By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
–How is this for a welcome back to the big leagues? After being called up by the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, left-hander Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) was summoned from the bullpen in the fifth inning that night to face the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It was his first major league league appearance since September 30, 2017. None of this seemed to phase Albers who proceeded to hold the Yankees to one run on two hits, while striking out four, in four innings. He threw 63 pitches. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli called Albers’ performance “enormously impressive” in a conference call with reporters after the game. Before being called up, Albers had posted a 6-4 record and a 3.86 ERA, while striking out 78 batters in 91 innings, in 16 triple-A appearances this season. The Canuck southpaw also started and tossed seven no-hit innings in a combined no-hitter for Canada in the first game of the Americas Olympic Qualifier against Colombia on May 31. This represents Albers’ third stint with the Twins. He registered a 4.10 ERA in 10 starts for them in 2013 and returned to toe the rubber in six games for them two years later. After a posting a 5-1 record and a 3.51 ERA in nine appearances with the Seattle Mariners in 2017, Albers signed with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League where he’d pitch for parts of three seasons, before re-signing a minor league deal with the Twins this off-season. In all, the veteran lefty has pitched in parts of 13 professional seasons.
-With a single for the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh inning of their 14-5 win over the Chicago Cubs on Monday, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) became the second Canadian to reach 2,000 hits in their major league career, joining Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.), who collected 2,160 hits. On Friday, Votto belted his 28th home run of the season, which exceeds the number he hit in his previous two seasons combined. His hot-hitting since the All-Star break has his name being mentioned in National League MVP conversations. Baseball pundits, including Jayson Stark, of The Athletic, are also starting to tout Votto as a strong candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. On the MLB Network on Saturday, Stark helped make his case for Votto with a graphic that showed a list of the Hall of Famers with 2,000 hits that Votto has reached base more times than (Votto also has 1,267 career walks). You can watch the video below, but that list includes Willie Stargell, Jim Rice, Ryne Sandberg and Joe DiMaggio.
-The Toronto Blue Jays called up infielder/outfielder Otto Lopez on Tuesday. Lopez was born in the Dominican Republic but spent part of his youth in Montreal. During that time, he secured Canadian citizenship. This allowed him to suit up for Canada at the 2019 Pan Am Games qualifying tournament. The 22-year-old Lopez made his MLB debut when he pinch-hit and struck out for pitcher Alek Manoah in the fourth inning on Tuesday. Prior to his call-up, he had batted a combined .324 with a .398 on-base percentage in 80 games between double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo this season. He was signed as an international free agent by the Blue Jays prior to the 2017 season and has played second base, third base, shortstop and in the outfield during his parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization.
– Right-hander Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) is enjoying his best month as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. In four starts with Cleveland, he is 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA and has struck out 25 batters in 24 innings. This comes on the heels of an excellent July that saw him go 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in five starts. In total, over his past nine starts, the Ontario Terriers and Junior National Team alum is 3-0 with a 2.40 ERA in 52 1/3 innings and has lowered his season ERA to 3.24 in 33 appearances (15 starts). He will start for Cleveland against the Angels today.
-Outfielder Jacob Robson (Windsor, Ont.) was sent back to the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens on Wednesday. Robson got in four games with the Tigers, but did not record a hit in seven at bats. He did, however, score his first big league run when he pinch-ran for Miguel Cabrera in the eighth inning in the Tigers’ 6-4 win over Cleveland last Saturday. When he made his MLB debut on August 12, he became the 13th Canadian to play in the big leagues this season. Selected in the eighth round of the 2016 MLB draft, the Junior National Team alum has played parts of six seasons in the Tigers’ organization.
– It was two years ago today that Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) made his major league debut with the Houston Astros. Batting seventh and playing third base, he went 0-for-4 in the Astros’ 6-3 win over the Tigers at Minute Maid Park. Toro would play parts of two more seasons with the Astros prior to being dealt to the Mariners on July 27. Since being acquired by the M’s, he is batting .310 with five doubles and three home runs in 23 games. Toro, who had struggled to find a position with the Astros, has been the M’s starting second baseman since joining them.
– Happy 84th Birthday to legendary Blue Jays general manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Pat Gillick! After a decade in scouting with the Houston Colt 45s/Astros organization, Gillick accepted a position as coordinator of player development with the Yankees in 1974, before becoming the Blue Jays’ vice-president of player personnel on August 16, 1976. In his 18 years in Toronto, he transformed an expansion club into World Champions. Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, George Bell, Fred McGriff, Tom Henke and Joe Carter are among the cornerstone players he drafted or traded for during his reign as general manager. With Gillick as GM, the Blue Jays recorded 11 consecutive winning seasons (1983 to 1993), captured five division titles (1985, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993) and won two World Championships (1992, 1993). For his efforts, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and five years later, he became the sixth member of the Blue Jays Level of Excellence. Following his departure from the Blue Jays, Gillick led three more franchises to post-season appearances: Baltimore Orioles (1996, 1997), Mariners (2000, 2001) and Philadelphia Phillies (2007, 2008). This has made him the only GM in major league history to guide four different clubs to the playoffs. When the Phillies won the Fall Classic in 2008, Gillick added a third championship to his resume. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2011.
-Forty-six years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave McKay (Vancouver, B.C.) became the first – and still only – Canadian to belt a home run in their first major league bat. Batting eighth and playing third base for the Minnesota Twins, he walked to the plate in the bottom of the third inning and promptly belted a pitch from Detroit Tigers right-hander Vern Ruhle over the left field wall at Metropolitan Stadium. The home run ball is now part of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection.
-I’ve been writing that Bob Alexander (Vancouver, B.C.) became the first Canadian to play in Japan professionally when he posted a 4.64 ERA in 13 appearances for the Toei Flyers of the Japan Pacific League in 1959. I was wrong about this. Thanks to Canadian Baseball Network contributor and researcher extraordinaire George Farelli, I’ve learned about Eishiro Yoshie. Yoshie was born in Vancouver but grew up in Japan. Yoshie pitched with the Kyuei Flyers of the Japan Baseball League in 1948.
– Happy 65th Birthday to former Blue Jays DH and 1993 World Series MVP Paul Molitor! Many of us remember his outstanding 1993 season in which he hit .332 and registered a .402 on-base percentage (OBP) and a .509 slugging percentage and led the American League with 211 hits. But we forget about his 1994 season in which he had an even higher batting average (.341), OBP (.410) and slugging percentage (.518) in 115 games before a strike prematurely ended the season.
– My trivia question for this week: Tom Henke was the Blue Jays closer in 1992 and Duane Ward took over and notched a franchise-record 45 saves in 1993 when Henke signed with the Rangers as a free agent. But Ward was sidelined by a shoulder injury in 1994. So who stepped in and led the Blue Jays in saves in 1994? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who holds the Montreal Expos record for highest batting average in a season?) was Vladimir Guerrero who hit .345 in 2000.