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It’s official: Chris Sale is pitching like Pedro Martinez

04.20.17 at 8:26 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — You can start with the numbers.

In case you forgot, Pedro Martinez was really good in his first four starts with the Red Sox. He pitched 32 innings and gave up three runs for an 0.84 ERA. Opponents hit .148 against him, with Martinez striking out 44 and walking seven.

Chris Sale?

After his eight innings in the Red Sox’ 4-1, 10-inning win against the Blue Jays, he is sitting with a 0.91 ERA, having allowed three runs in 29 2/3 innings. He has struck out 42, walked six and allowed a .147 batting average.

But it’s more than that. It’s the image he’s portraying. Complete dominance.

In this case, it was a 102-pitch outing in which he struck out 13, and didn’t allow a run. And while he was torturing such Blue Jays hitters as Jose Bautista (4 strikeouts) and Jarrod Saltalmacchia (3 strikeouts), Sale was throwing virtually every pitch for a strike. There was 80 of them, to be exact.

It left an impression.

“It’s the best game I’ve ever caught,” said Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon. “He was throwing every pitch in every count. He likes to attack.”

As Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis explained when talking about watching Sale, “It’s different.”

You know it when you see it. You did when Pedro pitched. Willis realized it back when serving as the coach for Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, all of whom went on Cy Young runs. It’s just different. That’s how watching Sale has felt.

“The pace he works. The strikes that he throws. The confidence that he throws each pitch with, regardless of the speed,” Willis said. “I think that’s the key. He’ll show you 96 or 97 [mph], then he will reel it back at 91 or 88 and then he will change speed with the breaking ball. And it’s all with total confidence and conviction. I’ve seen guys have good runs. The way Chris does it, some of the movement he gets, and some of the swings you see him get, it’s just different.”

Yes, the Red Sox don’t score runs for Sale. They didn’t before Thursday, and they couldn’t get one before the starter exited his latest outing. The same thing happened to Martinez in his first season with the Red Sox, with his new club scoring more than three runs just twice over his first nine starts.

It’s no coincidence. These are the guys who pitch at a level where opposing pitchers know they have to be their absolute best. It’s part of the deal.

“Nobody is perfect,” Sale said. “Get after these four days and try and do the same thing next time around.”

True enough. But around these parts, this seems as close to pitching perfection as we’ve seen in some time.

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John Farrell explains why Chris Sale didn’t pitch in the ninth inning, but Craig Kimbrel did

04.20.17 at 5:24 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — The first sign that Chris Sale probably didn’t want to come out of the game after the eighth inning was where Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis had to find the starter.

The lunch room.

Thursday afternoon’s game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays was in a scoreless tie. Sale had thrown 102 pitches (80 strikes), having struck out 13 and walked just one. So while the Red Sox went to bat in the ninth, the pitcher adjourned to the area that was about as far away from the dugout as a player can get during the game.

It wasn’t far enough away.

After the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead on Xander Bogaerts’ two-out single (which was immediately followed by a one-minute, 54-second review of a tag at second), Red Sox manager John Farrell chose to end Sale’s day and bring on closer Craig Kimbrel.

“He probably figured we were going to ask him,” joked Willis.

“I came in and literally had to go all the way down to the food room just to ask how he felt, how his legs were. He was adamant that he was good. He was ready to keep throwing. I got back in the dugout and I told John. But once we took the lead, as good as Craig has been the last few times out, it made sense,”

“I’m going to want the ball in that situation 10 times out of nine,” Sale said. “It is what it is. Do I want to? Yeah. But at the end of the day, he’s the manager and makes the calls. Check the book. Craig’s been pretty damn good back there.”

The move back-fired, with Kimbrel allowing a solo homer off the bat of Kendrys Morales on just the closer’s second pitch, an 96 mph fastball.

After the game, Farrell explained his thinking.

“It was a tough decision, but one where, we take the lead, we’ve got Craig Kimbrel, who’s thrown the baseball extremely well,” he said. “He’s been dominant in his own right. He’s well-rested. After kind of a long inning after we get a challenge review, we score that run late in the inning, felt it was time to turn it over to a guy that was fresh and powerful. Unfortunately, the second pitch goes out of the ballpark. But we’ve responded as we’ve done many different times where either the game’s been tied late or we’ve had to come from behind, and we did it again today.”

As it turned out, the manager explained the delay caused by the review of Bogaerts’ sliding into second ultimately might have been the tipping point.

“The additional time, yeah, that was part of the decision,” Farrell said.

