Woods (Al) clubs long ball

Ask any baseball player, little leaguer or major leaguer, and they will tell you just how difficult it is to pinch hit. The odds are good that the chosen hitter has been parked on the bench for a couple of hours, where the most action he has encountered involved spitting sunflower seeds, or giving the occasional high-five. Simply put, coming off the bench ‘cold’ is quite possibly the hardest job in all of baseball — especially when you’re expected to produce in high-pressure situations. Don’t tell that to Al Woods, though.Al_woods

Woods, an original Blue Jay who was plucked from Minnesota in the ’76 expansion draft, pulled off a remarkable feat — as a pinch hitter — during the Blue Jays’ inaugural game in 1977. Giving new meaning to the term ‘coming off the bench cold’, Woods entered that frigid, snowy affair on April 7 at Exhibition Stadium in the bottom of the fifth inning, replacing right-fielder Steve Bowling. With Toronto clinging to a 5-4 advantage, Woods — on the first pitch — belted a two-run homer off Francisco Barrios for his first major-league long ball — during his first major-league at-bat.

The former Blue Jays’ outfielder still stands as the only player in franchise history to accomplish that feat. The only other Toronto player to homer in his first major-league at-bat was Junior Felix, who did so on May 4, 1989 against the California Angels, also at Exhibition Stadium. Interestingly, Felix also connected on the first pitch he saw from Angels starter Kirk McCaskill in the third inning.

Fun Facts:

This day in Blue Jays history … 1991 — Tom Henke picks up the save in a 4-3 win over the Red Sox at SkyDome. Why is this significant? ‘The Terminator’ will go on to convert 25 saves in a row between this date and August 7, a franchise-record that still stands today … 1996 — As part of the club’s 20th season Opening Day celebrations, the Blue Jays honour George Bell and Dave Stieb as the first two players on the ‘Level of Excellence’ … 1997 — Roger Clemens and the Toronto Blue Jays down the Chicago White Sox 5-0 in front of 746 fans at Comiskey Park, marking a Blue Jays franchise record and the lowest turnout at a ChiSox game in 27 years.

For the record, it did snow in the city of Toronto today. Thank goodness for that domed stadium … With the bases loaded and the home side ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second, Lyle Overbay pulls a bases-clearing double down the right-field line, giving Toronto a 4-0 advantage … A pair of run-scoring doubles from Aaron Hill and Royce Clayton highlight a three-run fifth in which the Blue Jays extend their lead to 8-0 … A.J. Burnett cruises on the hill for Toronto, allowing just two hits in 6.2 innings, turning a complete 180 from his dismal season debut … In all, 50,000 fans are on hand for Opening Night 2007, in which the Blue Jays improve their record to 4-2 … Toronto now owns a record of 23-8 in Opening Day contests dating back to ’77 … Expect a substantial decrease in attendance for game 2 tomorrow (7:07 pm) against the Royals, as usual … More games like tonight’s though, should quickly fill those seats … Here’s hoping, anyways …

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