My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Port Hope, Ont., native Cal Quantrill has been very effective in his new role as a swingman on the San Diego Padres pitching staff. After picking up a win in his start against the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, he has allowed just one run in his last 17 innings and has lowered his ERA from 4.83 to 3.57 during that stretch. In 14 total appearances – including nine starts – for the Pads this season, the Junior National Team grad has struck out 49 batters in 58 innings.
· On the flip side, Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton has struggled in recent starts. When he allowed a leadoff home run to Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts on Friday night, the Canadian southpaw became the first pitcher in New York Yankees history to permit a leadoff home run in three straight starts. Paxton gave up seven runs – including three homers to Betts – in four innings in his start on Friday. On a positive note, he struck out nine batters. “It was kind of a mixed bag. I thought stuff-wise at times he was really dominant, but he missed some spots against a team that is really swinging it well right now,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters about Paxton after Friday’s game that the Bombers lost 10-5. Paxton also allowed seven runs (four earned) in 3 1/3 innings in his previous start against the Colorado Rockies on July 21. In 18 starts this season, Paxton owns a 5-6 record with a 4.72 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings.
· Twenty-eight years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Martinez tossed a perfect game for the Montreal Expos against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. It remains the only perfect game ever thrown by a pitcher on a Canadian major league team. You can listen to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Van Horne’s famous “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” call of the final out by clicking on the link below. In 2014, I asked Van Horne about his inspiration for that call and you can read about it here.
· Four years ago today, the Toronto Blue Jays surprised the baseball world by acquiring shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, along with reliever LaTroy Hawkins from the Colorado Rockies for a package that included Jose Reyes and pitching prospects Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro. Though Tulowitzki’s numbers (.239/.317/.380) weren’t particularly strong with the Blue Jays down the stretch in 2015, the club went 43-18 after he joined their ranks and his veteran presence and leadership had a positive impact in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. Tulowitzki belted 24 home runs in 132 games in 2016, before injuries marred the rest of his tenure with the club. The 34-year-old Tulowitzki announced his retirement on Thursday. He finishes his career with a .290 batting average and 225 home runs in 1,291 games with the Colorado Rockies, Blue Jays and Yankees.
· I’m looking forward to reading Dennis Thiessen’s book about Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tip O’Neill. The book has been published by McFarland & Company and you can order it here. A professor at the University of Toronto, Thiessen spent 10 years researching the book which focuses on O’Neill’s Triple Crown-winning, 1887 season with the American Association’s St. Louis Browns. O’Neill honed his baseball skills in the ballroom of his parents’ hotel in Woodstock, Ont., during his youth. After starring locally, nationally and internationally with barnstorming teams, O’Neill was signed by the American Association’s New York Metropolitans. Sometimes dubbed Canada’s Babe Ruth, the talented Canadian made his major league debut as a pitcher on May 5, 1883. A formidable moundsman (his career ERA was 3.39), O’Neill was hampered by arm problems early in his career. Fortunately his bat was potent enough to convince the St. Louis Browns to employ him in their outfield. It was in the Gateway City that O’Neill would become Major League Baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 1887. In that magical campaign, he set then big league records in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and total bases. His batting average was an astounding .492 (walks were included as hits that season, but even without the walks, his average was .435, the second highest in big league history). Largely due to his hitting heroics, the Browns captured four consecutive American Association championships from 1885 to 1888. When his playing days were over, O’Neill moved to Montreal where he helped secure an Eastern League franchise for the city. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame hands out the Tip O’Neill Award annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.
· So what Canadian has hit the most grand slams in the major leagues? Fortunately, for us, Canadian Baseball Network contributor Neil Munro has compiled a list of all of the Canucks who have hit grand slams in the big leagues. You can view it here (Membership required). Hint: The answer is not Larry Walker.
· Canada’s Senior National Team will begin its defence of its back-to-back gold medals at the Pan Am Games on Monday with a showdown against Argentina. The team will once again be managed by former Toronto Blue Jays catcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ernie Whitt. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), former Expos and Blue Jays pitcher Denis Boucher (Lachine, Que.), ex-Blue Jays coach Tim Leiper and Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton will serve as coaches. The Canuck roster boasts five players with MLB experience: Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.), Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.) Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) and Rene Tosoni (Port Coquitlam, B.C.). You can view the complete roster here.
· Twenty-four years ago today, the Blue Jays traded ace right-hander David Cone to the Yankees for pitching prospects Marty Janzen, Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon. Over his next six seasons with the Yankees, Cone would be selected to two all-star teams, toss a perfect game and win four World Series titles. The Jays, on the other hand, were left to scratch their heads at the performances of the trio of hurlers they acquired. Janzen, forecast to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, pitched in parts of two seasons with the Blue Jays in 1996 and 1997, compiling a 6-7 record and a bloated 6.39 ERA. That would be extent of his big league experience. Over the next eight seasons, he toed the rubber in various minor, foreign and independent leagues before calling it quits after the 2005 campaign. Jarvis, a Salt Lake City native, competed in the Blue Jays’ minor league system in 1996 and 1997, but never rose above the double-A level, before retiring. Gordon, who was born in Quincy, Fla., was a right-handed reliever who toiled in the Blue Jays system for parts of four seasons. He also pitched in the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers minor league organizations. Like Jarvis, he never made it higher than double-A.
· This week’s trivia question: Aside from Dennis Martinez, two other Expos pitchers tossed no-hitters with the club. Can you name them? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1981 Topps (Expos Future Stars) Tim Raines rookie card, a 1983 Fleer Andre Dawson card and a 1984 Topps Traded Jimmy Key rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Three National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees served as the Expos hitting coach at different times during the team’s 36-season existence. Can you name one of them?) was any one of Larry Doby, Duke Snider and Dick Williams.