My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Nine years ago today, Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto became the third Canadian to belt three home runs in a major league game. The Cincinnati Reds first baseman went deep off three different Chicago Cubs pitchers – Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher – in the Reds’ 9-0 win at the Great American Ballpark. Votto has since had two more three-home run games (May 13, 2012 and June 9, 2015). Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker (who had three), New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau and Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders are the other three Canadians to wallop three homers in a big league contest.
· Mascouche, Que., native Eric Gagne, who hasn’t thrown a big league pitch since 2008, has signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks. The 41-year-old right-hander, who’s attempting a comeback, trained with the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring and pitched effectively for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne had been hoping to land a minor league contract with a big league team. The ex-closer pitched parts of 10 major league seasons from 1999 to 2008 and recorded a Canadian record 187 saves. He was a three-time All-Star and in 2003, he became the second Canadian to win the National League Cy Young Award.
· Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton, who was off to the best start of his career, has been placed on the 10-day disabled list by the Seattle Mariners with a left forearm strain. Paxton first experienced the discomfort after pitching seven shutout innings in his start against the Detroit Tigers on April 26. The pain lingered into his start against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday in which he allowed one earned run in 5-2/3 innings. The M’s are hopeful that he’ll only miss two or three starts. Through six starts this season, the 6-foot-4 southpaw owns a 3-0 record with a 1.43 ERA and has registered 45 strikeouts in 37-2/3 innings.
· Amazing Tim Raines Stat of the Week (courtesy of Ryan Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder on Twitter): Raines had 29 stolen bases in extra innings during his major league career and was not caught once.
· Please take a moment to remember Raines’ feisty former Montreal Expos manager Dick Williams, who would’ve turned 88 today. His managerial gig with the Expos from 1977 to 1981 was his second tenure in Montreal. He had previously spent parts of two seasons as a minor league outfielder with the International League’s Montreal Royals in 1953 and 1956. Williams also hit .260 in parts of 13 major league seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City A’s and Boston Red Sox before becoming a manager. Like Sparky Anderson before him, Williams enjoyed his first gig as a professional manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would pilot the International League Leafs to back-to-back league championships in 1965 and 1966, and this performance inspired the Boston Red Sox to name him their manager in 1967. He guided the Red Sox to an American League pennant that year and later managed the Oakland A’s to two World Series titles in 1972 and 1973. On top of his tenure with the Expos, Williams also served as skipper for the California Angels (1974 to 1976), San Diego Padres (1982 to 1985) and Seattle Mariners (1986 to 1988). He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. He passed away on July 7, 2011.
· It was 20 years ago today that the Expos tallied 13 runs in the top of the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants in a game at 3Com Park to set a record for most runs scored in the sixth inning by a National League team. In that inning, Expos second baseman Mike Lansing hit two home runs – a two-run shot and a three-run blast. The Expos also recorded five runs in the fifth inning and won the game 19-3.
· Just how bad has Devon Travis been offensively this season? Former Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has one more RBI (5) for the Atlanta Braves than Travis does for the Blue Jays.
· I’m continuing to read Shawn Krest’s interesting new book, Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History. In the latest chapter I read, the author reveals that before the Blue Jays ultimately dealt David Cone to the New York Yankees on July 28, 1995 for pitching prospects Marty Janzen, Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon, Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash had reportedly asked for a different package of prospects earlier in the month. Krest writes that Ash had demanded “some combination of reliever Bob Wickman, Mariano Rivera and the top pitching prospect in the organization at the time, Matt Drews.” The author writes that the Yankees had been open to trading Rivera, who was a starting pitcher at the time. In four starts with the Yankees to that point in 1995, the 25-year-old Rivera had posted an ugly 10.20 ERA. But early that July, Rivera’s fastball velocity suddenly jumped to 95 mph, which was about five mph more than it had been previously clocked at. The Yankees then started Rivera against the Chicago White Sox on July 4 and the righty promptly tossed eight shutout innings, limiting the Sox to two hits, while striking out 11. With this, the Yankees took Rivera off the trade market.
· This week’s trivia question: Who holds the Blue Jays record for most RBI in a season by a second baseman? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1978 O-Pee-Chee Dave Winfield card and a 1980 Topps Carl Yastrzemski card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (The Blue Jays clinched the 1989 American League East division title with their 89th win in the second-last game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles. What Blue Jays pitcher got the win in that division-clinching game?) was right-handed reliever Frank Wills.