compatriots and now sharing in each other’s successes as Moreno climbed the minor-league ranks.
“It’s a tough question,” Hurtado said, fighting back tears, after being asked how much it means to see Moreno succeed. “Especially because how hard it is for us, for Venezuelan people. For everything that happens in our country, for all the barriers that we have to [overcome].”
Moreno’s family couldn’t travel to the United States due to passport issues, but Hurtado was there for him, as was Francisco Plasencia, the Venezuelan-born Blue Jays scout who first discovered a 14-year-old Moreno and eventually signed him.
When Hurtado arrived at Comerica Park Friday, he snapped a photo of a Venezuelan flag hanging in the hallway, ensuring he’d never forget the gravity of this weekend.
“I love my country,” he said. “I was born, I was raised there, and I’m always going to be proud of where I come from. And that’s everyone that makes it to the big leagues. Every Venezuelan player is proud of their country, of our country.”
It’s been a wild journey, in baseball and in life, for Moreno. With one game and one hit under his belt, he can now officially call himself a big leaguer.
“Very emotional,” Moreno said. “I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
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Late fumble costs Tiger-Cats in Elks win on Canada Day – TSN
HAMILTON — Tre Ford was in his happy place Friday in Hamilton.
The Edmonton Elks quarterback got a win in his first career CFL start 30 minutes down the Queen Elizabeth Highway from his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Elks came from behind to beat the Tiger-Cats 29-25 in front of 20,233 at Tim Hortons Field.
“To come back to Hamilton and have all my family watching me get that first start and that first win has been fantastic,” Ford said.
Among Ford’s supporters were his wife, parents, sister, sister-in-law and mother-in-law, his high school football coach from A.N. Myer Secondary, his University of Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia, eight of his former university teammates and more friends.
Ford was shaky at times as the Elks trailed by 13 points early in the second half.
But the 2021 winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy winner that goes to the most outstanding Canadian university football player threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler early in the fourth quarter.
The winning play for the Elks (1-3) arrived with 1:38 remaining when defensive back Scott Hutter tackled Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans and knocked the ball loose.
Jalen Collins recovered for a 14-yard touchdown.
“I saw him tackle him and thought, ‘please punch the ball out,” Collins said. “All we needed was an opportunity to close the game out. We were fighting all night. It was ugly.”
The winless Tiger-Cats opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2017 when they started 0-8.
“I want to apologize to all the guys. I put both home losses on me,” Evans said. “I just have to take care of it, and we win the game.”
Evans was 20-for-31 in passing for 197 yards and a touchdown throw. He was intercepted twice.
Ford’s numbers didn’t sparkle, although he did rush for 61 yards on six carries. The 24-year-old competed 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once.
Edmonton’s defence helped out with interceptions by Sheldon Brady and Matthew Thomas, as well as the pivotal late-game recovered fumble by Collins.
“A big shout out to the defence,” Ford said. “They won us that game. They made what, three or four turnovers? They did super well.
“I have room for improvement. I’m not going to complain because we did win. But I’m going to hit the film room to see what I can critique and where I can get better.”
Hamilton went after the rookie with various blitzes in the first half.
“My legs are going to open things up for my arm,” Ford said.
Ford credited teammate and quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who started in Edmonton’s three losses this season, for advising him during the game on defensive reads.
“He’s been like that since day one, even though we’re competitors for the position,” Ford said.
He admitted to early jitters as Hamilton led 16-6 after the first quarter and 19-9 at halftime.
“I always get nervous for the first play of every game,” Ford said. “I think it’s a good thing because it means I care and that I want to win.”
Evans hit Steven Dunbar for a 21-yard strike, and Lawrence Woods returned a kickoff of 72 yards for Hamilton’s first-half touchdowns.
Edmonton’s Kai Locksley scored on a one-yard plunge.
Elks kicker Sergio Castillo made two of his three field-goal attempts, while Hamilton counterpart Michael Domagala nailed his three and gave the Ticats at lead with a 33-yarder with 3:10 remaining in the game
“We’re not good enough right now,” Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “We’re not executing at the level which needs to happen. We’re just not making those plays we need to make.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.
Raptors sign forward Otto Porter Jr. to 2-year deal: reports – CBC.ca
The Toronto Raptors have signed forward Otto Porter Jr., who was a key member of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship team.
The two-year deal was first reported by Yahoo Sports, and confirmed to The Canadian Press by a source close to negotiations.
