Judging by the weather – currently cold, windy, and rainy – you’d never know it, but today is a beautiful day for baseball.
After a long, cold winter, and a (relatively) successful opening road trip, the Blue Jays return to Toronto tonight for the much anticipated Home Opener. The Home Opener is always an exciting time of year – the dome is packed and rocking, and there just seems to be an extra bit of excitement in the air. It doesn’t matter that the team is not considered a contender by baseball experts. All that matters is that baseball is back.
As a bonus, there are three added incentives to watch tonight’s game. First is that recently retired Blue Jays legend Roy Halladay will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and will likely receive an enormous and lengthy ovation. Second, is that for the first time since 2003 the Toronto Blue Jays home opener will be against the hated New York Yankees. Any game against the Yankees always bring extra emotion, but combine that with the added intensity of the Home Opener and you have a potentially explosive atmosphere. Armed with an expensive roster after a massive offseason shopping spree, the Yankees are actually favoured to win tonight’s game based on odds compiled by Sports Betting Dime.
But the third incentive about tonight’s clash is the most interesting – the pitching matchup. For the first time, baseball fans will see Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka pitch in a major league regular season game. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last year and followed that up with a spectacular spring (2-0, 2.14 ERA,
26 K in 21 IP). You can bet that hundreds of thousands (or more) will be tuned in from Japan to see their hero in pinstripes. But for Jays fans, Toronto’s starter brings just as much intrigue, as the Blue Jays welcome back Dustin McGowan.
McGowan was drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft, made his debut in 2005 as a 23-year old with huge potential, then promptly saw his career derailed by injuries. In the nine years since his debut, McGowan has only thrown a total of 400.1 innings. That’s about two seasons worth of work for a regular MLB pitcher. But shoulder surgeries, knee problems, long rehabs, and just about the worst luck you can imagine have robbed Dustin of five of his prime years. In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to say that most (if not all) Jays fans figured he would never set foot on a major league mound again.
But credit McGowan. His hard work and perseverence shone through last year, as he finally returned to the Blue Jays. He threw 25.2 innings of relief in 2013, finishing the season with a 2.45 ERA, and over a strikeout per inning. That late season audition, combined with an injury to J.A. Happ opened the door for him this spring, and he walked right through it. For a more detailed look at his comeback, check out this excellent piece by National Post writer John Lott.
So tonight when you feast your eyes on the Yankees with their $175-million starter, take a minute to appreciate Toronto’s starting pitcher. After a long road back, McGowan deserves it.
Welcome back Dusty!