My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· After Toronto Blue Jays back-up catcher Luke Maile went 2-for-4 with a walk-off single and three RBI in the second game of his club’s doubleheader sweep of the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday, Montreal native Russell Martin, who started the first contest, was playfully asked whether he’d been “Wally Pipped.” “Forget Wally Pipp, you’ve been Luke Maile’d,” quipped Martin. Pipp, of course, was the New York Yankees first baseman who sat out a game on June 2, 1925 due to a headache and was replaced by Lou Gehrig. The rest, as they say, is history. Gehrig would blossom into one of the game’s biggest stars and wouldn’t relinquish his position at first base for 2,130 consecutive games. Despite Maile having two more, two-hit games on Wednesday and Thursday, he returned to back-up duties on Friday. To say Maile has been a pleasant surprise this season is an understatement. The 27-year-old Kentucky native is 12-for-29 (.414 batting average) and has nine RBI, after he batted just .146 with seven RBI in 46 contests last year.
· Congratulations to Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford who became the seventh Canadian pitcher to appear in 500 major league games when he tossed two shutout innings in the first game of the Blue Jays’ doubleheader on Tuesday. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who was inked to a minor league deal this off-season, has posted a 3.00 ERA in nine regular season appearances out of the Blue Jays’ pen. Now in his 10th major league campaign, Axford, who recently turned 35, has registered a 3.68 ERA and notched 144 saves during his big league career which has also included stops with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and Oakland A’s.
· Speaking of Canadian milestones, Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto became the first Canadian to record 1,000 career walks when he was issued a free pass by Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Junior Guerra in the first inning of the Cincinnati Reds’ 2-0 loss at Miller Park on Thursday. And with his single against Brewers right-hander Zach Davies the following day, he recorded his 1,603rd career hit, which ties him with Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) for second place on the all-time Canadian list. Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) has the most hits (2,160) by a Canadian. Thank you to Scott Crawford of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for sharing this and the Axford information.
· Also hailing from Maple Ridge, B.C., outfielder Tyler O’Neill became the sixth Canadian to appear in a major league game this season when he was recalled by the St. Louis Cardinals. On Thursday, he would pinch hit for Cards starting pitcher Luke Weaver in the fifth inning and strike out in his first at bat. The 22-year-old slugger was one of the hottest hitters in the minors when he was promoted. In 12 contests with the triple-A Memphis Redbirds, he was batting .388 and had clubbed six home runs in 12 games. A member of Canada’s gold medal winning 2015 Pan Am Games team, O’Neill was originally selected in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners after being scouted by the late Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Wayne Norton. After parts of five seasons in the Mariners system, he was traded to the Cardinals on July 21, 2017 for pitching prospect Marco Gonzales. After the deal, he’d land with the triple-A Memphis Redbirds, managed by Canadian baseball legend and Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp. In 37 contests with the Redbirds down the stretch, he’d sock 12 homers and drive in 39 runs to help lead them to a Pacific Coast League championship.
· Happy 57th Birthday to former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jimmy Key! Is there a more underrated pitcher in Blue Jays history? The soft-spoken southpaw is tied with Dave Stieb for the lowest ERA (3.42) in franchise history by a pitcher who has tossed at least 1,000 innings and is tied with Roy Halladay for the lowest WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) 1.20. He also ranks fourth in wins (116) and shutouts (10).
· Happy 59th Birthday to former Montreal Expos outfielder Terry Francona! Though he’s best known as a two-time World Series-winning manager of the Boston Red Sox and for his current dugout duties with the Cleveland Indians, Francona began his big league playing career with the Montreal Expos in 1981. He batted .290 in parts of five seasons as a part-time outfielder/first baseman with the club and was a member of the Expos’ only playoff team in 1981, going 4-for-12 in the National League Division Series against the Phillies. He finished his playing career with stints with the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers from 1986 to 1989.
· Wednesday represented the 72nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integrated professional baseball debut with the International League’s Montreal Royals. On that day in 1946, the courageous trailblazer would go 4-for-5 with a home run, four runs and four RBI to lead the Royals to a 14-1 win over Jersey City at Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey. Thank you to the Montreal Royals Twitter (@Royals_46season) account for sharing that three players who participated in that historic game are still alive.
· This week’s trivia question: As noted earlier, Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford has just become the seventh Canadian pitcher to appear in 500 major league games. Can you name four of the six other Canadian pitchers to appear in 500 major league games? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1968 O-Pee-Chee Mel Stottlemyre card, a 1975 Topps mini Dave Winfield card, a 1989 Topps Traded Omar Vizquel rookie card and a 1994 Ted Williams Card Company Cy Young card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Paul Hodgson was the first Canadian right-handed hitter to sock a home run for the Blue Jays. Who was the second Canadian right-handed hitter to belt a home run for the Blue Jays in a regular season game? (Please note: Vancouver native Dave McKay was a switch hitter, so I’m not counting him)) was Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.).