My weekly observations and opinions about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Following his walk-off home run on Sunday, New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau is batting .327 with nine homers in 42 games for the Colorado Rockies this season. His stellar performance has enabled him to move up on the all-time Canadian leaderboard in two key statistical categories. With his two hits on Friday – the 1,386th and 1,387th of his career, Morneau passed the legendary Tip O’Neill (Woodstock, Ont.) to move into the fourth place on the all-time Canadian hit list. He now trails only Larry Walker (2,160 hits), George Wood (1,467) and Jeff Heath (1,447). Also, when Morneau belted his second home run of the season on May 9, it was the 222nd of his career, pushing him past Jason Bay into third place on the all-time Canadian list. The only two Canucks with more home runs are Walker (383) and Matt Stairs (265).
– Did you know that the last pitcher to allow a hit during Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941 was a Canadian? I didn’t until I read the back of a baseball card earlier this week. It was Joe Krakauskas, a Montreal-born, Hamilton-raised southpaw, who surrendered a single on July 16, 1941 at Cleveland’s League Park for the final hit of the streak.
– The biggest surprise of the 2014 major league season so far might be the emergence of ex-Toronto Blue Jay Jesse Chavez as a dominant starter. In nine starts for the Oakland A’s, the 30-year-old right-hander has posted a 2.54 ERA and has fanned 57 batters in 56-2/3 innings. The A’s purchased Chavez, who has been shuttled between the minors and majors for the past seven seasons, from the Jays on August 24, 2012 after he had posted an 8.44 ERA in nine appearances for Toronto.
– Speaking of former Blue Jays, the Miami Marlins called up right-hander Anthony DeSclafani last Wednesday. With his promotion, five of the seven players (the other four are Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick and Jeff Mathis) that the Jays dealt to the Marlins on November 19, 2012 in the blockbuster that brought Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Johnson to Toronto have now played at least one game for the Marlins. Shortstop Yunel Escobar, one of the other players that the Marlins acquired, was flipped to Tampa two weeks after the trade, while left-hander Justin Nicolino has a 3.32 ERA in eight starts in Double-A this season. For the record, DeSclafani held the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs in six innings to record the win in his first big league start on Wednesday.
– Billy Harrell, who played his final two pro seasons with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1965 and 1966, passed away in Albany, N.Y. on May 6 at the age of 85. His two seasons north of the border were the final chapter in his 15-year pro career that saw him suit up in a utility role for parts of four big league campaigns with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. Following his playing career, Harrell retired to Albany, N.Y. where he worked as a counselor with the State Youth Division.
– While the Blue Jays were playing the Texas Rangers in Arlington this weekend, former Jays right-hander Jesse Litsch, who is currently a free agent, returned to Toronto for a few days, according to his Twitter feed. A one-time 13-game winner in the big leagues, Litsch, who married a Torontonian, is still attempting to comeback from the career-threatening infection he suffered in his shoulder after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in February 2012. Litsch, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2011, reveals in his Twitter bio that he has had six surgeries to fix the issue.
– Melissa Couto’s weekly ThrowinSmoke column on the Canadian Baseball Network has become a must-read for me. If you’re looking for news and notes on Canadian players and the inside scoop on the Jays, you should check it out. Here’s her most recent column.