My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· In case you missed it (like I did), Mascouche, Que., native Eric Gagne ended his comeback bid with the independent Atlantic League Long Island Ducks on May 20. The 41-year-old right-hander was hit hard in five appearances with the Ducks, allowing five earned runs in 3-2/3 innings. The 6-foot-2 right-hander, who hasn’t thrown a big league pitch since 2008, had signed with the Ducks on May 5. Gagne had trained with the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring and pitched effectively for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. The ex-closer pitched parts of 10 major league seasons from 1999 to 2008 and notched a Canadian record 187 saves. He was a three-time All-Star and in 2003, he became the second Canuck (Fergie Jenkins was the first in 1971) to win the National League Cy Young Award.
· Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton is likely to be activated to start for the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. The 6-foot-4 lefty tossed 55 pitches in four innings in a rehab start for double-A Arkansas on Friday. Paxton, who was off to the best start of his career, has been on the disabled list with a left forearm strain since May 5. He 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 May 2 in which he allowed one earned run in 5-2/3 innings. Through six major league starts this season, Paxton owns a 3-0 record with a 1.43 ERA and has registered 45 strikeouts in 37-2/3 innings.
· Happy 53rd Birthday to former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Duane Ward! The hard-throwing right-hander was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Doyle Alexander on July 6, 1986 and proceeded to become one of the most successful relievers in Blue Jays history. The Parkview, N.M., native served as the primary set-up man for Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Henke from 1988 through 1992, but he moved into the closer’s role when Henke signed with the Texas Rangers following the 1992 campaign. It proved to be a seamless transition, as Ward registered a team record 45 saves in 1993, earning him a selection to the American League All-Star team. In all, in nine seasons with the Blue Jays, Ward posted a 3.18 ERA and appeared in 452 games (second-most in franchise history behind Jason Frasor (505)).
· Speaking of former Blue Jays pitchers, I learned this week that Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Stieb had a brother named Steve who was a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization from 1979 to 1981. Stieb’s brother made it as high as double-A, batting .217 in 194 minor league games, before hanging up his professional playing spikes. “Both were my teammates at Southern Illinois University,” wrote Bill Lyons on the Cooperstowners in Canada Facebook page. “Steve had a cannon from behind the plate.”
· Interesting Jose Bautista stat of the week (Courtesy of High Heat Stats on Twitter): Bautista is tied for the third-most home runs by a major leaguer with the initials “JB” with Jeromy Burnitz. He trails only Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell (449) and Johnny Bench (389).
· Thanks to Ballpark Memorabilia (@BallParkMemo on Twitter) for letting me know that former Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero has signed with the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League. Romero announced the signing on his Instagram account. He joins a Toros pitching staff that also includes ex-Blue Jays lefty Jo-Jo Reyes. Romero hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013 and was released by San Francisco Giants on April 30 after walking 16 batters in 14-2/3 innings in four triple-A starts.
· Please take a moment to remember Duguayville, N.B., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Billy Harris who passed away six years ago at the age of 79. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, the 5-foot-8 right-hander notched 18 wins and recorded a 2.19 ERA for the class-D Valdosta Dodgers in his inaugural pro campaign. He topped that the next season, when he won 25 games, tossed 12 shutouts and registered a miniscule 0.83 ERA for the class-B Miami Sun Sox. Trapped in the pitching-rich Dodgers system behind legends like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Newcombe, Harris had little opportunity to shine at the major league level. After recording 16 wins with the triple-A Montreal Royals in 1957, Harris was called up and made his first big league start on September 27 of that year. Throwing to the legendary Roy Campanella, Harris held the Phillies to three runs in seven innings but still recorded the loss. The diminutive righty made his second and final big league appearance with the Dodgers on September 26, 1959, hurling 1-2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Johnny Podres. In all, Harris pitched for 15 minor league seasons and amassed 174 wins and 1,373 strikeouts. For his efforts, he was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
· This week’s trivia question: Right-handers Tom Henke and Duane Ward have the first and second-most saves in Blue Jays history. Who has the most saves for the club by a left-handed pitcher? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1975 O-Pee-Chee Willie McCovey card and a 1987 Topps Barry Larkin rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who holds the record for most career major league appearances by a Canadian pitcher?) was Port Hope, Ont., native Paul Quantrill, who appeared in 841 games during his 14-year big league career.