Porter was selected third overall by Washington in the 2013 draft, and played the first six seasons of his career there before being traded to Chicago in 2019. Orlando then acquired him at the 2021 trade deadline, and he signed with the Warriors in the 2021 off-season.
The Raptors have been busy since free agency opened at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, signing Canadian forward Chris Boucher to a three-year deal, and signing veteran forward Thaddeus Young to a multi-year contract extension.
Blue Jays’ bats assist bullpen, carry the day in comfortable win over Rays – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – The Blue Jays may have discovered the solution to their bullpen issues: score nine runs a game.
Sustainable? Maybe not, but the Blue Jays are hitting at their best right now, with an MLB-leading 170 runs scored in June to go along with 50 home runs last month. Wearing their red jerseys in front of a sellout Canada Day crowd of 44,445 Friday, some of that offensive output carried into July with a festive 9-2 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.
“It was so special,” said starter Jose Berrios. “I’ve heard a lot about this day, but being here and pitching today was very emotional. I know a lot of Canadians enjoy it and want to be at the ballpark on a day like today.”
“It was amazing, to say the least,” added Cavan Biggio, who reached base four times Friday. “In 2020 and 2021 we definitely missed this place. Now we’re finally back and we’re experiencing that energy that we’ve all been looking forward to on a nightly basis.”
A Lourdes Gurriel Jr. home run put the finishing touch on this one, but the Blue Jays also hit six doubles, five of which came off Rays starter Corey Kluber in a five-run third inning. A three-run sixth created necessary breathing room for the Blue Jays, who were able to rest most of their high-leverage relievers on a day Berrios was not at his sharpest.
With three hits, including his fifth home run of the season, Gurriel Jr. helped drive the Blue Jays’ offence. But don’t overlook Biggio, who walked twice while also hitting two doubles on a day his season on-base percentage climbed to .385.
“Today was great,” Biggio said. “Just hit after hit. A good pitcher, a good experienced guy on the mound, but we had a plan and we were able to execute it.”
Even before a pitch was thrown, Blue Jays fans had plenty to cheer about Friday. The recently retired Russell Martin was honoured with a memorable video narrated by former teammate Jose Bautista and personal messages from the likes of former Jays manager John Gibbons and fellow Canadian Joey Votto.
As the video tributes played in centre field, most Blue Jays players watched from the dugout. The fans also responded warmly to Martin, who later threw out the ceremonial first pitch to another athletic catcher who wears No. 55: Gabriel Moreno.
“Unbelievable career,” Biggio said of Martin. “What stands out to me the most is he played 14 years in the majors and made the playoffs 10 times. That’s what this game’s all about: it’s about winning.”
As for Berrios, he was effective enough, allowing two runs on eight hits over the course of five innings. He worked in and out of trouble, though, stranding nine runners, including both of the batters he walked.
While his fastball averaged 93.6 m.p.h., the Rays weren’t often fooled by the right-hander, who generated eight swinging strikes on 98 total pitches. Still, the Blue Jays will take that from Berrios, especially considering he had allowed 14 earned runs over the course of his previous two starts.
“He’s better than what he did today,” Montoyo said. “He was missing by a little bit and that made him throw even more pitches and work harder … at the end of the day, he did the job.”
But realistically, the Blue Jays would have been in a tough spot without so much help from their offence. Adam Cimber was presumed unavailable after pitching three days in a row, and David Phelps was likely off limits given that he’d just pitched in four of five. This was not an ideal day for the Blue Jays to try preserving a one- or two-run lead.
Thanks to their lineup, they didn’t have to. With the exception of one inning from Trent Thornton, the Blue Jays were able to avoid their high-leverage relievers, putting them in a relatively strong position entering Saturday’s double-header.
“If our pitching gives us a chance, our offence is going to go and that’s exactly what happened,” Montoyo said. “We should be better tomorrow because of that.”
Sergio Romo made his Blue Jays debut with a clean inning seventh inning that featured two strikeouts and Max Castillo pitched the final two innings without incident as Toronto improved to 44-33 on the season while increasing their lead over the Rays to 3.5 games.
All told, this was pretty close to how the Blue Jays would have drawn it up. And end of the day, they’re in Toronto again, playing at home on Canada Day for the first time since 2019. In case any doubt remained as to the day’s significance, an impromptu rendition of O Canada broke out in the stands as the Blue Jays closed out the win. Soon after the fans finished singing, the players completed their 9-2 win.
“The energy and pride that this country embodies was definitely on full display,” Biggio said.
Or, as Montoyo put it: “You could tell the happiness about it.”
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