Farrell also noted that even if the Red Sox hadn’t tied the game in the ninth, there was a strong chance Kimbrel — who hadn’t pitched since Monday — would be called upon.

“We had talked about it and actually had Kimbrel warming up in the event that … knowing that they’ve used their closer already, likely that Kimbrel’s in that game as well,” said the manager of his closer, who would go on to strike out five of the six batters he faced.

“It’s not an easy decision, but when you have a guy like Kimbrel and how he’s throwing the baseball the last few times out, that’s why he’s here,” Willis said. “It didn’t work out, but more times than not it does.”

The 102 pitches would ultimately be the lowest total of Sale’s four starts this season, with the lanky lefty totaling 104, 108 and 111 pitches, respectively, leading up to this start.

Coming into the game, Morales was 5-for-25 against Sale, and had gone 1-for-3 this time around, singling in his most recent at-bat. The switch-hitter had faced Kimbrel just one other time, getting hit by a pitch.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, Mookie Betts’ bases-loaded double with two outs in the 10th inning landed Kimbrel with the win and some solace for the team.

“I didn’t want to lose the game. I still had a job to do,” Kimbrel said. “Carl came through and told me if we scored some runs I was going back out. I want to go back out in a tie ballgame. Just that frustration. I gave up the game. I felt like it was my job to keep the game close and keep it going. Guys did a good job, great at-bats. Mookie got a big hit. It was a great ballgame.”

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1: Mookie Betts the hero, but Chris Sale was undoubtedly the star

04.20.17 at 3:45 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — Mookie Betts came up biggest when it counted the most Thursday afternoon.

The Red Sox right fielder’s double into the left field corner with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th inning allowed for John Farrell’s team to claim a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

But, even after the game-winner, it was Chris Sale who everybody was buzzing about.

The Red Sox starter continued to offer a Pedro-esque appearance, this time needing just 102 pitches to go eight innings and not allow a single run. The lefty struck out 13, walked one and threw 80 of his pitches for strikes.

It wasn’t just a good performance. It was historic. Sale joined Nolan Ryan and Frank Tana as the only pitchers to go eight or more innings and allow no runs while striking out 13 or more and not get a win.

Through four starts, Sale’s ERA now stands at 0.91.

The only reason Sale didn’t come away with a win this time around was because of a lack of run support, and a decision to replace in the ninth inning that back-fired.

Back-to-back hits in the ninth by Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts gave the Sox a short-lived 1-0 lead, as Kendrys Morales’ solo homer to lead off the home half of the ninth off Craig Kimbrel tied the game at one.

The Morales shot came on Kimbrel’s second pitch of the game, a 96 mph fastball. The Red Sox closer did come back and earn the win by completing his two innings, striking out the side in the 10th. (For the explanations and reaction regarding the move to replace Sale, click here.)

For a complete game recap, click here.

It doesn’t look like Hanley Ramirez will be using his first baseman’s glove all that much

04.20.17 at 11:29 am ET
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Hanley Ramirez is in the lineup Monday. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez is in the lineup Monday. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez’s sore shoulder. Those two things have made the Red Sox adjust their initial plan when it comes to managing the first base position.

It’s looking more and more like Ramirez isn’t going to be using his first basemen’s glove as much as the Red Sox initially thought.

“He and I have had many conversations about this,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “We know we have inter-league coming up relatively soon in National League ballparks. He’s aware of that. I’m not throwing the towel in on him playing first base. At the same time we’ve been able to be pretty darn productive with Mitch going every day.”

So, what about the plan to have Ramirez play first base, giving Chris Young an opportunity to serve as a designated hitter?

“That still is an alignment I would like us to achieve,” Farrell said.

With Ramirez’s shoulders not allowing him to play first throughout spring training, it delayed the process of implementing the original strategy. And when Ramirez was stricken with an illness, eliminating the plan to play him in the field in Detroit, it paved the way for Moreland to show he could handle the first against lefties and righties.

Moreland came into Thursday afternoon’s game hitting .351 with an 1.010 OPS. Against left-handers the lefty hitter was managing a .273 batting average and .839 OPS.

“After the missed the series in Detroit, we kind of backed away from that, giving him a chance to regroup physically,” said Farrell of Ramirez working out at first base. “But that’s not something we’re turning the page away from.”

Farrell also pointed out that, after his conversations with the righty hitter, Ramirez is still open to playing in the field.

