“Hey rook, get on third, La Pina’s hurt today.” Surprise directive from Manager A. J. Hinch.
So began the day of the Astros’ fresh rookie, 22-year-old Abraham Toro. On his scheduled day off, hey, he’s just a replacement player anyway, he was suddenly tasked to replace the Astros’ RBI leader, slugger Yuli Gurriel.
On a day when the Astros lineup would be missing not only Gurriel, but fellow mashers George Springer and Carlos Correa, and with Justin Verlander pitching, today’s game figured to be a low-scoring affair.
If that’s what you figured, you’d be right.
That meant that a lot would be riding on the replacement players today if the Astros hoped to take the series in Toronto, and maybe catch up to the Yankees for the best record in the AL. But Toro hadn’t even been on the team long enough to overcome his rookie jitters. Fill the hole left by Gurriel, Springer, Correa? Really? Before today the French Canadian born Toro had played in just seven games in the big-leagues, and had only five hits, two of those infield variety. His paltry batting average was exactly Mendoza line; .200.
And so, the game proceeded on schedule. In the first inning, neither team got a hit, although the Blue Jays did manage a walk. In the second, one of the other Astros replacement players, Aledmys Diaz, actually got a hit, a lead-off double. It would be the only Astros hit until the seventh inning. But next batter, our Mr. Toro, failed big-time, striking out, followed by two more outs, as the Astros choked their early chance to score.
Third inning, neither team hit. Fourth inning, neither team hit. Fifth inning, neither team hit, with Toro leading off for the Stros with a strikeout.
Sixth inning, neither team hit, but by now there were mumblings and grumblings. People were starting to notice that big fat 0 in the hit column next to the Blue Jays in the box score. But you only grumble. The most sacred unwritten rule of baseball is: don’t jinx the no-hitter by saying the word no-hitter before the game is over.
And anyway, uppermost in the minds of most Astros fans was the fact that OUR team, the mighty Astros, was being SHUT OUT by the band of no-name cast-offs populating the mound for the Blue Jays. When will an ASTRO get a hit?
In the seventh inning it finally happened. The slumping Yordan Alvarez got a hit. Amazing. And when Aledmys Diaz got hit by a pitch, that put Alvarez in scoring position for...Abraham Toro.
Time to be a hero Abraham. Time to make your Canadian friends and family proud of you here in Toronto.
“It’s a deep fly ball to center field. Back, back, back...All the way back...And it’s caught on the warning track. Toro gave it a good ride, but it’s just out three.”
That’s three runners the rookie left on base today, the most on the team. Replacing Mr. Clutch, Yuli Gurriel? Hardly. What a rook.
It’s the ninth inning, and everyone knows what’s on the line. The future Hall of Famer, Justin Verlander, is three outs from his third no-hitter. If he can do it, he would be only the sixth pitcher ever to have three no-hitters, joining the likes of Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan in the history books.
But there’s a problem. No, getting three outs wasn’t the problem, even though Verlander was already over 100 pitches. Justin had three more outs in him, no doubt. It’s the damn Astros bats. They still hadn’t scored a frickin run all day and for a no-hitter to go in the books the pitcher has to complete the game. A 0-0 tie would wreck Justin’s no-no. In the top of the ninth somebody had to do what nobody had done all day; get an RBI.
It was a good omen for the Astros when the Jays brought out their ace closer, Ken Giles. He’s having a great season, and just the day before he struck out all three of the Astros he faced. Nonetheless, Astros fans all know about Giles in the big moments. And sure enough, Giles gave up a lead-off double to Alex Bregman, a fluky broken-bat base hit though it might have been. But the Astros had a runner in scoring position with no outs. Would they blow this golden opportunity?
Mighty ROYdan was next to bat, the new Godzilla of baseball, Yordan Alvarez. Strike one... Strike two... Strike three swinging, and there was Bregman still standing on second base. Say it isn’t so.
Next, former All-Star Aledmys Diaz, with the chance to score the winning run. A flyout advanced Bregman to third, but with two outs it was up to the next batter to get him in with a base hit.
Throughout the Astro domain, one could hear the thoughts of all Astros fans screaming silently as one: “don’t let the rookie hit, bring in Mr. Clutch, still on the bench, La Pina. Time for Pina Power.”
But A. J. calmly decreed, “grab a bat rook.”
If Abraham Toro never plays baseball again after today, he will still be remembered always as the man who came through to allow Justin Verlander the opportunity to get his no-hitter in an Astros uniform at the age of 35. Someday there will be a Name That Astro question with clues like, “Bull,” “French fry,” “No-No,” and it will be the easiest Name That Astro ever: Abraham Toro, the rookie slugger who delivered the victory to Justin Verlander in his memorable no-hitter on September 1st, 2019.
This is what the rook did.
But as they say in marketing, that’s not all. It is absolutely fitting that when the last batter for the Jays came up, rookie phenom Bo Bichette, that Abraham Toro would be the fielder to make the final putout to secure the no-hitter.
Here’s the final play and the celebration.
It’s a routine play normally, but I think that if that ball had come to me and it was my responsibility to make that final out, I might have soiled my pants in some embarrassing fashion as soon as I saw the ball coming to me. But the rook not only got the big hit, he also got the decisive out, clean and sure, like an old veteran.
When asked by Julia Morales what it felt like to get that third no-hitter, this is what Verlander said:
“Abraham Toro comes off with his huge homer, and then he made the last out, the ball’s in play, and you’re just hoping it’s an out...make an out, make an out, make an out, good throw, good throw, good throw. Let’s celebrate.”
And after hugging the catcher, and getting mugged by his teammates, the first thing Justin said was: “Where’s f***in Toro?”
Right now, he’s basking in the satisfaction of knowing that, as a rookie with only eight games in the big leagues, he has earned the respect and admiration of a future baseball legend. In fact, he helped make that legend even bigger today.
Yeah. Baseball. It really is a Field of Dreams.