TORONTO -- Driving into Canada Monday morning, I had no hassles at all. There was no line at the border crossing between Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario; a few cursory questions and off I went.
The Cubs, apparently, either had their bats confiscated or simply forgot them at Customs, because their offense simply failed to show up in an 8-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Cubs' first game in Canada in six years. It was the 16th time the Cubs had been shut out this year, equaling the total of blankings in both 2012 and 2013, with 18 games remaining in 2014.
Chris Coghlan hit Marcus Stroman's first pitch right back at him; it glanced off Stroman's glove, knocking him to the ground. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, at least, it bounced right to shortstop Jose Reyes, who threw Coghlan out.
Stroman got up and was smiling and laughing; doing that apparently just made him mad. The Cubs had just three singles on the night and after Jorge Soler got the Cubs' first hit leading off the second inning, Stroman retired 20 in a row before Mike Olt singled with two out in the eighth. Chris Valaika got the Cubs' only other hit, a one-out single in the ninth. Stroman recorded 14 outs on ground balls and struck out eight and it was easy to see why many people here wanted the Cubs to try to trade for him. Clearly, he's not going anywhere, at least not until the Jays can't afford to keep him. For the 23-year-old Stroman, it was his 18th big-league start and first complete game and shutout.
Jacob Turner pitched on the edge all evening. He gave up a run in the second inning after an error by Logan Watkins, usually a good fielder, and another in the third. He gave up a pair of singles in the fourth and nearly got out of the inning, but Jose Bautista put the game far out of reach with a no-doubt-about-it three-run homer. Turner wasn't bad, but he wasn't really good, either; the six-inning, four-earned-run appearance is what we usually call an "Edwin Jackson start."
The rest of the game was a pro-forma exercise in baseball, since it was pretty clear the Cubs weren't going to score any runs. Most of the Cubs went down on very few hits; Stroman threw just 93 pitches, the same number as Turner threw in six innings. Dan Straily was summoned to relieve Turner to begin the seventh inning and he got cuffed around a little. Watkins made another error in booting a ball and really, he probably should have been charged with two errors as his attempt to throw out Ryan Goins popped in the air right next to him, allowing a run to score. In the next inning, back-to-back doubles scored another run. Amazingly enough, the Cubs then let our old friend Dioner Navarro, perhaps the slowest runner in baseball, score from second on a single.
You know how I often complain about Rick Renteria's incessant pitching changes? Monday night, he might have made the most meaningless change of the year when, down eight runs with two out in the bottom of the eighth, he brought in Zac Rosscup to face Anthony Gose. Seriously? What's the purpose of that? The platoon advantage? It can't be getting work for Rosscup, as he pitched just three days earlier and is going to face only one hitter, who he did wind up striking out. This one took RR's pitching-change fetish to an extreme. All it accomplished was preventing this game from being the shortest of the year; the two or three minutes it took for RR to stride, looking purposeful, to the mound put this one in the books as third-shortest at two hours, 20 minutes, mercifully short.
I was a little bit surprised to see the Rogers Centre roof open when I arrived, as it was predicted to be a coolish evening, but the Jays explain in their program that they try to keep the roof open unless it's going to be unusually cold, windy or if there's a forecast of rain. Turned out to be quite pleasant and no issue to having the open roof; hope they'll be able to do it the rest of the series.
Being in Canada is ... the same, but different. Everyone speaks the same language, with the charming slight differences many Americans like to try to imitate ("oot" and "aboot"), and from the cool-looking plastic money to the French-language signs everywhere to the people who are unfailingly polite and friendly, Toronto is just as enjoyable as I remember it from my last visit, which was for the Cubs series six years ago. I'll have more on Toronto as a tourist destination later in the week as I intend to stay here for a day after the series ends to have a better look around before I head to a wedding I've been invited to in Michigan next weekend on my way back to Chicago. I might even take in a film as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, which is going on this week and has this city absolutely buzzing; the streets were incredibly crowded Monday afternoon when I arrived and you can tell riding the subway around that there are people here from all over the world.
The smallish crowd at the game included some Cubs fans, but not nearly as many as were here in 2008, the Cubs' last visit. You can surely understand the reasons for that. Perhaps the Cubs will put on a better performance of baseball Tuesday evening, when Jake Arrieta faces another longtime Cubs rival, Mark Buehrle.