TORONTO -- Edwin Encarnacion was wearing different colors and playing for the team that eliminated the Blue Jays in the 2016 American League Championship Series, but that did not stop the three-time All-Star from receiving a hero's welcome in his return to the city he used to call home.
Before Toronto beat Cleveland, 4-2, on Monday, Blue Jays fans paid tribute to one of their former greats by greeting Encarnacion with a standing ovation as he stepped to the plate during the second inning. Chants of "Eddie, Eddie" rang down from Rogers Centre, a place where Encarnacion made a name for himself over eight seasons.
Blue Jays fans are notoriously tough to predict. Each circumstance is unique, but Roberto Alomar was booed in his return, Vernon Wells received a mixed reaction and even former fan favorite Brett Lawrie heard it from the crowd his first time back. For Encarnacion, there was never really any doubt. Even though he voluntarily left through free agency, the crowd reaction was always going to be loud and supportive.
"At first, I wasn't expecting the reception that I got," Encarnacion admitted through interpreter Anna Bolton after the game. "But then, when they stood up, that huge group of fans that stood for me, they gained not only my respect, but also the respect of all the other players that were there and that saw it and heard it."
Encarnacion hit a line-drive single that deflected off the foot of Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman in his first at-bat in the second inning Monday. He singled again in his second at-bat and finished the memorable night 2-for-3 with a walk.
The support for Encarnacion was visible even a couple of hours before the game. When he took the field for batting practice, Encarnacion was greeted by a standing ovation from a select group of fans who were granted early admittance. The applause grew when gates were opened to the general public with plenty of signs thanking Encarnacion for his time in Toronto and for his role in revitalizing the franchise.
During his time here, Encarnacion went from someone who was designated for assignment to one of the most consistent power hitters in the game. He finished with at least 34 home runs and 98 RBIs in five consecutive seasons from 2012-16 and can be found among the Toronto franchise leaders in almost every major offensive category. Most notably, Encarnacion also was responsible for one of the most iconic moments in Blue Jays history when he hit a walk-off homer vs. Ubaldo Jimenez in last year's AL Wild Card Game.
"[It's] weird seeing him on the other side, man, after seeing how much he did for this team, this country," Stroman said. "How many historic home runs he hit. I loved Eddie. I learned a lot from Eddie while he was here. He was a big role model and teacher for me. A lot of love and respect for Eddie and I wish him the best."
Encarnacion received lots of love during his first at-bat, but the most heartfelt moment came during a video tribute before the game. As Encarnacion warmed up on the field, he watched some of his greatest moments in a Blue Jays uniform. When it was over, he tipped his hat to the crowd and soaked it all in.
"I would've been surprised if it was not," Indians manager Terry Francona said of the positive fan reaction. "I actually would've been disappointed. To do what he did here ... he put up some pretty monstrous numbers. And he's such a good kid. He's never going to be the loudest kid in the room, but he's such a nice kid. Yeah, it is nice to see people react like that."
Much has been written about Encarnacion's departure from the Blue Jays during the offseason, and each side has its own version of events. What we know is that the Blue Jays made an offer in the neighborhood of five years and $80 million to Encarnacion at the start of the offseason. Encarnacion decided not to accept at the time, and instead of waiting around, the Blue Jays took the offer off the table and signed Kendrys Morales instead.
That left Encarnacion looking for a deal elsewhere, and he ultimately ended up in Cleveland on a three-year deal worth $60 million. Monday was his first time back, but it won't be the last, and in Encarnacion's mind it's time for everyone to move on. It took awhile, but he has.
"It took some time, it took a few weeks to understand what happened," Encarnacion said. "It was difficult because I was hopeful that the situation would have been different. But after I took the necessary steps to secure my future with the Indians, it got easier. ... This is a business. They did what they needed to do, and I did my part and I went to where the door was open to me."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.