My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Left-handers David Price and J.A. Happ have both made 21 starts since last season’s trade deadline, so let’s compare their statistics: Price: 136-2/3 innings pitched, 16-2 won/loss record, 3.69 ERA, 2.2 WAR. His salary for 2016 is $30 million. Happ: 128 innings pitched, 13-4 won/loss record, 2.53 ERA, 2.8 WAR. Happ’s salary for 2016 is $10 million. It’s just 21 starts, but Happ is looking more and more like a bargain signing for the Toronto Blue Jays.
- In the Blue Jays’ 8-4 win over the New York Yankees on Wednesday, Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) became the first two Canadians to homer for the Blue Jays in the same game. Martin belted a solo homer in the top of the sixth inning off Yankees starter Ivan Nova, before he and Saunders connected for two-run shots off left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve in the top of the seventh.
- One of the highlights of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual induction weekend for me is to see the new inductee displays. Among the items the Hall is showcasing this year is the Toronto Blue Jays jersey that Pat Hentgen wore when he started the first interleague game between the Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos. This contest took place on June 30, 1997 at the Rogers Centre and it turned out to be a pitcher’s duel between Hentgen and Expos starter Pedro Martinez. The Expos won 2-1 with both Hentgen and Martinez pitching complete games.
- Thirty-nine years ago today, Expos third baseman Larry Parrish belted three home runs and went 5-for-5 to lead his club to a 14-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Parrish, who was batting eighth in the Expos lineup, also scored five runs and knocked in five. Two Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers were in the Expos lineup that game. Catcher Gary Carter batted cleanup and had two doubles in five at bats, while centre fielder Andre Dawson hit seventh and recorded a walk and a run.
- Fun Canadian Baseball Fact(s): In his major league debut, on September 14, 1976, 2016 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Martinez hurled 5-2/3 shutout innings in relief to record the win for the Baltimore Orioles over the Detroit Tigers at Memorial Stadium. The game’s final score was 9-7. It’s interesting to note that the losing pitcher for the Tigers was 1985 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) and that the first player to record a major league hit off Martinez was 2012 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Rusty Staub, who singled to center field in the top of the sixth. Staub was batting third and playing right field for the Tigers. One further Canadian connection is that Martinez relieved Nipawin, Sask., native Dave Pagan in the fourth inning for the Orioles. The right-handed throwing Pagan had already taken over for starter Ross Grimsley, who would later become the only pitcher to win 20 games in a season for the Montreal Expos.
- In the 2009 MLB amateur draft, the Los Angeles Angels held the 25th pick as compensation for the New York Yankees signing first baseman Mark Teixeira in the previous off-season. Remarkably, 21 major league teams – including the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals twice each – passed on Trout before he was selected by the Angels, whom it should be pointed out, even chose outfielder Randal Grichuk before Trout. For the record, the Blue Jays opted for right-hander Chad Jenkins with their 20th overall pick, five slots ahead of Trout. The Nationals, of course, took Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick, but later chose current Blue Jays reliever Drew Storen with their 10th overall selection.
- Forty years ago today, Houston Astros knuckleballer Joe Niekro hit his only major league home run. Coincidentally – or perhaps not coincidentally – it was a solo shot in the top of the seventh inning at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium off his brother and fellow knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Joe would also outduel Phil on the mound that day, holding the Braves to three runs on four hits in eight innings, while Phil lasted 7-1/3 innings and allowed four runs.
- Joe Durham, an outfielder with the Pacific Coast League’s Vancouver Mounties for parts of three seasons from 1958 to 1960, passed away from natural causes on April 28 in Randallstown, Md., at the age of 84. Durham was best known as the first African-American player to hit a home run for the Baltimore Orioles when he went deep off Philadelphia A’s hurler Al Sima to lead off the sixth inning in the second game of a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium on September 12, 1954. In all, Durham toiled in parts of three big league seasons with the Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals. He enjoyed one of his best professional campaigns with the Mounties in 1958 when he hit .285 with 18 home runs and 11 triples in 135 games. After his playing career ended in 1964, Durham returned to the Baltimore area and sometimes threw batting practice for the O’s. He later served as the club’s coordinator of baseball operations. He’s survived by his wife Sallie, three children and four grandchildren.
- Former Montreal Expos pitcher Oil Can Boyd was one of baseball’s most colorful characters of the ’80s and early ’90s. Prior to posting a 3.15 ERA in 50 starts for the Expos in 1990 and 1991, Boyd was an effective starter for the Boston Red Sox for parts of eight seasons. One time during Boyd’s tenure with Boston, someone phoned in a bomb threat against the team plane, but unbeknownst to the media, team officials didn’t tell the players because they didn’t want to alarm them. One media member later asked Boyd about the bomb threat. “They keep me pretty much in the dark about everything,” he said. “If it had blown up I wouldn’t have known a thing about it.”
- This week’s trivia question: Phil Niekro actually made three starts for the Blue Jays in 1987. There have been two other knuckleball pitchers who have toed the rubber for the Blue Jays at the big league level. Can you name them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1975 Topps Phil Niekro card.