20 minutes before game time, José Berríos took a slow walk out of the dugout.
As he sauntered towards the warning track to get his warm-ups in, only the fans in the front row noticed him. By the time he reached the outfield turf, the entire stadium serenaded No. 17 with a spontaneous and surprisingly loud ovation.
So when Berríos, who's under team control through 2022, toed the mound in the top of the first, the Rogers Centre crowd was understandably amped. After all, the Blue Jays dealt their second and fourth-best prospects to acquire him from the Minnesota Twins.
"I've never been in this position before in my career," Berríos said.
It had been an exhausting journey to Toronto for Berríos. He was initially scheduled to pitch Friday for the Twins, but after being traded, had to pack his bags and head to a new team in an entirely different country all in a matter of days.
"I did my best trying to get through my routine," Berríos said. "I had a good rest, good food, and then today came to the ballpark to do my work. So that's what I did and we came out of the game with the win."
When the time came to just go out there and pitch, Berríos was ready to go. With his glove still bright red, Berríos attacked a Kansas City Royals team he knows well from his days in the AL Central. The Royals have hit Berríos hard this season (eight runs in 14 innings) and got to him for four hits in the first two innings. After that, nothing.
Berríos pitched six innings scoreless in Sunday's 5-1 Blue Jays win, allowing only five hits, one walk, three hit-by-pitches and struck out seven on 95 pitches to earn the win.
It took nine batters, but Berríos got his first strikeout as a Blue Jays with a sweeping curveball to sit down Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez.
Berríos throws the curve more than any other pitch in his arsenal. With an average horizontal break of 14.7 inches, it's a filthy pitch. After a single and two hit-by-pitches put Berríos in a sixth-inning jam, he leaned heavily on his spinner. The 27-year-old uncorked five straight curveballs that tumbled off the plate and got three swings-and-misses from Royals No. 8 hitter Edward Olivares.
Excellent outings from a trio of Ross Stripling, Alek Manoah and now Berríos helped Toronto cruise to three straight wins over the Royals. With Robbie Ray, then Hyun Jin Ryu on deck for Monday and Tuesday, the Blue Jays look much more poised to win than they did prior to the trade deadline.
"That's all you can ask," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. "Our starters have been great, and like I always say, if we pitch and play defense, we're going to have a chance because we swing the bats."
What to expect from Berríos going forward
First and foremost, the Blue Jays get a serious innings-eater. Berríos has pitched 787.1 innings in his six-year big-league career and has never been placed on the injured list. During media availability on Friday, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the right-hander's durability was a factor in the team targeting him.
"In order to get better, you need to [pitch] a lot. And to get those reps you have to be durable. [Berríos] always has been. I think there are a lot of pitchers out there that maybe don't have this track record that can be as durable moving forward, but that is certainly an attractive attribute," Atkins said.
If Ray departs this offseason, Toronto's left with a glaring hole at the top of the rotation. Ray's 3.04 ERA and season average of nearly six innings per start would be tough to replace, but sliding Berríos into the 2022 rotation alongside Ryu might ease the sting.
At just 27 years of age, Berríos still has room to grow, too.
"I think it's really interesting," Atkins said. "As young as he is, as athletic and how hard working he is, it's easy to think about him just continuing on a positive trend.
"Whether that is in more just how he's deploying his work and how he's learning how to attack different teams and learning how to reshape certain pitches or make adjustments. He has the ability and all of the attributes to do all of those things."
That said, the Blue Jays front office didn't mortgage a good chunk of its future on a distant vision of what might be.
"The current version and the current form was obviously exciting enough for us," Atkins said.
Blue Jays management likes Berríos for who he is right now and his acquisition represents a massive commitment to contending in the next two years. Combine that with an excellent debut to seal a series sweep at Rogers Centre, and Blue Jays fans should like Berríos too.