“[He’s] not resistant,” Farrell noted. “We’re getting to the point with Jackie [Bradley] coming back, getting to full strength that this is going to be more of the intent than it’s been because quite honestly we haven’t had the pressing need with the injuries we’ve dealt and guys being sick.”

If Ramirez isn’t going to play in the field until the Red Sox’ first inter-league road game, coming May 9 in Milwaukee, one of the challenges for Farrell will be finding playing time for Young. Bradley is returning to the lineup Friday, and Andrew Benintendi has been hitting lefties at a .357 clip.

“Where he’s going to filter through and be in a similar role that he was when he signed here,” said Farrell of Young. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to take at-bats away from him. obviously Jackie coming back and having that alignment against right-handed pitching is likely going to be a better matchup for us. But Chris has done an outstanding job in the role that he has here and he’ll continue to be a valuable guy on this team.”

Thursday Red Sox Farm Report: Jackie Bradley Jr. homers on his birthday; Michael Chavis hits 3 home runs, including walk-off

04.20.17 at 10:16 am ET
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Here is what happened in the Red Sox farm system on Wednesday.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (7-6): W, 4-0 at Charlotte 

— The PawSox hit two home runs in their 4-0 win over Charlotte and one came courtesy of Jackie Bradley Jr. on his 27th birthday. Bradley went 1-for-3 in the second game of his rehab assignment with the PawSox for a right knee sprain. Josh Rutledge, also with the team for his rehab assignment after a left hamstring strain, went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Bradley Jr. is expected to rejoin the Red Sox in Baltimore on Friday.

— Brandon Workman and Noe Ramirez pitched a combined three innings in relief. Workman recorded five strikeouts in his two innings of work.

— Yoan Moncada started at second base for Charlotte and struck out three times.

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Red Sox lineup: Brock Holt in lineup in series finale vs. Blue Jays

04.20.17 at 9:58 am ET
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Brock Holt

Brock Holt

The Red Sox and Blue Jays will play the rubber match of a three-game series Thursday afternoon in Toronto.

Brock Holt will get the start in left field as the Red Sox will take on Jays right-hander Marco Estrada. Andrew Benintendi will be in center and Mookie Betts in right. Chris Young gets the day off.

Other than that, it is a standard lineup with Sandy Leon catching lefty Chris Sale.

Here is the complete Red Sox lineup.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Andrew Benintendi, CF
Mookie Betts, RF
Hanley Ramirez, DH
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Sandy Leon, C
Brock Holt, LF
Chris Sale, LHP

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Mookie Betts’ pretty impressive streak of not striking out has ended

04.19.17 at 11:04 pm ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

TORONTO — Wednesday night, Mookie Betts struck out.

It was the first time Sept. 12, 2016 that he had suffered such a fate.

To understand what a feat it was, realize that Minnesota’s Byron Buxton — once deemed the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball — fanned 49 times during that time period. Seven other big leaguers struck out at least 40 times since that last Betts punch-out.

But Wednesday, during the Red Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays, it all came to end after 129 plate appearances of not whiffing. One 84 mph slider from Francisco Liriano left the Red Sox’ outfielder 18 plate appearances shy of matching Juan Pierre’s 2004 streak of 147 trips to the plate without a punch-out.

“I don’t think you really realize it when you’re in the midst of it until you’re asked questions daily an things are made of it,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “He’s a special player. He punches out the one time, comes right back with a base hit the next time. We’ll get more very good production out of him.”

During the 31-game stretch, Betts hit .356 with an .860 OPS.

Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0: Figuring out Pablo Sandoval hasn’t been easy

04.19.17 at 9:53 pm ET
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Pablo Sandoal (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

Pablo Sandoal (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — This we know: Pablo Sandoval has come a long way since his belt exploded in this same building just more than one year ago.

After the embarrassment of that swing, Sandoval went on to undergo surgery on his right shoulder before losing some pounds and regaining his starting job at third base.

And Wednesday, Sandoval got what appeared to be another vote of confidence when Red Sox manager John Farrell gave him the start against left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano. It was an assignment that, even without a logical right-handed hitting complement available, seemed noteworthy considering before the previous night the switch-hitter didn’t have a hit in 10 at-bats against lefties.

But what the Red Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays did was leave us once again scratching our heads as to what we should make of Sandoval. (For a complete recap, click here.)

What he did this time around was open the door to the Blue Jays’ three-run second inning with a throwing error on a routine grounder off the bat of Troy Tulowitzki leading off the home half of the frame. It was his third error of the season (tied for the most for any third baseman in the majors), and followed a night in which he was unable to range to make a few key plays down the line early in Brian Johnson’s outing.

