TORONTO — Man, did the Giants come close to scoring a run in the first inning for the first time in 2019. Gerardo Parra was on third base with two outs and attempted a straight steal of home, but he was tagged out on a good throw by unfazed rookie pitcher Trent Thornton.
“We were a foot away,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
He was smiling as he said it because the Giants beat the Blue Jays 7-6 on a night of ovations, memories and emotion for Kevin Pillar in his return to Rogers Centre.
Pillar drove in the first run with a two-out single in the second inning. Joe Panik then hit a two-run double and later hit the first of four Giants solo home runs. Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval hit the others.
The Giants hit four homers in a game for the first time since June, and the first time on the road since 2016.
Sandoval’s opposite-field drive off Daniel Hudson in the eighth inning gave the Giants a grand-slam-proof lead, which was convenient because Tony Watson gave up a slam in the eighth inning by Sacramento native Rowdy Tellez after the first three runners reached against Sam Dyson.
After Will Smith saved it with a far less rowdy ninth, Pillar could reflect not only a dream homecoming night, but a potent win that puts the Giants in position to finish the trip 4-4 if they can win again Wednesday.
“It’s nice to say we won a game offensively,” he said.
The crowd that came to fete Pillar was larger than expected on a night the Maple Leafs were skating in a Game 7 at Boston (they lost) and the Raptors were down the street eliminating Orlando in the NBA playoffs.
Jays fans erupted in cheers when Pillar merely emerged from the dugout to run sprints before the first pitch and again when his name was introduced in the starting lineup.
The big moment happened when he ran to his position in the first inning. He stood with his back to the plate and watched a video tribute on the big scoreboard above center field, which ended with the words, “Thank you, Kevin.”
Pillar said that helped him “get the emotions out” before his final big moment, when he stepped to the plate with two outs in the second and Sandoval and Brandon Crawford aboard after singling.
Amid one more ovation, Pillar stepped back and doffed his helmet. The video might have helped him wring out the emotion, but he still wanted to do something big at the plate for the fans, who didn’t seem to mind the single to left that gave the Giants a 1-0 lead.
“I’m a hopeless romantic,” he said.
When a reporter noted that Pillar was a rock star in Toronto, winning pitcher Jeff Samardzija said, “He should be, the way he plays. Guys like that should definitely be pushed more by the league because they play hard. He obviously has the respect of his (Toronto) teammates, the organization and fans.”
One girl gave Pillar a poster board that asked him to be her prom date. It was sitting on his chair after the game as he gave his second long news conference of the day.
Pillar was on first base talking to his best friend on the Jays, Justin Smoak, before Panik hit his two-run double.
Panik and Sandoval each hit his first homer of the year. Sandoval, remarkably, was the first member of the Giants to have a three-hit game this season. He made a rare start as a designated hitter.
“He’s amazing. He really is,” Bochy said. “He's one of those guys who can sit on the bench for a week and give you good at-bats. He’s a hitter. And he’s hitting from the right side, too. He’s a great weapon to have on the bench, but when we’re playing an American League team, he’s built for that.”
Henry Schulman is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter :@hankschulman