BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Bo Bichette, Travis Shaw and the wandering Toronto Blue Jays felt just fine in their new nest.
In the first major league game in Buffalo since 1915, Shaw hit an RBI single with the bases loaded in the 10th inning as the Blue Jays settled into refitted Sahlen Field with a 5-4 win over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.
“We’re still staying in a hotel, but it almost felt like the first game of the year. To go out and say, ‘All right, this is our spot,’ I think we did well,” said Bichette, who hit a three-run homer.
Barred from playing in Toronto by the Canadian government over concerns about the coronavirus, the Blue Jays spent nearly three weeks on the road before moving into the ballpark of their Triple-A affiliate as their temporary home this year.
And in the city famed for wings and beef on weck sandwiches, Toronto made it a tasty home opener. The downtown park, a couple blocks from Lake Erie and seating nearly 17,000, was empty because of the virus outbreak.
“It’s definitely a little different,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Francisco Cervelli’s three-run homer with two outs in the Miami ninth made it 4-all.
Logan Forsythe then nearly put the Marlins ahead with a long drive in the 10th that originally was ruled a two-run homer, then reversed to a foul ball on review — the replay cameras were among the upgrades made at the park to get it up to big league standards.
There had not been a major league game in Buffalo since Sept. 8, 1915, when the Blues swept a doubleheader from the Baltimore Terrapins at Federal League Park. Those teams were part of the short-lived Federal League.
Baseball in Buffalo did get major play in the 1984 film “The Natural” starring Robert Redford. Playing Roy Hobbs for the New York Knights in the movie, the game action scenes took place in old War Memorial Stadium, the place that hosted football’s Bills and minor league ball.
Shaw’s hit might not have had the same drama as Hobbs’ film-closing homer, but it produced the same result — a win.
“We’ve lost a couple of games late, so it was nice to come back,” Shaw said. “My job was just to try to get the ball to the outfield, and thankfully with two strikes, I was able to do that.”
Shaw’s hit with one out came off Stephen Tarpley (2-1).
Bichette, one of many Blue Jays who played in Buffalo in the minors, homered in the sixth to give Toronto a 3-1 lead. Cavan Biggio added an RBI single in the seventh. A.J. Cole (1-0) got the win.
Sahlen Field, opened in 1988, was the first in a movement of “retro” ballparks personified a year later by Baltimore’s Camden Yards. In the early 1990s, the stadium was a key piece of Buffalo’s push for a big league expansion team, but franchises were instead awarded to Miami and Denver.
Built for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, an affiliate of the Blue Jays since 2013, the park is aesthetically the opposite of Toronto ‘s futuristic Rogers Centre, the first retractable-roof stadium opened in 1989.
Despite the differences between the two facilities, the Buffalo ballpark in the last two weeks was revamped to capture elements found less than 100 miles away in Toronto.
Rogers Centre’s “in the action” seats behind home plate have been replicated and advertisements on the outfield walls are the same as found in Toronto. Those walls, which have been green for 32 years, are now blue, a color which now dominates much of the stadium, along with the omnipresent presence of the Blue Jays logo.
One aspect went unchanged: the ballpark dimensions. It’s still 325 feet distance to the corners (though now designated with a maple leaf instead of a bison), 371 to left-center, 367 to right-center, and 404 to straightaway center field.
Extensive renovations included a new infield, the home clubhouse being placed in the area where batting cages once existed, the visiting clubhouse being housed in a large temporary tent behind right-center field, and the Blue Jays’ weight room and practice batting cages taking up space in what is normally a public concourse. The work enabled the Blue Jays to occupy their familiar third base dugout, as in Toronto.
“Nobody was complaining about anything,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “The field was playable. Everything was fine.”
Toronto starter Hyun Jin Ryu allowed two hits in six innings and struck out seven.
Brian Anderson also homered for Miami. Starter Elieser Hernandez struck out five over 5 1/3 innings.
Miami, too, has been no stranger to the road, spending the last three weeks away from home, including a quarantine spell in Philadelphia while combating a spate of coronavirus diagnoses.