“I did too much with the ball,” said Sandoval of the error. “It came out. I should have made that play. I tried to do too much on that play, and I made a bad throw.”

“I think there’s been at times, better range, there’s been times where there’s been plays that quite frankly should be made,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Tonight was an example of that.”

And then, in his first at-bat against Liriano, Sandoval looked like the hitter who went 2-for-41 as a righty against southpaws two years earlier, striking out looking.

Even with the optimism around how the ball was coming off his bat — which was highlighted by the Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato in pointing out Sandoval had the 15th-highest exit velocity in the big leagues coming into the series — the fact was that Sandoval still sat at .191 after that first at-bat.

Yet with this version of Sandoval, there is always something that doesn’t quite allow you to define him.

You look at the batting average, but then get distracted by the team-leading three homers and 10 RBI. And, in this case, there was that first AB, which was followed by a sharp single (hitting right-handed) and another base-hit to leadoff the eighth.

It’s hard to say that Sandoval was the reason the Red Sox lost Wednesday. Gold Glove infielder Mitch Moreland made his first error of the season immediately after the third baseman’s miscue. And starting pitcher Rick Porcello proceeded to three singles in the third for the three-run deficit.

And, on a night when the team with the most hits in the majors only managed six, Sandoval was the only Red Sox’ player to claim more than one.

But there was that one error. And it’s still hard to be convinced Sandoval shouldn’t be platooned once Josh Rutledge returns. Oh, and Travis Shaw is carrying an .890 OPS with the Brewers after hitting his fourth home run of the season, Wednesday.

It’s early and the judgment is still out, which is fine. Just don’t expect any clarity to come out of this night.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Porcello rebounded from a rough third inning to give the Red Sox seven innings, finishing his 110-pitch outing by allowing just the three runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked one. Eduardo Rodriguez got some work in after his return from paternity leave, pitching a flawless eighth inning, striking out a pair.

Before the Patriots, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had his own issues with going to the White House

04.19.17 at 8:12 pm ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — The day the Red Sox visited the White House — April 1, 2014 — to celebrate their world championship from the previous year, Jarrod Saltalmacchia wasn’t available, getting ready for his second game as a Miami Marlin.

“I wasn’t going to miss a game for it, that’s for sure,” Saltalamacchia told WEEI.com prior to his Blue Jays’ game against the Red Sox Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

As it turns out, the former Red Sox’ catcher’s unwillingness to prioritize the trip wasn’t just due to his professional commitments. Much like many of the New England Patriots when it came to choosing not to visit with President Donald Trump Wednesday afternoon, Saltalamacchia was in no rush to participate in the Red Sox’ meet-and-greet with then-President, Barack Obama.

Even talking about it three years later, Saltalamacchia wrestles with what might have happened if the opportunity was presented.

When first discussing the Patriots’ boycott, Saltalamacchia said, “Everyone has got their own opinion. I’ll be honest with you, I probably wouldn’t have went because Obama was in. I didn’t agree with a lot of his political beliefs and the way he ran the country. I honestly probably wouldn’t have went.”

But, as he talked through the scenario, the 31 year old admitted the decision to attend would be a tough one. Even now, within the short conversation, it’s clear he remains conflicted.

“Talking to it beforehand, talking about it now, I feel the same way. I still respect my country. I probably would have went just because of that reason alone. I respect my country and it’s an honor to go to our country’s capital,” Saltalamacchia said.

“It would have been tough just because of my thoughts on Obama and his belief system. I feel like he did a lot of things completely opposite of what this country believes in. … I just think he didn’t do a lot for our veterans. That’s my beliefs. I’m sure those those Patriots players aren’t doing what their beliefs are. I understand it and that’s what is so great about our country, the freedom to make that choice.”

Saltalamacchia had already visited the White House in 2008 with his previous club, the Rangers, when Texas’ former owner, and then-President, George Bush, invited the team to the residence, which included a visit to the Oval Office.

But, as the catcher pointed out, that was a different time, and a different President. And for Saltalmacchia, it all made for a choice he really didn’t want to make.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to [go to the White House in 2014], but just because of how close I was with those guys, still am with those guys, I would have went because my boys, my guys were going,” he said. “So I would have gone with them. Despite beliefs and all of that stuff, because of my respect for my country I probably would have went. Regardless of what you think of what you think of the President, he’s the President, so you have to honor that even if you feel he didn’t honor America. It’s tough. I think there’s a lot of military buddies I have in the Seals who don’t believe in a lot of what Obama did, but they still have to do their job and their duty in protecting our country.”

