NEW YORK — Appropriately enough, it was 44 years ago Wednesday that the Yankees handed out chocolate bars at the turnstiles to honor Reggie Jackson, paying homage to his feat of three home runs in a World Series game the previous October. When the slugger went deep in the first inning, thousands of orange-wrapped treats rained from the seats in tribute.
Across the street from where those ‘Reggie!’ bars once interrupted a home opener, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. put on a show to remember — one decidedly less sweet for those wearing pinstripes. The Blue Jays star withstood a bloody injury to belt three home runs, two off ace Gerrit Cole, who literally tipped his cap during the Yankees’ 6-4 loss in the Bronx.
“Did you see the night?” said Cole, who doffed his headgear following a sixth-inning double. “If you had a cap, you’d tip it too. I mean, it got better after that, too. My goodness.”
It was the second three-homer game of Guerrero’s career, a feat that his Hall of Fame father never achieved. Guerrero collected 14 total bases in the contest, going deep off Cole in the first and third innings, doubling in the sixth, then homering off Jonathan Loáisiga in the eighth.
“Just otherworldly hitting,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Pretty impressive display by him. We got beat by a great hitter tonight.”
Coming into Wednesday’s start, Cole said that one of his goals was to throw more strikes early, having seen the first four Red Sox reach base in his Opening Day effort. Cole retired the first two Toronto batters, then hung an 87.4 mph slider to Guerrero, who pounded a drive that sent center fielder Aaron Hicks leaping near the wall.
Hicks felt the ball pop out of his glove, seeing it bounce near the top of the fence and ricochet onto the playing field. Guerrero was waved home after review; Yankee Stadium’s ground rules indicate that a “batted ball in flight striking the top of the wall above/beyond the padding” is a home run, regardless of whether it bounces back onto the field or continues into the stands.
“I still don’t feel like it went out,” Hicks said. “I caught it and it slipped out, but even looking back at the video, I feel like it hit the top of the wall and came back in.”
Hicks played a supporting role in the next chapter of Guerrero’s memorable evening by chopping a second-inning grounder to the right side of the infield. Shortstop Bo Bichette slid and fed a two-hop throw to first base, where Guerrero reached for the catch. Hicks’ left foot spiked Guerrero’s bare hand, opening a sizable gash on his right ring finger that required treatment in the dugout.
Cole would have preferred that Guerrero take the rest of the night off. Instead, the 23-year-old was in the batter’s box the next inning, when Cole located a 98 mph fastball exactly where he wanted it. Flashing lightning in his wrists, Guerrero dispatched the ball 427 feet into the visiting bullpen for a two-run homer.
“He was just so quick to that pitch,” Cole said.
New York rallied for three runs in the fifth, as Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge cracked back-to-back homers and DJ LeMahieu doubled home the tying run. That set up a third and final showdown between Cole and Guerrero Jr. — with the count 0-2, Cole fired a 97.5 mph fastball that he thought Guerrero tried to foul off, instead rewarded with a two-base hit to the right-field corner.
“It was kind of an emergency swing; he’s got so much power,” Cole said. “Gosh, I’ve got so much leverage there. Do I have to throw a strike? No.”
A catcher’s interference error, bobbled double-play ball and George Springer RBI single allowed the Jays to reclaim the lead in the seventh, bringing Guerrero up to open the eighth against Loáisiga. Guerrero wasted no time, pounding Loáisiga’s first pitch – a 95.3 mph sinker – into the second deck down the left-field line, 443 feet from home plate.
“I wish it was against somebody else; I could watch it on TV and not see it live,” Judge said. “That’s the type of player he is. He can take over a game. The guy is a game-changer, and he’s going to be a tough opponent all year.”