My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· It’s been a great season for Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto, but the past two weeks have been particularly memorable. On June 28, he broke Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker’s record for most career walks by a Canadian when he notched his 914th free pass in the third inning of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. In total that week, he went 11 for 21 (.524 batting average) with three home runs in seven games and was named the National League Player of the Week. This past Monday, Votto recorded his 1,500th career hit to become just the third Canadian to reach that mark, joining Walker (2,160 hits) and New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau (1,603). To top it off, Votto was named to the National League All-Star team on Sunday. This marks his fifth selection to the Midsummer Classic which, according to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, ties him with Walker for the most by a Canadian.
· Speaking of all-star games, it was 26 years ago today that the Midsummer Classic was played in Toronto for the first and only time. In front of 52,383 fans at SkyDome, Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. clubbed a three-run home run off Montreal Expos ace and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Martinez in the third inning. Former Expo and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson countered with a solo shot off Roger Clemens for the National League in the fourth, but the American League eventually prevailed 4-2. Fittingly Blue Jays lefty Jimmy Key, who tossed a scoreless third inning, was the winning pitcher, while Martinez was saddled with the loss. Other Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers participating were Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and George Bell, then in his first season with the Cubs.
· Speaking of Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers, Tim Raines, who’s set to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on July 30, will be honoured by the Chicago White Sox on September 9 at Guaranteed Rate Field (formerly U.S. Cellular Field). The speedy ex-outfielder, who batted .283 and swiped 143 bases in five seasons with the White Sox after being acquired from the Expos on December 23, 1990, will throw out the first pitch and the first 20,000 fans will receive a commemorative Raines statue.
· Fifty-one years ago today another Montreal Expos legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer made history. It was on this date in 1966 that Felipe Alou, then an outfielder with the Atlanta Braves, clubbed two home runs in a game off Dodgers Hall of Fame left-hander Sandy Koufax. That was the third and final time that Koufax would allow two home runs to the same hitter in the same game.
· Thirty-two years ago today, gritty Toronto Blue Jays catcher Buck Martinez completed one of the most memorable and painful double plays in franchise history. With rookie pitcher Tom Filer making his Blue Jays debut, Martinez was behind the plate as his club took on the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome. In the bottom of the third inning, Mariners outfielder Phil Bradley led off with a single before Alvin Davis flied out. A Filer balk moved Bradley to second base and Gorman Thomas then singled to right field where the rifle-armed Jesse Barfield picked up the ball and tossed a bullet to Martinez at home plate. Bradley barreled Martinez over in a violent collision, but the Blue Jays catcher managed to hold on to the ball for the out. While Martinez was down, Thomas continued running and the lumbering slugger was headed for third when the Blue Jays backstop, almost from his back, threw the ball past third baseman Garth Iorg. Thomas rounded third while left fielder George Bell retrieved the ball and threw it home where Martinez, barely able to sit up, caught it and tagged Thomas for the second out. Following the play, Martinez was carted off on a stretcher and it was later revealed that he had broken his leg. You can watch the play here.
· On the same day as Martinez’s injury, the Blue Jays traded first baseman/designated hitter Len Matuszek to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Al Oliver. Oliver, an all-star with the Expos in 1982 and 1983, would serve as a valuable designated hitter/pinch-hitter for the Blue Jays down the stretch and in the playoffs. Blue Jays fans probably best remember him for his walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 2 of the 1985 American League Championship Series at Exhibition Stadium that gave the Blue Jays a 6-5 win over the Kansas City Royals. Oliver’s stint with the Blue Jays was the final stop in his 18-year big league career that saw him hit .303 and collect 2,743 hits in 2,368 games.
· In case you missed it, Regina, Sask., native Dustin Molleken was released by the Detroit Tigers on June 28. But the 32-year-old right-hander wasn’t out of work for long. He was signed by the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League on Monday. The 6-foot-4 Canadian, who made his major league debut with the Tigers last season after 13 seasons in the minors, had posted a 2.76 ERA in 13 appearances for the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens this season. He has also pitched for teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians organizations during his 14-year professional career.
· And the last Montreal Expo plays on. Released by the Atlanta Braves, 44-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon inked a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins on Friday. Through 13 starts this season with the Braves, Colon posted a 2-8 record and an 8.14 ERA, allowing 92 hits in 66 innings. The bulky righty, who’s in his 20th major league season, went 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts for the Expos in 2002.
· This week’s trivia question: I noted earlier that Joey Votto recently became the third Canadian (Walker and Morneau are the others) to record 1,500 major league hits. There have also been five other Canadians that have recorded between 1,300 and 1,500 major league hits. Can you name three of them? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1979 Topps Jim Rice card and a 1982 Fleer Paul Molitor card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (There have been three Canadian pitchers that have toed the rubber for the Blue Jays on Canada Day. Can you name two of them?) was any two of Paul Quantrill, Paul Spoljaric and Scott Richmond.