Blue Jays’ Ryu Hyun-jin gives thumbs-up to defense, bullpen

April 2, 2021

Toronto Blue Jays’ starter Ryu Hyun-jin kicked himself for serving up a go-ahead home run to the New York Yankees after his teammates had staked him to an early lead.

But he was far more pleased with the performance of the defense behind him, not to mention the bullpen that locked down a 3-2 victory in 10 innings in the season opener at Yankee Stadium in New York on Thursday (local time).

Ryu allowed two runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings, while striking out five and walking one. Both of the runs came via a two-run shot by Gary Sanchez in the bottom of the second inning. The blast came after the Blue Jays got on the board with three straight singles off New York starter Gerrit Cole, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. providing the run-scoring hit.

And the Yankees could have taken the lead in the fifth inning. Ryu had retired the side in the third and the fourth, and then got two quick outs in the fifth before giving up a walk and a single.

DJ LeMahieu, the reigning American League batting champion, stepped in and sent a sharp grounder to the hole in right for what appeared to be an RBI single. But second baseman Marcus Semien dove hard to his left and fielded the ball on the outfield grass, and then fired a throw to first base from his knees to retire LeMahieu and end the inning.

It was one of several fine defensive plays turned by Toronto’s infield, which was much maligned for some shoddy play last year. First baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. dug out a couple of low throws in the dirt, and Cavan Biggio, the team’s new regular third baseman, was rock solid at the hot corner, too.

“I give my defense 100 points out of 100,” Ryu said in his postgame Zoom session with the media. “The guys have been working hard since spring training. And they turned a lot of great plays today without making any mistakes.”

On Semien’s diving play in particular, Ryu said, “I didn’t think the ball would get past him. I was so thankful that he made the play.”

Ryu was lifted with one out in the sixth and a runner on first. The revamped Blue Jays bullpen got to work and five relievers combined for eight strikeouts against two hits in the final 4 2/3 innings.

The Jays scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th, and Julian Merryweather struck out the side in the bottom 10th. Teams begin extra innings with a runner on second base. The Blue Jays cashed in, and the Yankees didn’t.

“The bullpen was outstanding today. They deserve 100 points, too,” Ryu said with a smile. “The 10th inning, in particular, wasn’t an easy situation, and (Merryweather) pitched a clean inning. Our relievers can really pitch, and this was a great start to the new season.”

Asked to grade his own performance, Ryu demurred and said, “I don’t know about my own score. I gave up a go-ahead home run right after we scored first. That can’t happen again. Other than that, it wasn’t a bad game.”