Archive for April, 2007

Going the distance

Monday, April 30, 2007

Much has been said over the last several years about the near disappearance of the complete game in baseball. Never before have pitch counts been so highly scrutinized. Clearly, if there is any doubt today, managers will always go to the bullpen. And why blame them? I’d also rather see my ace with plenty of gas in the tank at the end of the season, rather than watch him throw 130 pitches into the ninth inning of a June regular season contest.

Stieb Still, there’s a lot to be said for a pitcher who takes pride in finishing what he started. Roy Halladay is one of those pitchers. Of the five complete games thrown in the American League this season (170 AL games overall), Halladay has two of them — including one during Monday night’s 6-1 win over Texas. In fact, ‘Doc’ has led Toronto pitchers in that category three out of the last four years, posting a career-high nine during the 2003 campaign. Clearly a sign of the times though, that number represents less than half the mark set by another Blue Jays ace back in 1982.

Indeed, Dave Stieb compiled a franchise-record 19 complete games that season, eight more than his previous career-high of 11. Unheard of today, Stieb tossed complete games in four straight starts (April 29 – May 13), going 2-2 during that span — which brings up another interesting point. While it’s rare for a pitcher today to record a loss despite tossing a complete game, Stieb — unfortunately — managed to accomplish that six times in 1982, and finished with a 13-6 record in his 19 complete games.

But did he have any gas left in the tank at the end of the year? Well, he managed to go 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA (2 ER, 27 IP) over his last three starts, including a complete-game (obviously), four-hit shutout victory over the Seattle Mariners in his final outing of the season. So, I’d say yes.

Halladay’s recent gem helps the Blue Jays temporarily forget about their injury woes … Toronto places yet another body — Gustavo Chacin — on the disabled list Monday, this time the 15-day variety … Troy Glaus, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, with his team-leading fifth, all homer for the Blue Jays (13-12), winners of two in a row … Matt Stairs silences some critics, going 3-for-4 at the plate, while playing error-free defence in right … Lyle Overbay is batting just .185 (5-for-27) over his last eight games — but we won’t lose any sleep over it yet … A.J. Burnett goes tomorrow in the opener of a three-game set in Cleveland …

Not your average Joe

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hot-hitting second baseman Aaron Hill picked up two more RBIs on Sunday, tying him with Vernon Wells for the team lead (17) thus far. But while it’s highly unlikely that Hill — a top or bottom of the order hitter — will stay atop the team lead, the same could not be said of Joe Carter when he led the club in RBIs back in April of 1994.

That was the season in which Carter set a Major League record for RBIs in April,Joecarter amassing 31 in 24 contests during the month. Remarkably, 11 of those came during Toronto’s second series of the season — a three-gamer against the Seattle Mariners. After hitting a two-run homer in Game 1, Carter collected four more RBIs in Game 2, highlighted by a walk-off two-run shot to lead the Jays to an 8-6 win. To cap things off, he hit a three-run blast off Randy Johnson en route to a five-RBI performance in Game 3, and a three-game sweep of the Mariners at SkyDome.

Carter also managed to drive in at least a run in six straight contests (April 17-24), compiling another 13 during that stretch. Perhaps most impressive about his RBI barrage in April of ’94, was the fact that he accomplished the feat despite being hampered by a right thumb that had been broken in spring training.

Though his ML record was broken by Juan Gonzalez (35) in 1998, Carter’s mark of 31 still stands as a Blue Jays franchise record.

Five runs in the first three innings help lead the Blue Jays to a comfortable 7-3 win on Sunday afternoon … Tomo Ohka becomes just the second Japanese pitcher to win 50 games in the majors, tossing 7.0 innings and allowing just one run on five hits in his second straight solid outing … Appearing as a pinch-hitter, Alex Rios picks up his fourth homer of the year, while catcher Jason Phillips enjoys a 3-for-4 performance at the plate … It’s back to ‘Doc’ on Monday night, as Toronto (12-12) looks to split the series against Texas …

The cat came back

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Frank Catalanotto is back in town this weekend, now a member of the Texas Rangers after signing with them during the offseason. Though he currently owns a .143 batting average, the ‘Cat’ will surely claw his way out soon enough. He’s simply too good a hitter not to.

Catalanotto The Blue Jays certainly know that, having witnessed his prowess with the bat during his four seasons in Toronto (2003-06). During that time, Catalanotto compiled a .299 career average as a Blue Jay. That’s higher than Tony Fernandez (.297), John Olerud (.293), Vernon Wells (.289) and Shawn Green (.286). In fact, only Paul Molitor (.315), Roberto Alomar (.307) and Shannon Stewart (.301) own higher batting averages in a Blue Jay uniform than Catalanotto — among those players with at least 1500 at-bats.

