TORONTO -- John Gibbons' second tenure with the Blue Jays officially began Tuesday night, and it bears little resemblance to his first go-around with the club.
Toronto kicked off its 37th season in the Major Leagues against the Indians in front of a sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre. That's not unusual, because the Blue Jays typically sell out on Opening Day, but the hype and expectations are unlike anything seen before in the city.
Following an eventful offseason that saw general manager Alex Anthopoulos completely overhaul the club's roster, there is renewed hope the Blue Jays can find their way back into the postseason for the first time since 1993.
W: Masterson L: Dickey SV: Perez
"It has been a long time coming. It seems like it took forever to get here," Gibbons said of the upcoming 162-game grind. "We're excited, we're ready, we'd love to get off to a good start. I think that would do wonders with the hype, the buildup and all of that.
"There are no guarantees with that. I don't think that will factor into our season, but it sure would be nice. Everybody's anxious. Our last game was on Saturday, so there has been a little bit of a layoff and they're champing at the bit, but we're ready to go."
Gibbons previously spent parts of five seasons from 2004-08 as the Blue Jays' manager. There was hope back then that the club would be able to take the next step following the addition of players such as A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and Troy Glaus, but it was never on the level currently seen in Toronto.
The Blue Jays are being picked by many critics to win the American League East and at the very least are expected to be a strong contender for a Wild Card spot. That wasn't necessarily the case during Gibbons' first tenure, but it's the type of pressure that follows the offseason additions of Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera.
There were times when the atmosphere around the Blue Jays was positive, but it's still a vastly different vibe than the one heading into this season.
"No doubt, there's no comparison," Gibbons said in a packed media scrum prior to Tuesday's game against the Indians. "Just the number [of reporters] in here today tell you that. But we have a good team out there. We feel good about it and now the talk's over. We've been talking for how many months now? Now we have to go out and do something."
Anthopoulos' activity during the winter months caught everybody off-guard, but perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the hiring of Gibbons.
The 50-year-old was managing a Double-A team in his hometown of San Antonio when he received an unexpected call from Toronto's GM during the offseason. Gibbons quickly agreed to a deal and will now attempt to improve his previous 305-305 track record with the club.
"It's extra special, because I never would have thought I'd be back to be honest with you," Gibbons said of Opening Day. "I don't think anybody did.
"That carries a little bit of extra meaning there, but I've done it before. I managed enough games. If this was my first Major League game, it would probably be a little bit different, but I've been through it."
Santos ready to put last season in rearview mirror
TORONTO -- Sergio Santos finally has the fresh start he was looking for in a Blue Jays uniform.
Santos was acquired from the White Sox prior to the 2012 season and was expected to serve as the Blue Jays' closer, but a right shoulder injury derailed any hope of making a positive impact last year.
The 29-year-old was shut down after just six games and eventually underwent surgery, which cost him the rest of the year. His impact was non-existent, but that's something he intends to change this season.
"It feels like it's a whole new experience for me, a whole new Opening Day," Santos said. "I'm really looking forward to closing the chapter on last year and really looking to moving onto this year.
"I'm excited, I'm healthy, I feel like I'm right where I want to be as the season's starting as far as how I feel with how my stuff is coming out. It feels good."
Santos' first experience with the Blue Jays was far from being a positive one, but his actual home debut went even worse. The hard-throwing right-hander came in to close out a game versus Boston in the Blue Jays' home opener, but he proceeded to allow three earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning.
That gave Santos his first loss and second blown save of the year. He left the field to a chorus of boos, and in some ways it was a foreshadowing of what would become a nightmare season.
If there was any chance of that experience carrying over into the 2013 season it was put to rest on Tuesday night. Santos came on in relief of left-hander Aaron Loup and promptly gave up a first-pitch double, but Santos quickly settled in by striking out the next two batters he faced to end the threat.
"Obviously wishing the circumstances were different, but it felt good to just get out there again and make some pitches when I had to," Santos said after Toronto's 4-1 loss to Cleveland. "The first-pitch double was kind of like, 'Oh, man,' but it was nice to settle down, get out there and make some pitches.
"It happens. The double was just a poorly located pitch. It kind of locked me in, kind of got me a little fired up, and luckily I was able to battle back and make those key pitches."
Injury to keep Lawrie sidelined two more weeks
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are expecting third baseman Brett Lawrie to miss approximately the next two weeks.
Lawrie resumed throwing on Monday following a prolonged period away from baseball activities because of a strained left oblique muscle.
The 23-year-old is expected to resume hitting in the relatively near future and will need to appear in multiple Minor League games before he receives clearance to be activated from the 15-day disabled list.
"I talked to him today. He is throwing the ball around," manager John Gibbons said. "He felt pretty good today. In the next few days, hopefully we'll get him into a game. We're hoping by the weekend.
"He's doing OK. He wishes he could be here that's for sure."
Lawrie suffered the injury on March 6 while playing in an exhibition game for Team Canada prior to the World Baseball Classic. He has gone almost a month without facing pitching, and in many ways he has to start Spring Training all over again.
That's why the Blue Jays have pushed back Lawrie's original timetable. There was a hope he would be ready for Saturday afternoon's game against the Red Sox, but that has since been ruled out.
"His last at-bats were before the WBC, so it has been a month since he really faced live pitching, said Gibbons.
Lawrie suffered a similar injury last season and was forced to miss more than a month. In 2012, Lawrie hit .273 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs while appearing in 125 games.
Cheek honored as part of pregame ceremonies
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays opened the 2013 season by paying tribute to Hall of Fame broadcaster Tom Cheek.
The former voice of the Blue Jays passed away almost eight years ago, but in December he was named the recipient of this year's Ford C. Frick Award.
The award is presented to broadcasters for "major contributions to baseball" and also means Cheek will be induced into the broadcasters wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in July.
Cheek was honored with an audio tribute prior to Tuesday night's game against the Indians as the Blue Jays showcased some of the highlights from his broadcasting career, including the infamous "Touch 'em all Joe" from Joe Carter's home run in the 1993 World Series.
The Blue Jays also presented new hardware to some of their recent offseason additions during the pregame ceremony. Mark Buehrle was honored with a 2012 National League Gold Glove Award while R.A. Dickey received his 2012 NL Cy Young Award.
Danielle Wade from the Wizard of Oz musical sang the national anthems. During the anthem, a large group of varsity athletes from the University of Toronto unveiled a 300-by-150 foot Canadian flag, which took up the entire outfield.
The Blue Jays and Indians also paid tribute to those slain during the Newtown, Conn., school shootings with a moment of silence.
The honorary first-pitch duties were assigned to Rush lead vocalist Geddy Lee, who received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre after firing a strike to right-hander Brandon Morrow.