May 14, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there! And especially to my mom, Glenyce Glew, who my dad and I have dragged to enough Toronto Blue Jays games over the years that she has become one of the team’s more spirited fans. I’m very fortunate in that not only does my mom enjoy baseball, she’s also loving, supportive, compassionate and generous. She also reads this blog. I love you, mom.
-This is one of my favourite photos of Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) (below). Here he is pictured with his mother Delores at Wrigley Field. Jenkins’ mom lost her vision after giving birth to him, but that didn’t stop her from coming to many of his games. She would sit in the stands and listen to the game on a portable radio.
-Left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) made a triumphant return to the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox on Friday. The Canuck southpaw started and struck out nine St. Louis Cardinals batters, while allowing just two runs, in five innings. He left with a 4-2 lead but the Red Sox bullpen coughed that up and the club lost 8-6. It was Paxton’s first regular season big league start since April 6, 2021 with the Seattle Mariners. Since that time, Paxton has endured his second Tommy John surgery, a grade 2 lat tear and, most recently, a hamstring injury. “Honestly, it kind of felt like my debut all over again after being out for so long,” Paxton told reporters after the game on Friday. “All those emotions — you’re nervous, you’re excited, all that. I just focused on getting ready for the game with everything I had.” Paxton had posted a 6.23 ERA in five rehab starts with triple-A Worcester before being activated by the Red Sox. The 6-foot-4 lefty, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2022 season, exercised his $4-million option with the team in November. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, the 34-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.
-Paxton joins the Red Sox rotation alongside fellow Canadian Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.). This marks the first time that two Canadians have been in the Red Sox starting rotation since Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) and Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.) in 1976 and 1977. In all, 11 Canadians (including Paxton, Pivetta, Jenkins and Cleveland) have started for the Red Sox over the years. That list also includes Oscar Judd (Rebecca, Ont.), Ted Bowsfield (Vernon, B.C.), Mike Gardiner (Sarnia, Ont.), Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.), Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.) and Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.).
-When the Atlanta Braves placed left-hander Max Fried on the 15-day injured list on Tuesday, speculation was rampant that the club was going to promote right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) to take his place. But the Braves quickly quashed those rumors, saying they’re taking a cautious and deliberate approach with Soroka, who is working his way back from two Achilles tendon injuries. The 25-year-old righty made his sixth start of the season for the triple-A Gwinnett Stripers on Thursday and allowed three runs on four hits in four innings in a 4-2 loss to the Nashville Sounds. He now owns a 5.47 ERA in 24 2/3 innings with the Stripers. Soroka was sidelined for much of this spring with tightness in his left hamstring. After initially tearing his right Achilles tendon on August 3, 2020, Soroka then re-tore it the following June. After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, Soroka returned to game action in August last year and posted a 5.40 ERA in six late-season starts between class-A and triple-A before being shut down with elbow inflammation. A graduate of the Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in 2015. In 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
-I’m sending my thoughts and prayers and my deepest condolences to former big league pitcher and Baseball Canada alum Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.). His father, Bernie, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 70. You can read Bernie’s obituary and leave condolences here.
-On this date 26 years ago, Oakland A’s slugger Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) had his first two-home run game in the majors. It came in an A’s 7-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Stairs belted a two-run home run off right-hander Cal Eldred in the fourth inning and a solo shot off reliever Joel Adamson in the eighth. It was the first of 13, two-home run games Stairs had in his big league career.
–Roy Halladay would’ve turned 46 today. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was the Toronto Blue Jays’ first-round pick (17th overall) in the 1995 MLB draft. But it wasn’t until 2002 that he established himself as the team’s ace when he won 19 games and led American League hurlers in innings pitched (239-1/3) and WAR (7.4) and was selected to his first All-Star team. The Denver, Col., native would top that the ensuing campaign when he led the league in wins (22), innings pitched (266), complete games (9) and WAR (8.1). For his efforts, he became the third Blue Jay to capture the American League Cy Young Award (Pat Hentgen (1996), Roger Clemens (1997, 1998)). In all, in parts of 12 seasons with the Blue Jays, Halladay made a team-record seven Opening Day starts, led the American League in complete games five times (2003, 2005, 2007-09), innings pitched three times (2002-03, 2008) and was a six-time All-Star (2002-03, 2005-06, 2008-09). He finished his Blue Jays career with a 148-76 won/loss record – good for a .661 winning percentage, which is the best in franchise history. After being dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies in December 2009, Halladay continued his dominance in the National League, recording 21 wins and leading the circuit in innings pitched (250-2/3), complete games (9) and WAR (8.3) in 2010 to earn his second Cy Young Award. On May 29 of that season, he tossed the 20th perfect game in major league history and just over four months later, on October 6, he became the first National League pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the playoffs when he blanked the Cincinnati Reds in the opening game of the National League Division Series. For an encore with the Phillies, Halladay posted a 2.35 ERA and topped the National League in complete games (8) and WAR (8.9) and finished second in Cy Young Award voting in 2011. In total, in his 16-year major league career, Halladay was selected to eight All-Star games, collected 203 wins and posted a .659 winning percentage, which ranks 19th all-time. For his efforts, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. He passed away in a plane crash on November 7, 2017.