Perhaps Catalanotto’s greatest individual accomplishment with Toronto came on May 1, 2004, when he etched his name into the Jays’ record books. During the second game of a doubleheader against the White Sox that day, the ‘Cat’ became the first player in Blue Jay history to record six hits in a single game. His 6-for-6 performance during the 10-6 Toronto victory, included singles in the first, second, fourth, fifth and eighth innings, as well as a double in the seventh.

Though the term gets thrown around much too often these days, Frank Catalanotto is truly one of the game’s underrated ‘professional hitter’s’. Taking nothing away from Wells, Troy Glaus or Alex Rios, but I know that during Catalanotto’s tenure with Toronto, if a situation arose where a key base hit was needed against a right-hander, I’d have wanted Catalanotto up — every time.

Check out Catalanotto’s performance courtesy of MLB Advanced Media … (unfortunately, the White Sox announcers greatly downplay (of course) the significant achievement)

The Blue Jays turn a near comeback into another blown game Saturday afternoon, as the Rangers come out victors, 9-8, in a back-and-forth affair at Rogers Centre … After the Blue Jays take a 7-5 lead in the eighth, Jason Frasor gets pegged with his second blown save of the season, allowing three runs in the ninth … Though Royce Clayton ties the score with an RBI single in the bottom half, Texas scores again in the tenth to steal the win … It is announced Saturday that Josh Towers will be moved to the bullpen, while Victor Zambrano will assume the No. 5 spot in the rotation … Losers of two in a row, the Blue Jays (11-12) look to Tomo Ohka Sunday to right the ship …

Out with a bang

Friday, April 27, 2007

Though the Texas Rangers used the long ball to claim victory over the Blue Jays on Friday night, it was the other way around 22 years ago today.

Playing at Arlington Stadium that April 27, 1985, the Jays found themselvesAikens trailing 8-6 heading into the final inning. After an Ernie Whitt groundout to open the ninth, Jesse Barfield singled, bringing up shortstop Tony Fernandez. However, manager Bobby Cox opted to use pinch-hitter Willie Aikens, an eight-year veteran — in his second season with Toronto — and former first-round pick (1975), whose skills were on the decline. Not on this day, though. Facing Rangers reliever Tommy Boggs, Willie Mays Aikens — named after the Giants’ Hall of Famer — belted a dramatic two-run homer to pull the Jays even and send the game into extra innings, where Toronto would go on to win, 9-8.

Three days later, Aikens was ‘designated for assignment’ and subsequently sent down to the minor leagues, where he toiled for the next several seasons.

Little did Aikens know, his home run on April 27, 1985 would turn out to be not only his last homer, but also his last at-bat in a Major League uniform. He certainly went out with a bang.

Unfortunately, Aikens — who had previously been suspended and imprisoned on drug charges prior to joining the Blue Jays — fell into trouble after retiring from the game. In 1994 he was convicted of drug charges again and sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he remains today despite several written letters by outsiders — Dusty Baker, Hal McRae, Jim Fregosi, to name a few — in an attempt to lessen his sentence.

Click here for an interesting article on Aikens by SI.com’s Mike Fish …

Click here for another piece, written by SI’s Frank Deford …

Blue Jays pitchers shut out the Rangers — save for the third inning, of course. The five runs Texas puts up in that frame turn out to be enough on Friday night, as they down the Jays by a 5-3 count … Josh Towers surrenders all five runs on three long balls to take the loss … Lyle Overbay and Adam Lind (his first of the season) go deep for Toronto, which now own a record of 11-11 on the ’07 campaign … Until tomorrow …

Let’s go streaking

Thursday, April 26, 2007

With the Blue Jays having officially earned ‘winning streak’ status by notching their third straight Thursday night, it’s time for a look at the top streaks in franchise history.

Tony Twice the Jays have won 11 games in a row — most recently during the 1998 campaign. Toronto was just two games above .500 (68-66) that season before posting an 11-1 win over Kansas City on August 27 that began a string of 11 straight victories. Kelvim Escobar earned three wins during that stretch, while Roger Clemens won twice. Meanwhile, Tony Fernandez — back for his third stint with Toronto — hit safely in each of the last 10 wins, posting an impressive .486 (18-for-37) batting average with eight RBIs and 10 runs scored during that span. Unfortunately, the Jays lost seven of their next 11 and ultimately finished four games behind the Red Sox for the AL wild card.

