My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- If Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage, who regularly reminds people that he pitched multiple innings in his relief appearances, was angered by Jose Bautista’s bat flip last October, I can just imagine his opinion about Toronto Blue Jays set-up man Drew Storen not being available in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game. Storen had appeared in one previous contest, but manager John Gibbons said Storen wasn’t available because he had warmed up in two other games. With the Blue Jays leading 3-2 on Wednesday and Storen unavailable, Gibbons used Arnold Leon, who promptly coughed up a three-run homer to Steven Souza Jr., giving the Rays’ a 5-3 lead, which turned out to be the final score.
- Today is Toronto native Rob Butler’s 46th birthday. In 1993, the former Blue Jays outfielder became the first Canadian to suit up for a World Series-winning Canadian team. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays in 1990, Butler would bat .243 in parts of four big league seasons with the Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring in 1999. Butler and his brother, Rich, now run the Butler Baseball Academy in Ajax, Ont.
- With Jackie Robinson Day set for Friday, please take five minutes to listen to this 1959 CBC radio interview in which Robinson discusses his experience of playing his first professional season in non-segregated baseball with the Montreal Royals in 1946. Thank you to Toronto SABR member Barry Naymark for sharing this link.
- In case you missed it, the Blue Jays acquired Montreal-born and Mississauga-raised right-hander Chris Leroux from the Philadelphia Phillies for cash considerations last Sunday. The 6-foot-6 right-hander, who has had appeared in 65 big league games over parts of six seasons with the Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees, will likely start for the Blue Jays’ triple-A Buffalo Bisons, although as of today, he’s not listed on the Bisons roster.
- Speaking of Canadian hurlers, North Battleford, Sask., native Andrew Albers has signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers. The Canuck southpaw, who appeared in one game for the Blue Jays last season and made 10 starts for the Minnesota Twins in 2013, spent the bulk of 2015 with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
- Twenty-seven years ago today, right-hander Dave Stieb one-hit the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium to lead the Blue Jays to an 8-0 win. Catcher Jamie Quirk’s single in the fifth inning was the only hit that Stieb allowed. The intense hurler walked four, struck out five and tossed 109 pitches to record his first win of the 1989 campaign. And if you include Stieb’s final two 1988 starts, this was the third one-hitter he had thrown in four starts.
- Fun Canadian Baseball Fact: Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Montreal Expos pitching legend Steve Rogers finished his 13-year big league career with a 3.17 ERA. His career ERA is better than the career ERAs of the following Cooperstowners: Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Catfish Hunter, Bert Blyleven, Jim Bunning, Bob Feller, Tom Glavine, Lefty Gomez, Burleigh Grimes, Randy Johnson, Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts, John Smoltz and Early Wynn (among others).
- Forty years ago today, Nipawin, Sask., native Dave Pagan found himself in the middle of one of the 1976 major league season’s most controversial plays. With the bases loaded and the Yankees leading 9-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, the Canadian right-hander relieved Sparky Lyle. Lyle had allowed a single to Robin Yount and then walked Pedro Garcia. Pagan got a ground ball from Brewers’ pinch-hitter Bobby Darwin, but Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles mishandled it and the bases were loaded when Brewers third baseman Don Money walked to the plate. “I was in the set with a runner on third and Money was the go-ahead run at the plate,” recalled Pagan in a 2012 interview. “It was the bottom of the ninth and we had the third base dugout and Martin was trying to get me into the wind-up. So the first base umpire raises his hands up because he knew that there was some problem. I think Martin was calling time, but the only umpire that could really see him was the first base umpire. So when the first base umpire raised his hands, just then I threw the ball and Money hit a home run to win the game, but then they called it back.” Coincidentally, the first base umpire was Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jim McKean, but Pagan wasn’t initially sure what was happening after the home run. “Martin came flying out of the dugout because he saw the first base umpire raise his hands,” Pagan recalled. “And I thought, ‘Holy crap, he’s [Martin] after me,’ because he was so fiery and he didn’t back down very easily. I was thinking, ‘Holy crap, here he comes to get me.’ Then he just ran right by me to the umpire.” The umpires would rule that time out was called and Money’s homer was disallowed. Money then flied out to right field and the Yankees eventually won the game 9-7. It’s still a moment that many long-time Yankee fans vividly recall.
- Vancouver native Tyson Gillies signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugarland Skeeters on March 18. The speedy outfielder hit .259 in 61 games for the San Diego Padres’ double-A San Antonio Missions last season, his ninth in the minor pro ranks following eight seasons in Seattle Mariners and Phillies organizations.
- This week’s trivia question: David Ortiz has hit more than four home runs off of 12 different pitchers during his 20-year big league career. Four of those pitchers toed the rubber for the Toronto Blue Jays. Can you name two of the Blue Jays pitchers that Ortiz has belted four or more home runs off of during his career? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win 1982 Topps Traded Reggie Jackson and 1993 Flair Mike Piazza cards.