By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly Canadian baseball news and notes:
-Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) had a home run and knocked in five runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in their 9-0 Opening Day win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. O’Neill’s five RBIs represented the first time that a Cardinals batter had driven in five runs on Opening Day since Wally Roettger in 1928. O’Neill’s outstanding performance in the Cards’ first game comes on the heels of winning his second consecutive Gold Glove and Fielding Bible awards for his defence in left field in 2021. The Langley Blaze and Junior National Team alum also enjoyed a breakout season at the plate for the Cardinals. He batted .286 with 34 home runs, while registering a .560 slugging percentage. His 6.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was fourth-best among National League position players. Originally selected in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners, O’Neill is now in his fifth major league season.
-It was good to see Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) on the mound for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day. The 29-year-old entered the game in the eighth inning and allowed a run in 2/3 of an inning but recorded a hold in the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. Wick was sidelined for much of 2021 by an oblique injury. After he was activated last season, the Vancouver Cannons and Junior National Team alum posted a 4.30 ERA in 22 relief appearances. He struck out 29 batters in 23 innings and picked up five saves. Selected in the ninth round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Cardinals, Wick was a catcher when he entered the minor league ranks before being converted into a pitcher. He made his major league debut with the Padres in 2018.
-Another highlight from the Cubs’ Opening Day at Wrigley Field was Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) leading a choir of fellow National Baseball Hall of Famers that included Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Lee Smith in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. You can watch it here.
-Lost in the excitement of the Toronto Blue Jays’ dramatic 10-8 comeback win over the Texas Rangers in their season opener on Friday at Rogers Centre was the fact that Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) became the first Canadian to record a save for the Blue Jays on Opening Day. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out two batters in the ninth to close out the game. He has now converted a save in 24 consecutive opportunities. In the past three Opening Days with the Blue Jays, Romano has recorded two wins and a save and has struck out six and has yet to allow a hit in three innings. The Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum established himself as an elite reliever with the Blue Jays last season when he finished with a 7-1 record and a 2.14 ERA, while striking out 85 batters in 63 innings in 62 appearances.
-There are 12 Canadians on major league rosters to begin the 2022 season. Four teams have two Canucks each: the Toronto Blue Jays (Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal Que.), the Seattle Mariners (Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.) and Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.), the Cleveland Guardians (Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) and Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) and Boston Red Sox (James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) and Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.). Naylor and Paxton are starting the season on the injured list. Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) also begins the season on the injured list with the Atlanta Braves. Baseball Canada has a detailed rundown of the the Canadians on major league rosters here.
-Speaking of Paxton, he is reportedly progressing well in his return from Tommy John surgery. Signed by the Red Sox in December, Paxton had been throwing on flat ground in March, but in early April, he began throwing off the mound ahead of schedule, according to Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe. Paxton is still not expected to return until after the All-Star break. Last season, the Ladner, B.C., native signed a one-year, $8.5-million contract with the Mariners, but threw just 24 pitches in one start for them on April 6 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. It was the second Tommy John procedure of Paxton’s career. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, Paxton spent the first six seasons of his MLB career with the Mariners, recording 41 wins and a 3.42 ERA in 102 starts before being dealt to the New York Yankees on November 19, 2018. He registered a career-best 15 wins for the Yankees in 2019 prior to undergoing back surgery in February 2020. He’d make just five starts for the Bombers that season, going 1-1 with a 6.64 ERA. In all, the 33-year-old southpaw has pitched in parts of nine major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.
-In a somewhat surprising move, the Miami Marlins sent right-hander Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) to minor league camp on Monday. Pop had been one of the Marlins’ more consistent relievers in 2021, but had endured a rough spring in 2022, posting an 11.25 ERA in three appearances. After being selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks from the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 draft last December then being traded to the Marlins, Pop finished second among Canuck big league pitchers with 50 appearances, and posted a 4.12 ERA, while striking out 51 batters in 54 2/3 innings.
-Congratulations to Dan Shulman (Thornhill, Ont.) and Joe Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) on winning Canadian Screen Awards this week. Shulman won for best Canadian sports play-by-play announcer for his outstanding work on Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts for Sportsnet. He was up against Rod Black (CFL on TSN), Chris Cuthbert (NHL on Sportsnet), Mark Lee (Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, CBC) and Rob Snoek (Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, CBC). Siddall was victorious in the best Canadian sports analyst category for his work on Sportsnet’s Blue Jays Central. Vying for the honour against him were Kevin Bieska (Hockey Night in Canada), Craig Simpson (NHL on Sportsnet), Meghan McPeak (Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, CBC) and Michael Smith (Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, CBC).
-Happy 52nd Birthday to former Blue Jays outfielder Rob Butler! The Toronto native remains the only Canadian player to win a World Series with a Canadian major league team. He accomplished the feat with the Blue Jays in 1993. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays in 1990, Butler suited up for parts of four big league seasons with the Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring in 1999. For his career, he batted .243 in 109 games. These days Butler has his own pro baseball consulting business and is also a coach for the Junior National Team.
-It was 45 years ago today that Bill Atkinson (Chatham, Ont.) recorded his first major league win. He entered the game in relief in the seventh inning for the Montreal Expos with his team trailing the Philadelphia Phillies 7-6 at Veterans Stadium. He got Phillies slugger Davey Johnson to hit a ground ball to shortstop Tim Foli who flipped the ball to second baseman Dave Cash for the final out of the inning. First baseman Tony Perez then belted a three-run home run in top of the eighth to give the Expos a 9-7 lead. Joe Kerrigan came on for the Expos and pitched the final two innings to earn the save and secure the win for Atkinson.
–BetOnline has the Blue Jays winning 92 1/2 games this season. That’s tied for the second-most in the majors with the Chicago White Sox. The online betting company has listed the Dodgers at 98 1/2 wins. Also of interest, they have pegged the odds of Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) winning the National League MVP Award at 33-1 and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) at 66-1.
-This week’s trivia question: Who was the only left-hander to make more than one Opening Day start for the Montreal Expos? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Eleven different pitchers made more than one Opening Day start for the Blue Jays. Name three of them?) was any three of Dave Lemanczyk, Dave Stieb, Jim Clancy, Jimmy Key, Pat Hentgen, Jack Morris, Ricky Romero, Roy Halladay, R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman and Hyun Jin Ryu.