The other 11-game win-streak in Blue Jay history happened in 1987, the year that Blue Jay fans would dearly like to forget. But, instead of rehashing the seven straight losses to end the season, resulting in a missed postseason opportunity, let’s focus on the positives shall we? From June 2-13 that year, the Jays went undefeated, earning six wins against the Orioles, three against the Yankees and a pair against the Mariners. Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, Mark Eichhorn and Jeff Musselman each picked up two wins during that stretch. Once again, Fernandez — the only player on both the 1987 and 1998 ball clubs — hit safely in 10 of 11, this time batting .395 (17-for-43) with nine runs scored. What can I say, the man likes streaking …

A.J. Burnett turns in a gem Thursday night, tossing seven shutout innings against the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium … With a 6-0 win, Toronto improves to 11-10 on the season, a half-game ahead of the Orioles for second place in the AL East … Vernon Wells enjoys a 3-for-3 night at the plate, giving him a .317 average overall, tops among Blue Jay regulars … Riding a three-game win streak, the Jays return home tomorrow to face the Texas Rangers …

Our pal, Sal

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The injuries continued to pile up for Toronto on Tuesday, as catcher Gregg Zaun left the Jays-Red Sox contest in the second inning after taking a foul ball off his hand. Though he is headed to the DL, it’s not all bad news, as the Blue Jays will summon Sal Fasano from Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday.

Fasano It’s hard not to like Fasano, a journeyman backstop who proudly sports a Fu-Manchu mustache, which earned him cult-like admiration in Philadelphia last season. A group of Phillies fans created “Sal’s Pals” in honour of the veteran catcher, who in turn recognized his loyal backers by buying the group ball tickets and pizza.

I saw Sal briefly at the start of the 2005 season when he was playing for Triple-A Ottawa. Truly one of the game’s ‘nice guys’, Fasano should get a chance to log plenty of innings for the Blue Jays in the coming days.Salspals_1

ESPN’s Jeff Pearlman says Sal is the ‘greatest guy in the majors’

An entertaining satirical blog dedicated to Fasano …

Two levels up — The 700 Level — follows Sal from Philly

The chosen ones

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In their 30th go-round at the first-year player draft in 2006, the Blue Jays selected outfielder Travis Snider with their top pick, and immediately sent the 18-year-old to the Appalachian League with his cool $1.7 million signing bonus. So far it has been smooth sailing for Snider, who hit .325 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs at Rookie ball last year. This season at Class-A Lansing, he is batting .328 through 15 games, including a 1-for-4 showing during the Lugnuts’ 1-0 loss on Tuesday night.

Though it’s widely expected that Snider will cruise through the farm system, and ultimately enjoy a solid big-league career as a Blue Jay, nothing is guaranteed. A lot can happen between draft day and a player’s arrival in the majors, as the Blue Jays have learned throughout the years.

In fact, from 1977-1987 only four of the Jays’ top picks even made it to theMosebylloyd_1 major leagues. Of those four, only one played more than 10 career games as a Blue Jay. Granted, that one — Lloyd Moseby — enjoyed a solid 10-year career with Toronto, retiring as the franchise leader in stolen bases (255) and games played by an outfielder (1349).

The Jays’ drafting began to improve in ’88, the year in which third baseman Ed Sprague was chosen 25th overall. Shawn Green (’91), Shannon Stewart (’92) and Chris Carpenter (’93) followed, while current ace Roy Halladay was chosen #17 overall in 1995, and Vernon Wells was taken fifth in 1997. Along with Wells and Halladay, outfielder Alex Rios and second baseman Aaron Hill make up the quartet of top picks since ’95 that are on the current Blue Jays roster. Meanwhile, Russ Adams, David Purcey, Ricky Romero and Snider are all in the minors.

Only time will tell if Snider ultimately takes the path of Vernon Wells or that of Augie Schmidt … though if I were a betting man, I’d take the former.

It’s possible that John Gibbons quoted the famous Lou Brown (Major League) in the visitor’s clubhouse prior to tonight’s game at Fenway Park … “We won yesterday. If we win today that’s 2 in a row. We win tomorrow, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before!” … Well, make it two in a row. The Jays pull off the two-game sweep of the BoSox, earning a 10-3 win Tuesday night … Vernon Wells leads the troops, matching career highs with four hits and four runs scored … The ‘Big Hurt’ goes 2-for-4, and quite possibly rids himself of his early-season slump … Halladay? Cy Young form, as usual, striking out 10 while improving to 3-0 on the year … The Jays look to officially make it a ‘winning streak’ tomorrow at Yankee Stadium …

0-for-4

Monday, April 23, 2007

It was the great Ernie Banks who often stated: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two.” And that’s exactly what the Toronto Blue Jays did on July 28 and 29 in 1997 — though it was far from beautiful. In back-to-back doubleheaders, the last such occurence in Blue Jay history, the visitors suffered a clean sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers at County Stadium. Five straight losses may be a little trying; but losing four times in 48 hours? Now that’s a tough pill to swallow.

The nightmare began when Toronto lost the opener, 1-0, despite future hall-of-famer Roger Clemens tossing a complete-game four-hitter. Save for Otis Nixon‘s leadoff double, the Jays were no-hit, and managed just two other baserunners the entire game (both on walks). Though Toronto collected 11 hits in Game 2, their pitchers surrendered 19 of their own, en route to a 9-3 loss.

