Whirlwind rise to major-league baseball for Longueuil’s Abraham Toro

Third baseman jumps from Double-A to the Astros, clubs homer "I'll remember forever," in support of Justin Verlander's no-hitter in Toronto.

Revue de presse

Joseph D'Hippolito, Montreal Gazette, October 8, 2019

Abraham Toro-Hernandez, Astros de HoustonANAHEIM, Calif. — Eleven days into his major-league career, a Longueuil native made a historic impact.

On Sept. 1 at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, 22-year-old Abraham Toro hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning to give the Houston Astros a lead against the Blue Jays. That drive provided the margin Justin Verlander needed to secure his third career no-hitter, a 2-0 victory that Toro ended by fielding the final out.

Photo ci-dessus : Abraham Toro of the Houston Astros makes a forceout in the ninth inning as David Fletcher of the Los Angeles Angels slides into second base on Sept. 29, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (Photo : Kent Horner, Getty Images)

Toro’s decisive role in the no-hitter provides the biggest highlight of his best professional season. Before the Astros summoned the Quebecer on Aug. 22, Toro started at third base for the South in the Double-A Texas League’s All-Star Game, then moved up to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Last month, MLB.com named the switch-hitter the Astros’ hitting prospect of the year.

Though Toro did not make the roster for the best-of-five American League Division Series, which the Astros led 2-1 over the Rays heading into Game 4 Tuesday in Tampa, the club recognizes his long-term value.

“He was among the leaders in just about every category for our minor-league players: high batting average, high on-base percentage, high OPS,” Jeff Luhnow, Astros president (baseball operations), told MLB.com. “The jump from Double-A to Triple-A didn’t seem to affect him at all. So overall, just a really strong year for him, and he doesn’t strike out a ton. He’s got good discipline and takes walks. He’s a full-package on offence and hits the ball hard. That’s exactly the type of guys we value.”

While with the Astros, Toro acquired an important mental tool.

“What I learned is not to try to change anything,” he said. “You don’t need to change just because you’re on another level. Just keep doing what you’re doing and, hopefully, good things will happen.”

Houston manager A.J. Hinch elaborated.

“He’s very methodical,” Hinch said. “I’ve been very proud of his demeanour and his ability to maintain his composure while coming to the big leagues when he didn’t expect it. He’s a quiet young man and he just does his work.”

Two famous Québécois big-leaguers sparked Toro’s interest in baseball. When asked about his favourite memories growing up, Toro answered quickly.

“I would say watching (Montreal native) Éric Gagné win his Cy Young Award,” he said. “Then after that, (N.D.G.’s) Russell Martin came into the league. Just watching them was pretty nice.

Did they inspire Toro to pursue baseball?

“Um, yeah,” he said with a lilt in his voice. “Pretty much everybody in Montreal looked up to them.”

Kindling that spark was Toro’s older brother, Douglas, who played at Lynn University in Florida.

“I wanted to do what he did,” the younger Toro said. “He taught me a lot of what he learned.”

When Toro wanted to improve, he also went south: to Seminole State College in Oklahoma, where Gagné attended. That move proved pivotal.

“He came here as a skinny kid and left as a man,” said James Martin, Seminole State’s batting coach. “Toro put on 25 pounds of muscle in the fall from August to December. He made the same transition on the field as a hitter, getting used to the velocity of the pitching and taking the instruction of how to field a ground ball correctly by using his feet to throw the ball.

“The impressive thing about is him is his coachability,” Martin added. “Toro is able to change and his work ethic is off the chart. Abraham was a pleasure to coach.”

In 2016, Toro’s work ethic enabled him to amass 20 home runs, 85 RBIs, a .439 batting average, a .545 slugging percentage and an .849 OPS in just 55 games for Seminole State. That June, the Astros selected him in the fifth round of the draft.

In 2018, Toro made the Class A Carolina League’s all-star team before being promoted to the Texas League. Then in the Arizona Fall League, Toro finished third in on-base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.561) and OPS (1.023).

This season, Toro led the Texas League with a .393 on-base percentage and a .906 OPS, finished second with a .306 average and ranked fifth with 70 RBIs while collecting 22 doubles and 16 homers. Promoted to the Pacific Coast League on Aug. 1, Toro responded by hitting .424 with nine doubles, one home run and 10 RBIs in only 16 games.

On Aug. 31, Toro played his first major-league game in Canada, a 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays. The next day, Toro made his historic impact.

With two out and Alex Bregman at second base in the top of the ninth inning, the rookie pounced on a 97 mph fastball from closer Ken Giles and sent it over Rogers Centre’s left-field fence to break a scoreless tie.

“The guy was throwing hard so I was just looking for the fastball,” Toro said. “When I hit it, I was pumped because everybody knew what was on the line. It was pretty exciting.”

Perhaps more exciting was the final out. Bo Bichette hit a ground ball that Toro fielded near the third-base line. When first-baseman Aldemys Diaz caught Toro’s throw, Verlander had his no-hitter.

As Verlander was receiving handshakes and hugs from his teammates, he shouted, “Where the (expletive) is Toro?” When the pitcher saw the rookie, Verlander gave Toro a high five and hugged him tightly. Later, the right-hander treated him to a steak dinner and bought him a Rolex watch. Engraved on the timepiece was the boxscore, Verlander’s name and a simple message: “Thank You.”

“That no-hitter was unreal,” Toro said. “I wasn’t even in the lineup that day. Then one hour before the game, I was playing. To be able to hit a home run and catch the final out is something I’ll remember forever.”

Revue de presse publiée par Jacques Lanciault.

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