Blue Jays take advantage of boost from stars to meet challenges ahead

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LOS ANGELES — The first highlight of Alek Manoah’s all-star experience began cloudy-eyed over breakfast just hours after landing in Southern California for his first look at the Best of the Game celebration .

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But a memorable encounter with superstar starter Justin Verlander was just the appetizer for game night as the Blue Jays right-hander became one of the stars of a show full of them.

Reproduced by the Fox broadcast team, Manoah’s back and forth with analyst John Smoltz provided a wide-open window into the big man’s personality. His right arm, spoke just as loudly, striking out three of the four National League batters he faced.

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“I can’t remember anything already,” the still-excited Manoah said of his exit. “I think I’ll remember the punches, it was pretty awesome.

“I don’t know if you saw any of my warm-up pitches, but none of them were a strike. I managed to calm myself down, but I could barely feel the ball in my hand.

With his loud personality matched by his attack mode pitching style, Manoah was a natural at being mic and it showed. And if there were any baseball-watching fans who hadn’t heard of Manoah until Tuesday, that’s a dwindling number now.

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“They approached me and asked if I wanted to be a mic and I said ‘heck ya’.” Manoah said. “Usually when I talk to myself, no one answers me.”

The network wasn’t the only party to approach Manoah, another indication of a skyward career trajectory fueled by both his bulldog talent and his boisterous personality.

So let’s go back to the start of this all-star bromance with two-time Cy Young Award winner Verlander.

“He came up to me smiling and said ‘Hey man, I love what you’re doing. I love the way you throw and I’m a big fan of you,'” Manoah said. looked and said, ‘Dude, are you a fan of me? I am your biggest fan.’ ”

It’s impossible to quantify exactly what an all-star experience can do for a player, but for the five Jays soaking it up or for the first time, it certainly felt like a welcome pick-me-up for Manoah.

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His four Jays teammates here – Vlad Guerrero Jr., Alejandro Kirk, Jordan Romano and Santiago Espinal – have had similar experiences, but none fit the profile of their teammate, who, in just his second season in the big leagues, has achieved elite status.

“Being able to talk to him has been amazing to me,” said Manoah, wearing his charcoal American League jersey as he prepared to pitch the second inning for manager Dusty Baker. “We talked about how we’re kinda similar. We start the game the same way, getting our bodies going, and then in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings there’s more speed and things start to pick up speed.

Manoah said the two talked about court types, with the newbie picking the vet’s brain on how he uses his curveball and how his arm lunge has changed over the years.

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“It was pretty awesome,” Manoah said. “I always appreciated his will to win and he said the same about me. He said he liked my competitiveness and the way I threw with a lot of energy and intensity.

“Being able to talk to him and have him say he’s a fan of me has been amazing.”

It’s a big part of the All-Star experience, a brotherly gathering of like-minded, highly motivated baseball stars.

Jays closer Romano immersed himself in the same experience with Verlander and was equally impressed.

Having the chance to empathize and share war stories with other high leverage relievers was also a rush for the Markham, Ont. native.

“I’m just talking about some of the emotions that we’re feeling…it’s pretty good to see everyone going through the same things,” Romano said. “Talking to the other guys late in the innings, it was cool to get our heads together and know that the stress we’re feeling is normal.”

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It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that doesn’t happen much during the 162-game grind of the baseball schedule. And the interaction and recognition can’t hurt as a potential motivator either, as the Jays look to up their game the rest of the way.

“Even when I was told on Sunday that I would come to the game, it gave me a boost of energy,” Romano said. “I think it’s the same for all of us. Being named to something like that gives you extra confidence.

ALL-STAR VLAD

In each of the three years he was in the majors and had an All-Star Game, Guerrero Jr. was part of the show.

And he made sure to bring it to life every time.

In the 2019 game at Cleveland, the then-third baseman Jays weren’t named to the AL team, but he participated in the Home Run Derby and despite finishing second, he nearly stole the show.

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At the 2021 edition in Denver, Guerrero hit a home run and was named the game’s MVP. And now, in 2022, Baker has placed him in his roster’s cleaning job, a position befitting one of the game’s biggest stars.

“It means a lot to me,” Guerrero said through translator Hector Lebron on Tuesday, before going 0-for-2 in his two plate appearances. “Being here is always a different experience and a great experience.

“As a ball player you try to make the most of it. Having conversations and talking with all the other superstars is always great.

As much as the man who finished tied for the MLB lead in home runs in 2021 with 48 enjoyed Monday’s Home Run Derby as a spectator, he’d like to return to hit some bombs – maybe as soon as next year .

“I would love to be back in the Home Run Derby, especially since it’s in Seattle,” said Guerrero, who was nursing a mildly sore wrist this season. “But of course it all depends on how I feel physically.”

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BLUE JAYS BATTERY

Kudos to the AL Baker manager for putting Manoah up in the second inning, giving him a chance to pitch to his regular receiver, Kirk.

“It’s special to see him here in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles,” said Kirk, a 23-year-old from Tijuana, Mexico, just down the Pacific coast. “Yes, we had a few experiences together, but nothing like that.

“It’s a great relationship between us, like brothers. Ever since I first met him, we’ve connected that way.

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Kirk, who is here as the first Jays catcher to win a fan-election, leads the Jays with a .315 batting average, was soaking up the experience.

It would have been hard to top the ceremonial pregame for Kirk, who caught the ceremonial first pitch of fellow Mexican and former Los Angeles Dodgers great Fernando Valenzuela.

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AROUND THE BASES

Besides his three strikeouts, Manoah also hit Joc Pederson with a pitch. “It’s kind of who I am… I could hit you or I could hit you,” the Florida native said… As much as the game and his trimmings were a thrill for Romano, he thought one of the real moments highlights of the experience was going to be the post-game beer he shared with his dad. Romano’s parents, Joe and Cynthia, made the trip to see their son’s shining moment… Guerrero on Manoah’s performance: “I think he looked great. I told him before that he had to hit the side and he did. … The 92nd Midsummer Classic marked the first return to Dodger Stadium since 1980, a gap extended two years ago due to COVID. The MVP for this most recent experience was Ken Griffey (the original) while the Jays rep was pitcher Dave Stieb, in his first ASG appearance… Pretty clearly one of the reasons why the sixth entrant potential Jays chose to forward the event. The Dodger Stadium faithful had lusty boos for members of the cheating 2017 Houston Astros, who won a World Series on this field and would have had a good deal of it for George Springer… And props for Canadian nickname Freddie Freeman ( California-raised by Canadian parents), who did his best to sing O Canada during the hymns.

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