My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· It appears I jinxed Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton when I said he’d likely be named to the American League All-Star team in last week’s column. Not only was he not named to the All-Star team, he has also landed on the 10-day disabled list with back stiffness. The Canadian lefty departed his start on Thursday after allowing two home runs and tossing just 17 pitches. The Mariners don’t believe the injury is serious but the DL stint will give Paxton extra time to recover after the all-star break. The Mariners, who currently hold the second American League wild-card position, will need Paxton to be strong for them down the stretch. The Canadian southpaw finished the first half with an 8-4 record and a 3.70 ERA and has struck out 155 batters in 119 1/3 innings in 20 starts this season.
· Speaking of the All-Star game, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) has been selected to National League squad for the sixth time. Thanks to Scott Crawford at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for sharing that this represents a new record for All-Star Game selections for a Canuck. The previous record (5) was held by Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker. By his lofty standards, Votto hasn’t enjoyed a strong first half. Through 94 games, the left-handed hitting first baseman is batting .290 with nine home runs. Not surprisingly, however, he leads the National League in on-base percentage (.422).
· According to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Votto is one of 10 Canadians to be selected for multiple major league All-Star games. The others on that list are Walker (5), Justin Morneau (4), Russell Martin (4), Fergie Jenkins (3) Jason Bay (3), Eric Gagne (3), Ryan Dempster (2), George Selkirk (2) and Jeff Heath (2).
· One of my favourite All-Star game trivia questions: Who is the only player to represent the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays in separate All-Star games? The answer is Ron Fairly, who turned 80 on Thursday. As an Expo, Fairly entered the 1973 Midsummer Classic as a late-game defensive replacement at first base. Four years later, as the Blue Jays’ sole representative, he struck out in a seventh-inning pinch-hit appearance. Those were the only two All-Star games that Fairly was selected for in his 21-year big league career.
· If you’re looking for another Canadian connection in this year’s All-Star game, Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz, who has belted 22 home runs and is a reserve on the American League squad, played in Vancouver earlier in his career. Originally signed by the New York Mets, Cruz was traded to the Oakland A’s in August 2000. The power-hitting outfielder then belted four home runs and knocked in 25 runs in 76 games for the class-A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians in 2002. In parts of 14 major league seasons, Cruz has socked 345 home runs. This is his sixth All-Star selection.
· And to continue with the All-Star theme: Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) pitched two shutout innings and picked up the win for the Pacific team in a Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star series game on Saturday. The Canadian lefty has been outstanding this season for the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League. In 14 starts, he is 9-1 with a 2.41 ERA and has fanned 61 batters in 86 innings.
· Congratulations to Melville, Sask., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Puhl who had a street named after him in his hometown on Friday. Puhl, who lives in Houston and works as a stockbroker, returned to Melville for the unveiling of Terry Puhl Drive. This was part of Terry Puhl Weekend in his hometown which also saw the former big league All-Star appear at the Western Major Baseball League game between the Melville Millionaires and Regina Red Sox on Saturday. The Houston Astros offered Puhl a contract after he led his hometown midget squad to a Canadian championship in 1973. Just five days after his 21st birthday, the wide-eyed Saskatchewan native would start his first big league game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. So nervous he was shaking, Puhl overcame his jitters to record his first hit and score the game-winning run. He went on to hit .301 in 60 games that season and win himself a starting role in 1978. His steady offensive and defensive efforts earned him All-Star honours in 1978, when he hit .289 and stole 32 bases. He topped that the following campaign, when he recorded a career-high 172 hits and played 157 games – the entire season – in the outfield without making an error. He was just the fourth player in 124 years to suit up for at least 150 games in a season without a defensive miscue. After belting a career-high 13 homers in the regular season, Puhl was at his best in the 1980 post-season, hitting .526 in the Astros’ grueling, five-game National League Championship Series against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. A consistent contributor for the Astros over the next decade, the sure-handed Canuck played his final season with the Kansas City Royals in 1991. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and has been the head coach of University of Houston-Victoria’s baseball team since 2007.
· Sixteen years ago today, Calgary native Chris Reitsma tossed a complete-game shutout for the Cincinnati Reds, leading his club to a 2-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. This ended a streak of 151 consecutive starts by a Reds pitcher without tossing a complete game. Reitsma finished that season with a 3.64 ERA in 32 games, including 21 starts.
· It was 22 years ago today, that the Baltimore Orioles shifted Cal Ripken Jr. to third base after the durable infielder had played 2,216 consecutive games at shortstop. Manny Alexander assumed Ripken’s spot at shortstop. The O’s would defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-6 at Camden Yards that day. Ripken went 0-for-4 but scored two runs. Alexander batted ninth and went 0-for-3 and would go 1-for-18 in six games at shortstop before the O’s moved Ripken back to the middle infield.
· I was a Montreal Expos fan in 1991, but I have no recollection of the club acquiring right-hander Ron Darling from the New York Mets on this date 27 years ago. The Expos landed Darling and minor league pitcher Mike Thomas in exchange for reliever Tim Burke. Darling proceeded to register a 7.41 ERA in three starts for the Expos, before they flipped him to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 trade deadline for minor leaguers Russ Cormier and Matt Grott.
· This week’s trivia question: This Canadian made his All-Star game debut starting in an American League outfield with Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Who am I talking about? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will receive a signed copy of Brian “Chip” Martin’s excellent 2015 book, The Tecumsehs of the International Association: Canada’s First Major League Baseball Champions.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Toronto native John Hiller had 38 saves for the Detroit Tigers in 1973. There have been three other Canadians that have recorded 30 or more saves in a major league season. Can you name two of them? ) was any two of Eric Gagne (Mascouche, Que.), John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) and Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.).