TORONTO - John McDonald's bottom lip quivered as he recalled the conversation with his late father, Jack.
They were talking about what kind of player the light-hitting utility infielder was, and Jack had a request for his son.
"Hit your next home run for me," he said, shortly before he died from liver cancer on Tuesday.
John McDonald obliged. In his first at-bat since Friday's funeral. On Father's Day.
His first thought as he was rounding the bases?
"Probably the fact that I couldn't call my dad after the game," McDonald said, the corners of his eyes dampening.
"I think it was for both of us. ... The fact I got that out of the way quick, was nice. I told him they're not that easy to hit."
On most days, his home run in the ninth inning of a 9-6 Toronto Blue Jays loss to the San Francisco Giants would be a footnote. On Sunday, it was one of those rare times in sports when a single moment supersedes victories and losses.
"I think it brought tears to just about everyone's eyes," said manager Cito Gaston.
McDonald rejoined his teammates Saturday and was only seeing action Sunday as a late-inning replacement for second baseman Aaron Hill in a blowout game. But he welcomed the opportunity to play, jumped all over an 0-1 curveball from Jeremy Affeldt and sent his first of the season just over the left-field wall.
He pumped his fist as the ball disappeared into the bullpen.
"My dad wanted me to be here for Father's Day," said McDonald, who has a young daughter. "I'm not usually happy or excited post-game after a loss, but it was a special moment for our family."
For his teammates, too.
McDonald was given an emotional reception in the Blue Jays dugout, and then was hugged by Vernon Wells, Hill, Shaun Marcum and Casey Janssen in the tunnel to the clubhouse.
"We cried on each other's shoulders for a good 30 seconds," said Wells. "When it went out it was instant goosebumps. Wins and losses don't really matter at that point, that was one of the most special moments I've gotten to see in this game.
"I think that's the happiest loss any of us have encountered in our professional careers."
Wells and the rest of the team presented McDonald with a jersey featuring his dad's name with his umpiring No. 25 before the game. Every player on the team signed it.
"Just a sign that we're with you," explained Wells.
Despite his limited role on the field, the 35-year-old is wildly popular with fans and loved by his teammates. Upon returning from the funeral, he briefly visited with Gaston and then walked into the clubhouse where he was promptly greeted by Marcum, who said, "Come here and give me a hug big fella."
"That was something pretty special," Marcum said of the home run.
The rest of the day was much less memorable for the Blue Jays (38-32), who blew a chance to sweep the Giants (38-31) when reliever Brian Tallet (1-3) coughed up a five-run sixth before a crowd of 21,431.
They were nursing a 3-2 lead at that point after failing to exploit an erratic Jonathan Sanchez for more than the three runs, and paid for it.
"We feel like we probably left one on the table," said Marcum. "Any time you win the series it's always good but we had a chance there, we had a lead and unfortunately we didn't keep it."
Coming on in relief of Marcum, who allowed two runs (one earned) in five trouble-filled innings, Tallet gave up Andres Torres' RBI single before Freddy Sanchez broke things open with a three-run shot off the left-field foul pole.
Aubrey Huff followed with a single on Tallet's last pitch of the afternoon before Juan Uribe greeted Casey Janssen with a double that made it 7-3.
It was the type of loss that should temper enthusiasm for a club that to this point has far exceeded expectations and continues to hang around the fringes of contention in the difficult AL East. Gaston was musing before the game of how he'd be happy to hit the all-star break within five games of the post-season front-runners, and about the possibility of adding help before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but losses like this hurt the cause.
"I think without a doubt we'd be talking about adding someone, adding people that probably would help us get over the hump," Gaston said beforehand. "I know that Paul (Beeston, the team president) and Alex (Anthopoulos, the GM) and certainly the organization are all for that."
The Blue Jays opened the scoring in the second on John Buck's check-swing, two-run single but he took some steam out of the inning by getting thrown out rounding first too far. Edwin Encarnacion then failed to bring home a runner from third with less than two out, and eventually Adam Lind struck out with the bases loaded to end the frame.
Buck added another RBI single in the third to knock out Sanchez, and the Giants bullpen held firm from then on. Denny Bautista (1-0) pitched 2 1-3 scoreless innings for the win.
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