ST. LOUIS – The Toronto Blue Jays outlasted the St. Louis Cardinals in a back-in-forth Opening Day marathon. Nolan Arenado sparked a late comeback attempt with a two-run, eighth inning double, before the Blue Jays spoiled Opening Day with a two-run rally in the ninth.
After five lead changes, 12 pitcher swaps, and 34 combined hits between both teams, the Blue Jays come out on top by a score of 10-9.
The game was one of few to hit the three-hour mark on Opening Day across Major League Baseball on the first day of pace-of-play rules, leading to many spring games finishing around 2 hours and 30 minutes. The official game time was 3 hours and 38 minutes.
A brief explanation of key moments…
- After two innings: The Blue Jays jumped out to a 4-1 lead, with Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk both driving in two in the early surge.
- Third inning: Tyler O’Neill blasts the Cardinals’ first home run of the year, cutting the deficit to 4-3. It’s his fourth straight Opening Day with a home run, tying an MLB record
- Fourth inning: Brendan Donovan follows up with a two-run blast, tying the game at five runs apiece after the Blue Jays added on in the top half of the frame.
- Sixth inning: Reigning MVP Paul Goldschmidt gives the Cardinals their first lead of the day with a two-out single, a brief 6-5 edge.
- Seventh inning: Blue Jays tie it up again, though Jordan Walker moves the Cardinals ahead once more with a bases-loaded groundout. Cardinals again led briefly, 7-6.
- Top eighth inning: Blue Jays spark a rally quickly against Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks, and young star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. delivers the go-ahead blow. Toronto took an 8-7 lead, and Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras left the game after taking a wild pitch to his knee.
- Bottom eighth: Nolan Arenado scores Lars Nootbaar and Paul Goldschmidt on a go-ahead double. Cardinals briefly lead 9-8.
- Top ninth: After a leadoff walk, the first three Blue Jays reach base and spell trouble for the Cardinals. George Springer lifted a bloop single just past Tommy Edman to tie the ballgame. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had the go-ahead sacrifice fly and Toronto held onto the lead from there.
The Blue Jays ranked among the Top 5 offenses in many MLB team stats last year and showed no signs of slowing down Thursday. Of the six innings in which the Cardinals scored at least one run, Toronto answered by scoring at least once in their next turn to bat five times. The Blue Jays also erased a paid of late one-run Cardinals leads, in the sixth and eighth innings, within roughly ten-minute timeframes.
Cardinals skipper Oli Marmol and Opening Day starter Miles Mikolas explained that the Blue Jays benefitted from a lot of soft contact, particularly bloop fly balls just past the infield reach.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Marmol. “A lot of contact. A lot of balls dropped. When you look at Miles and what he did, a lot of foul balls to get that pitch count up [and] a lot of soft contact. Same with [relief pitcher Jordan Hicks], the ball was hit pretty soft. But it’s all part of the game.”
“They hit some good pitches, they made contact. I don’t want to take that away from them,” said Mikolas. “But the contact they made was very soft. You saw some of the reactions from the players, they couldn’t believe they were believe they were getting hits on some of the balls they were hitting. They did a good job putting the ball in play, but to get so many hits that were struck so poorly was a phenomenon.”
The Cardinals’ Opening Day lineup featured only four players from last year’s home opener lineup. The first-time Cardinals Opening Day starters had an encouraging day, hitting 8-for-22 (.363) and scoring six of the team’s nine runs.
New catcher Willson Contreras went 2-for-4 before a misthrown pitch deflected off his knee while catching, leading to an eighth-inning exit. Prized prospect Jordan Walker made his MLB debut in right field, picking up a line drive single in his first at-bat and a go-ahead RBI on a groundout in the seventh inning.
“Looking in that dugout, a lot of good emotions. Everybody was cheering for me. It felt really good to get that first hit,” said Walker, who plans on giving his first MLB-hit ball to his father.
“First at-bat, he gets that base hit to take the weight off his shoulders,” said outfielder Lars Nootbaar. “He looks humble out there, which I’m really glad to see. He looks good. He’s here for a reason. With more at-bats, he’ll get better.”
The Cardinals and Blue Jays return to Busch Stadium on Saturday for their second games of the 2022 season. Jack Flaherty will take the mound for the Cardinals.