Tilson_brito The following day proved no better, as the Brewers polished off the visiting club, 2-0, in just 2:01 to open the second double dip in as many days. A 4-2 defeat completed the two-day span that saw Clemens, Huck Flener, Woody Williams and Chris Carpenter each record a loss for Toronto.

Needless to say, it was not a good 48 hours for Blue Jay fans. Nor was it for infielder Tilson Brito, who went 1-for-14 with three strikeouts and an error during those four contests.

The Blue Jays stop the bleeding at five games, winning the opener (7-3) of a two-game set at Fenway Park … Tomo Ohka records his first win as a Jay, and Frank Thomas drills his 490th career homer … Aaron HIll continues to swing a hot bat, going 4-for-5 (triple shy of cycle) with a pair of RBIs … Toronto sends ace Roy Halladay to the mound Tuesday looking to return to .500 …

Sweep not sweet

Sunday, April 22, 2007

With the Blue Jays already suffering their first sweep of the season on Sunday, it really puts into perspective just how special the 1992 campaign really was for Toronto. That Blue Jay ball club, which of course went on to capture Toronto’s first ever World Series title, played the entire 162-game schedule without being swept in a single series. Sure, they had several near-misses; but not one team managed to seal the deal. Only five other clubs had accomplished that same feat in major-league history:

New York Giants — 1904
Philadelphia Athletics — 1905
Chicago Cubs — 1910
Cleveland Indians — 1921
St. Louis Cardinals — 1943

With it being only April 22, this certainly does not bode well for the current team’s chances. The ’92 team was also 14-4 after their first 18 games — compared to the current club’s 8-10 mark.

The struggling Blue Jays lose their fifth straight, and fall into fourth place in the AL East … Gustavo Chacin cruises through three before being hit with a trio of fourth-inning runs … The Orioles plate four more in the fifth en route to the 7-3 victory in front of a disappointing Sunday afternoon crowd of 27,285. Someone needs to tell the Baltimore folk that the O’s play in one of the most beautiful parks in all of baseball … Aaron Hill collects his third homer of the season, a mark he didn’t reach until Sept. 2 last year … It doesn’t get any easier for the Jays, as they will face Wakefield’s wacky knuckleball tomorrow at Fenway Park …

(Free?) Agents

Saturday, April 21, 2007

With the recent increase in payroll (thank you Ted Rogers), the Toronto Blue Jays have managed to make a bigger splash on the free agent market the last few offseasons. However, there’s no guarantee that this will translate into more wins. In addition, “free” agents are anything but that, and often chew up a disproportionately large amount of payroll.

Having said that, the Jays have certainly landed their share of big-time free agents that ended up paying off big time — including a few that played integral roles in bringing World Series championships to Toronto. Have a look at these …

Winfield_1 Dave Winfield Quite possibly the best free agent signing in Blue Jay history, Winfield joined the team for the 1992 season, and proceeded to hit .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs in 156 regular season contests before becoming a Blue Jay hero by delivering the two-run double in the 11th inning of Game 6 (see left) against the Braves that won Toronto its first World Series championship.

Jack Morris – A longtime Blue Jay nemesis, Morris became the first $5 million-a-year man in team history when he signed prior to the ’92 season. He delivered as promised though, going 21-6 with a 4.04 ERA to become the Blue Jays’ first ever 20-game winner.

Paul Molitor – The veteran DH joined the Blue Jays in ’93, and made an immediate impact by hitting .332 (2nd in AL to John Olerud) in a team-high 160 games. He was even better in the postseason, batting .391 in the ALCS, and an even .500 (12-for-24) in the World Series en route to winning MVP honours.

Dave Stewart – Another former nemesis, Stewart signed with the Blue Jays prior to the 1993 season. After going 12-8 during the regular campaign, he earned two big victories against the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS, including the series-clinching 6-3 win that sent the Jays to their second straight World Series.

Roger Clemens – Though forced to break the bank, the Blue Jays certainly got Clemens at his best. The veteran right-hander dominated during his two seasons with Toronto (1997-98), capturing the AL triple crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA) two years in a row. He also earned the Cy Young award both seasons, and won a franchise-record 15 consecutive games from June 3 – Sept. 21, 1998.

This year’s big free-agent signing — Frank Thomas — continues his struggles on Saturday night, going 0-for-3 to lower his average to a dismal .197 … The Blue Jays lose their fourth straight, 5-2 to the Orioles at Camden Yards … Josh Towers is less than stellar, allowing five runs — four earned — in 5.0 innings, while also committing his second error of the young season … Manager John Gibbons gets ejected in the fifth inning … Upon his return tomorrow, he will send Gustavo Chacin to the hill attempting to avoid the Oriole sweep …


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