By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Fergie Jenkins was a savvy, 34-year-old veteran with a Hall of Fame resume when he first had the opportunity to pitch a major league game in his home province.
After outstanding tenures with the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, the Chatham, Ont.-born right-hander was with the Boston Red Sox when he made his first start against the expansion Toronto Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium on April 24, 1977.
Fittingly, the Canuck ace proceeded to toss the first shutout in Exhibition Stadium history, limiting the Blue Jays to just three hits in front of 29,303 fans in a 9-0 win. He also struck out six and didn’t walk a batter.
“This is a super city and a good sports town and I always enjoy coming here,” Jenkins told Toronto Star reporter Neil MacCarl after the game. “The fans know I’m Canadian and I had the feeling a lot of them were pulling for me.”
According to MacCarl’s game story, Jenkins needed just 101 pitches – 79 of them strikes – to dispose of the Blue Jays. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had “excellent command of his fastball, sinker and slider” and faced just 29 batters, with only one Blue Jay (Alvis Woods) reaching second base.
It was an auspicious Toronto debut for Jenkins.
But how did he fare at Exhibition Stadium during the rest of his big league career?
The answer is quite well.
Between 1977 and 1981, Jenkins made four starts at The Ex, and though his record was 2-2, his ERA was an outstanding 2.38 ERA. And most impressive is the fact that he tossed complete games in all four starts.
Let’s take a closer look at his other three starts at Exhibition Stadium:
Complete game loss in second start
Just over four months after his first appearance at Exhibition Stadium, Jenkins made another start for the Red Sox on September 7, 1977. In this Wednesday night contest, he held the Blue Jays to three runs on seven hits in eight innings in a tough-luck 3-2 loss in front of 31,684 fans.
A two-run sixth inning that featured a solo home run by Roy Howell and an RBI single from Gary Woods propelled the Blue Jays to the win. Dave Lemanczyk, a Syracuse, N.Y., native who had toed the rubber for the Intercounty Baseball League’s Guelph C-Joys in 1970 and 1971, threw a complete-game for the Blue Jays, allowing just six hits and two runs, to record his 11th win.
Now a Ranger, Jenkins suffers another complete-game loss on “Fergie Jenkins Day”
On June 15, 1980, Jenkins returned to Exhibition Stadium as part of the Texas Rangers’ rotation. The Blue Jays commemorated Jenkins’ return by holding “Fergie Jenkins Day” at the park. A Fort Worth Star-Telegram report from the game shares that Jenkins was presented with several awards and plaques from “prominent members of the Canadian government” in a pre-game ceremony. Jenkins was joined on the field by his father, his wife Kathy and his three daughters.
When the Canadian right-hander finally took the mound in this Sunday afternoon contest, he would permit five runs on eight hits, while striking out six, in eight innings in his club’s 5-3 loss.
After Otto Velez socked an RBI double and Alvis Woods added an RBI single in the second inning, Blue Jays second baseman Damaso Garcia clubbed a solo home run in the third.
“It was a good pitch,” Jenkins said to reporters after the game about the fastball Garcia hit out. “Maybe I got too much of the plate with it, but it was a good pitch. When he hit it, I thought it was a routine fly ball to left. Then I saw Al (Oliver) start running back, I said, ‘Uh-oh, there it goes.'”
The Blue Jays added two more runs in the sixth on an RBI ground out by J..J. Cannon and a single by Bob Davis.
Blue Jays starter Jim Clancy went 8 2/3 innings and permitted three runs on six hits, while striking out six, before left-hander Jerry Garvin secured the final out to record the save.
“It was kind of nice,” Jenkins said of the Blue Jays holding a day in his honour. “But it would’ve been even nicer if I could’ve won the game.”
Jenkins dominant in final start at Exhibition Stadium
At 38 years old, the Canuck mound legend showed he still had something left in the tank in his final start at Exhibition Stadium on August 25, 1981. In this Tuesday afternoon contest, he faced fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Stieb in front of 13,729 fans and hurled a complete game, allowing just one run on five hits to lead the Rangers to a 6-1 victory.
“I can still pitch – just give me the ball every fourth day,” Jenkins told reporters after the game.
Stieb, meanwhile, struggled, giving up six runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings.
The Blue Jays tallied their only run when Lloyd Moseby’s double scored Alfredo Griffin in the sixth inning.
Buddy Bell homered in the sixth inning for the Rangers. The game also featured a rare two-run double from Mario Mendoza (of “The Mendoza Line” infamy.)