There has obviously been precedence in players and executives choosing not to attend the traditional championship celebration at the the White House, with Theo Epstein’s absence in 2015 and the 2012 decision by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas serving as two notable examples.

And the reasons for the absences, whether made public or not, remain consistent, with the Patriots offering the latest example. It’s a dynamic Saltalamacchia fully understands, and obviously feels strong about.

Taking a stand is clearly something the catcher was, and is, prepared to do.

“Nothing surprises me anymore the way things are going,” he said. “We all have a choice.

“What happened last year, [with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick] kneeling down, to me that upset me more than anything because it’s like, you know what, our brothers and sisters are across seas fighting for our freedom to be able to do something like that and you can’t even respect them enough to stand for our National Anthem. People who die before us and fought for us. Just like in the baseball world, there’s people who fought before us to have the union we have and have the rights we have in this game. Same thing with our country. I think a lot of people lose sight of that. It’s not fair. Yeah, you don’t like what’s going on but you can’t venture one way because of what’s going on now. You have to remember how this country …. It’s not their fault their country is the way it is right now. It’s our own fault. You want to talk about kids, the Millennials, there’s a reason why they are the way they are. Because of the parents. Same thing down the line. We got to do our job as parents to teach our kids the right way.”

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 7: Home runs have become luxury item for this team

04.18.17 at 10:57 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts celebrate Betts' seventh inning home run. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts celebrate Betts’ seventh inning home run. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — Mookie Betts hit a home run in the seventh inning. It didn’t seem like he needed to.

Such is life with these Red Sox, with Tuesday night’s 8-7 win over the Blue Jays serving as the latest example. Against Marcus Stroman, who had been Toronto’s best starting pitcher, John Farrell’s team managed to kick the Jays’ ace to the curb after just 4 2/3 innings on the way to a 15-hit night. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox’ win, click here.)

“The home runs are coming,” said Hanley Ramirez while walking through the visitors clubhouse prior to the game. To repeat, they should be in no rush.

With Betts’ solo shot, the Red Sox now have a total of seven homers, the fewest in the majors. Yet here they sit at 9-5, having scored four or more runs in nine of their 14 games.

“I don’t know if it’s more cold-weather related or not. You look at the number of hits that we’ve compiled has been I think pretty high,” said Farrell before the game. “I will say this: We don’t as an organization preach home runs. We preach quality at-bats as best as possible. Put your best swing on pitches in areas you’re typically going to handle. In terms of trying to hit home runs, they’re going to come. If you look back to the way we hit last year, through the middle of April or middle of May even, we were probably in the bottom third of home runs hit and still scored runs. That’s a compliment to the type of hitters we have and the depth of our lineup overall.”

He’s right.

Through April last season, the Red Sox owned the most runs in the American League while having hit the third-fewest home runs in Major League Baseball (19).

And this time around, the Red Sox are sitting with the most hits in baseball. And coming into Tuesday, they had the second-best batting average with runners in scoring position (.328).

The win against the struggling Blue Jays might have offered the best definition of what the Red Sox’ offense has become. In the third inning, the Sox used four singles to score three runs and tie the game. Then, in the fifth, back-to-back doubles from Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland after a Betts single drove Stroman from the game, ultimately tagging the starter with six runs on 11 hits.

Maybe the most subtle, yet meaningful, hit of them all came from Pablo Sandoval after Toronto manager John Gibbons replaced Stroman with lefty Aaron Loup.

Sandoval, who had been 0-for-10 against southpaws coming into the at-bat, rifled a single back up the middle to score Moreland to cap the three-run sixth.

“I’ve been working hard with [hitting coaches] Victor Rodriguez and Chili Davis,” Sandoval said. “I’ve been putting in the work together to get in the right position and get my swing back the way I was swinging in spring training. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s why I’ve been watching videos to compare swings that were working.”

Can the Red Sox keep living life without the long ball? That remains to be seen. The championship teams of 2004, ’07 and ’13 all had greater punch, hitting 25, 27 and 26 home runs, respectively, in April.

For now, even in the homer-friendly Rogers Centre, it’s working out just fine.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Brian Johnson picked up his first major league win, finding a way to navigate through five innings while throwing 97 pitches. The lefty allowed four runs on seven hits.

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