CHICAGO — The dog days of the summer aren’t quite here yet, but for the longest time, the first day of the new season felt sleepy and listless for the Blue Jays.
Not a hit until the sixth inning from the visitors.
Strikeouts to the first five batters who faced White Sox starter Dylan Cease.
And oppressive heat in the Windy City that seemed to suck the life out of everyone at Guaranteed Rate Field.
But we’ve seen time and again from this wildly entertaining team, it isn’t wise to shut the scorebook too early.
In fact, from the seventh inning on, it was a wild ride in the South Side of Chicago, ultimately ending in a crushing 7-6 extra innings loss to the Sox.
This one might sting for a while, as a late Jays rally gave them a two-run cushion heading into the ninth, only to see normally reliable closer Jordan Romano give up a pair of runs to force extra innings.
They took the lead in both the 10th and 11th innings as well, only to be matched by the home side. But when the Jays couldn’t push a run across in the 12th, a long night of back and forth was about to come to an end.
With Matt Gage on to pitch a second inning of relief due to a long night for the bullpen, he got the first two outs but couldn’t retire Josh Harrison, who drove an RBI single to centre field to win it.
There was plenty of drama throughout extra innings, starting with the 10th, as the Jays couldn’t generate enough to get the win.
With Romano chased after his troublesome ninth, lefty Tim Mazya came in to pitch and try to protect a one-run lead. But after walking leadoff man Adam Engel, a Danny Mendick single to tie it a 5-5 and send it to the 11th.
The Jays could only manage one run in that inning, despite a balk that had sent Matt Chapman to third.
On to the bottom half and recent call up Gage was on as one of the only remaining available arms in the Jays bullpen. After Tim Anderson was bunted to third, a Luis Robert sac fly was enough to score the speedy Sox runner and tie it again.
When the Jays were unable to push one across in the 12th, it set the table for the Sox to walk it off.
Despite their slow start, for the longest time it looked as though the Jays were going to pull out a thriller of a comeback win. Instead, it will be one of the tougher losses of the season.
With four runs combined in the seventh and eighth innings — including a solo home run and bases-loaded walk from catcher Alejandro Kirk to grab the headlines — the Jays rallied gamely and appeared to be on their way to a resounding comeback win. Without the drama.
But not so fast.
As the normally unflappable Jays closer Romano wobbled badly in the ninth in a bid for his 18th save. Romano allowed three hits and a pair of walks that added up to a pair of Sox runs and a date with extra innings.
And if it weren’t for a great running, diving catch from Bradley Zimmer — in for an injured George Springer — to record the last out, it would have been more and the night would have ended earlier.
Undaunted, Vlad Guerrero Jr. led off the 10th with a hard-hit double to score Bo Bichette from second to restore the lead. It was a clutch bit of power hitting from Guerrero, who earlier in the day had been named the American League player of the week.
Even with the win, the game was not without some concern for the Jays as outfielder Springer exited in the seventh inning with what the team described as right elbow discomfort.
It was unclear how serious the injury was, but when Cavan Biggio came in to pinch hit for Springer in the eighth, it was obvious something was up.
To his credit, Biggio delivered a bloop single that just eluded the grasp of shortstop Anderson to drive in a run and tie the game at 2-2.
GAUS IS GOOD
It was a considerably better effort from Toronto starter Kevin Gausman than in his previous start, when he lasted just 2-1 innings. The Sox were able to extract a pair of runs from the seven hits they got off the Jays right hander, who managed to strike out seven from his 107 pitches.
But it was a good grinding effort from Gausman, who was able to give his team six complete innings.
The White Sox did their damage with single runs in the second and fifth innings. The first came on back-to-back doubles from A.J. Pollock and Engel to open the scoring then on a Robert two-bagger in the fifth.
It was a pitcher’s night at the ballpark early on with seven of the first eight batters going down on strikes … Another night, another game of repeated chirping from the Jays dugout at the interpretation of the strike zone from home-plate umpire, Doug Eddings. Ball and strike calls were deplorable from start to finish for both teams … Jays hitters were certainly flummoxed by Cease, who didn’t make it to Toronto with the team earlier in the season due to Canadian COVID-19 vaccination regulations. On his way to 11 strikeouts, the right hander fanned seven of the first 10 Jays batters he faced … Final time of game: Four hours, 23 minutes.