By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
–One of the feel-good Canadian baseball stories this year has been North Battleford, Sask., native Andrew Albers’ return to the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins. After holding the New York Yankees to one run in four innings in relief on August 20 in his first big league appearance in almost four years, the 35-year-old lefty was rewarded with his first start since September 30, 2017 on Friday. And he didn’t disappoint. He hurled 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, against the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers in the Twins’ 2-0 win at Target Field. His performance earned him his first major league win since September 14, 2017. He now owns a 0.96 ERA in his two appearances with the Twins this year. Before being called up, Albers had posted a 6-4 record and a 3.86 ERA, with 78 strikeouts in 91 innings, in 16 triple-A appearances this season. He 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.
– Port Hope, Ont., native Cal Quantrill’s magical month of August continued yesterday when he threw seven more outstanding innings for Cleveland, allowing just one earned run and striking out six. Unfortunately, his team eventually lost 5-3 to the Boston Red Sox. This start came on the heels of another great performance last Sunday in which he dominated the Los Angeles Angels in the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa. In that contest, he tossed seven innings and permitted just two hits, while striking out nine, to lead Cleveland to a 3-0 win. In six starts in August, Quantrill is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and has struck out 40 batters in 38 innings. This follows an excellent July that saw him go 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in five starts. In total, over his past 11 starts, the Ontario Terriers and Junior National Team alum is 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA in 66 1/3 innings and has lowered his season ERA to 2.94 in 34 appearances (17 starts).
-Right-hander Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) has been effective out of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen since he was activated from the 60-day injured list on August 10 after being sidelined by an oblique injury since last September. In six big league appearances since his return, he has permitted just two runs and has struck out six in 5 2/3 innings. Prior to his major league return, the Canuck reliever, who is a Junior National Team grad, completed an eight-game rehab stint with the Cubs’ class-A and triple-A affiliates. The hard-throwing right-hander had been a go-to, late-inning reliever for the Cubs in 2019 and 2020.
-After a rough July that saw him post an 8.10 ERA in seven appearances, Toronto Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) has rediscovered his form. In 11 appearances in August, the Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum has 20 strikeouts in 12 innings and owns a 1.50 ERA. He also has two wins and four saves. In total, on the season, he is 6-1 in 48 appearances with a 2.23 ERA and has 13 saves. That’s the highest number of saves a Canadian has ever recorded for the Blue Jays in a season.
– Right-hander Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.), who had been sidelined since August 14 with soreness in his right middle finger, was assigned to the Miami Marlins’ class-A Jupiter Hammerheads for a rehab stint on Tuesday. He has since made two appearances for the club. The Canuck righty had been on a roll out of the Marlins’ bullpen prior to the injury. He had given up just one earned run in his last 12 appearances and his ERA had dropped from 5.76 at the beginning of July to 4.36. In total, the Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum has made 38 relief appearances, spanning 43 1/3 innings, for the Marlins this season and has struck out 40 batters. Pop was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks from the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in December then quickly flipped to the Marlins. He was originally chosen in the seventh round of the 2017 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but was traded to the Orioles in July 2018 as part of the package for Manny Machado.
– Happy 89th Birthday to former Kansas City A’s catcher and Canadian national team manager Eric MacKenzie! MacKenzie was born in Glendon, Alta. and on April 23, 1955, he, along with Ozzie Van Brabant (Kingsville, Ont.) formed the first all-Canadian battery in American League history. In total, MacKenzie played 631 games in parts of eight minor league seasons before becoming one of Canada’s most respected coaches. He managed the national team at the 1979 and 1983 Pan Am Games, as well as at the 1984 Olympics and eventually became the director of Parks and Recreation in Mooretown, Ont. Among the players he helped mentor was Mike Gardiner (Sarnia, Ont.) who went on to pitch parts of six big league seasons from 1990 to 1995. In more recent years, he served as a groundskeeper for a baseball field in Courtright, Ont. and in 2019, that field was renamed in his honour.
-Seventeen years ago today, in one of the most moving ceremonies in Rogers Centre history, legendary broadcaster Tom Cheek had his name and the number 4,306 – commemorating the number of consecutive games he called for the Blue Jays – added to the team’s Level of Excellence. The honour was a surprise to an emotional Cheek, who was battling brain cancer. He passed away on October 9, 2005 at the age of 66.
–It was 23 years ago today that Dave Stieb registered his first win since 1993 when he started and allowed four runs in five innings to the Minnesota Twins in the Blue Jays’ 14-7 win. Stieb, who had retired after the 1993 season, arrived at Blue Jays’ spring training camp in 1998 as a guest instructor, but when he started throwing, he wowed coaches and players in camp with his arsenal, so he decided to make a comeback. In all, in that 1998 season, Stieb posted a 4.83 ERA in 19 appearances, including three starts, before hanging up his playing spikes for good.
– My trivia question for this week: Who was the first Blue Jays pitcher to hit a home run for them in a regular season game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (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 Texas 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?) was Darren Hall who had 17 saves for the Blue Jays in 1994.