–Charlie Goldsmith, of the Cincinnati Enquirer, reports that Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) will be taking live batting practice with the triple-A Louisville Bats this weekend. But this is not part of a rehab assignment and Votto is still not close to returning to big league action. Earlier this season, Votto cut his first rehab assignment short when he felt he wasn’t progressing sufficiently enough from the shoulder surgery he underwent last August. He batted .184 in 10 games with Louisville. The 39-year-old Votto had shoulder surgery last summer, just four days after playing his 1,989th major league game which broke Larry Walker’s record for most games played by a Canadian. After this season, he has one year left on his contract with the Reds (with a team option for 2024).
-Want to feel old? Former Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders turns 60 today. He played for the Blue Jays for the first seven seasons (1988 to 1994) of his big league career. His finest season was in 1990 when he batted .286 and socked 15 home runs in 125 games. But the highlight of his tenure in Toronto was winning the World Series MVP Award in 1992. In that six-game Fall Classic against the Atlanta Braves, Borders batted .450 and had a home run and three doubles. He returned to the Blue Jays to earn his second World Series ring the following year. Prior to the start of the 1995 season, he signed with the Kansas City Royals, which was the beginning of an odyssey that would make him one of the game’s most travelled catchers. Borders would eventually also suit up for the Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins before the end of his 17-year big league career. He also had a brief six-game return with the Blue Jays in 1999. Earlier this year, I researched and wrote an article called “Ten things you might not know about Pat Borders.” You can read it here.
–According to Kaitlyn McGrath, of The Athletic, Blue Jays right-hander Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) started throwing from 90 feet on Friday as he continues to work his way back from a hamstring strain. He was placed on the 15-day injured list on May 5. The 26-year-old right-hander had been hit hard in his two appearances in May after a strong April that saw batters hit just .167 against him. After the Blue Jays acquired him from the Miami Marlins on August 2, 2022, Pop developed into a reliable middle reliever for the club, posting a 2-0 record and a 1.89 ERA in 17 appearances. In a combined 35 regular season games between the Blue Jays and the Marlins in 2022, he went 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA and fanned 25 in 39 innings. After three collegiate seasons with the Kentucky Wildcats, Pop was chosen in the seventh round of the 2017 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made five scoreless appearances in Rookie ball for the Dodgers that year and allowed just one run in 19 games out of the bullpen in High-A the ensuing year before he was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles as part of the package for Manny Machado that July. He spent parts of two seasons in the O’s organization before he was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft in December 2020. The D-Backs then flipped him to the Marlins. The Junior National Team alum spent the entire 2021 season in the big leagues with the Marlins, registering a 1-0 record and a 4.12 ERA in 51 appearances, striking out 51 batters in 54 2/3 innings.
-Happy 69th Birthday to former Montreal Expos ace and 2016 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Martinez! Born in 1954 in Granada, Nicaragua, Martinez recorded 100 wins (second-most in franchise history) in parts of eight seasons with the Expos from 1986 to 1993. The durable right-hander also ranks second all-time amongst Expos pitchers in games started (233) and innings pitched (1,609) and third in strikeouts (973), complete games (41) and shutouts (13). Nicknamed “El Presidente,” Martinez was the first Nicaraguan to play in the major leagues, and when he tossed a perfect game on July 28, 1991 – the only one in Expos history – the club’s play-by-play man Dave Van Horne famously exclaimed “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” During his tenure with the Expos, Martinez was selected to three All-Star games (1990-92) and in 1991, he topped the National League in ERA (2.39), complete games (9) and shutouts (5).
-The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has opened for its 26th season in St. Marys, Ont. You can visit them today. For more information, you can visit their website.
-This week’s trivia question: Who was the Montreal Expos all-time leader in sacrifice hits? (Hint: It was a pitcher). Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the Toronto Blue Jays’ all-time leader in sacrifice hits?) was Alfredo Griffin.