The Toronto Blue Jays may not have advanced to the post-season, but there will be some Canadian content in this year’s playoffs.
Toronto, Ont., native Jesse Crain will come out of the bullpen for the Minnesota Twins, while Joey Votto, of Etobicoke, Ont., will be suiting up for the Cincinnati Reds. Also on the field will be Corruna, Ont., native Rob Thomson, who will be coaching third base for the New York Yankees.
Sidelined with a concussion since July 7, Justin Morneau, the pride of New Westminster, B.C., has ruled himself out of participating in the first round, but he may be back if the Twins advance. Victoria, B.C.’s Rich Harden, who has battled injuries and owns an ugly 5.58 ERA this season, will reportedly be left off of the Texas Rangers’ post-season roster.
But while this October offers these Canucks a chance to shine, it’s also a good time to reflect on the best previous, post-season performances by Canadians.
Terry Puhl – 1980 National League Championship Series
In a gruelling, five-game series between the Astros and the Phillies that featured Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, it was Melville, Sask., native Terry Puhl who stole the show. Rapping out 10 hits in 19 at bats, the steady Astros outfielder was his team’s best player. His performance was all the more remarkable when you consider that he didn’t start Game One.
“Steve Carlton (a left-hander) started (for the Phillies),” explained the left-handed hitting Puhl, when asked about his absence from the Game One lineup in a 2005 interview. “And if you remember in that series, Cesar Cedeno was injured, so that was the extra right-handed bat. That’s why I played against Carlton the second time (Game Four).”
Hitting in the leadoff spot beginning in Game Two, Puhl would contribute eight singles, two doubles and two stolen bases to help his club push the eventual World Champion Phillies to a fifth and deciding game. In the finale – the series’ fourth contest to go into extra innings – the Saskatchewan native registered four hits.
“Hitters can get streaky. Maybe that was a good streak I went through,” recalled Puhl, who’s now a stockbrocker in Houston. “Even my outs were hit pretty good in that series. I think the hardest ball I hit was the last at bat I had (the 10th inning of Game Five). I hit it and (Garry) Maddox went over to make the play in right centre. I hit it right on the line and Maddox just ran it down.”
George Selkirk – 1936 World Series
Huntsville, Ont., native George Selkirk made his World Series debut with a splash, belting a home run off Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in his first at bat. The bold Canuck, who not only replaced Babe Ruth in the Yankees’ outfield but wore the Bambino’s No. 3, homered again in Game Five and added two more hits in the series-clinching match. In all, the Yankees outfielder hit .333 and had eight hits in the 1936 Fall Classic to help the Bronx Bombers down the cross-town rival Giants in six games.
Ron Taylor – 1964 World Series
Toronto-born hurler Ron Taylor tossed four hitless, shutout innings for the St. Louis Cardinals to record the save against the New York Yankees in Game Four of the 1964 World Series.
“The old Yankee Stadium held 70,000 people. When I got out there, it was just Tim McCarver (Cardinals’ catcher) and me playing catch,” recalled Taylor of his no-hit, relief performance, in a 2005 interview.
The only blemish on the Canadian right-hander’s pitching line was an eighth inning walk to Mickey Mantle.
“I went to three and two (a full count) on him and he fouled off two or three pitches,” remembered Taylor. “I was working him on the outside corner because of the short porch in right field. So finally Mickey took one that was just off the plate for ball four.”
The reliable reliever, who’s now the Blue Jays team doctor, would face just one more batter in the series, appearing in Game Six to get opposing moundsman Jim Bouton to line into a double play.
Working his post-season magic again for the New York Mets in 1969, Taylor would record the save in Game Two when he got Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson to ground out to end the game. For his career, the cool-under-pressure Canuck worked seven innings in World Series play without allowing a hit or a run.
Larry McLean – 1913 World Series
Fredericton, N.B., native, Larry McLean, was known more for hard living than hard-hitting, but the Canuck catcher, who was later shot and killed by a bartender during a brawl, had six hits in 12 at bats in the 1913 Fall Classic for the New York Giants. In Game Two, he caught pitching legend Christy Mathewson and contributed two hits in the Giants’ sole win against the powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics.
Larry Walker – 2004 World Series
Dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in a waiver-wire deal in August 2004, Larry Walker, the pride of Maple Ridge, B.C., finally got an opportunity to play in a World Series that season. The Canuck outfielder responded with four hits in Game One, including two doubles and a home run. The five-time all-star would add another round-tripper in Game Three and finish the series with a .357 batting average. Unfortunately, his club was swept by the Boston Red Sox.
Matt Stairs – 2008 National League Championship Series
If you count his most famous long ball, Matt Stairs has belted a record 24 career pinch-hit homers. On October 13, 2008, the stocky slugger socked a pinch-hit, game-winning homer in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series off of Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in the top of the eighth inning. The two-run homer shifted the series’ momentum to the Phillies and was arguably the key hit in the club’s charge to their second World Series title.