Archive for June, 2007

Thomas hits milestone

Thursday, June 28, 2007

With a three-run homer off Carlos Silva in the first-inning Thursday afternoon, Frank Thomas became the 21st player to reach 500 home runs. It was somewhat fitting that he reached the milestone in Minnesota, as the Metrodome was the site of his first career homer 17 years ago. Of his 500 career long balls, exactly 10% (50) have come against Minnesota, the most he has hit against any opponent.
Before joining the Blue Jays prior to the 2007 season, Thomas had homered 21 times against Toronto, accounting for 4.2% of his total. Here’s a look at his home runs as a Blue Jay opponent …
May 10, 1991: In his first full season in the majors, Thomas belts his first career homer against the Blue Jays and career homer No. 12 off Denis Boucher during a 5-3 White Sox victory at SkyDome.

July 29, 1991: During a 12-4 White Sox rout over the Jays, Thomas hits career homer No. 25 off left-hander David Wells at SkyDome.

July 30, 1991: The following day, Thomas belts No. 26, a two-run shot off Bob Macdonald that turns out to be the winning run in an 8-7 Chicago win at SkyDome.

April 30, 1993: Thomas hits a third-inning grand slam off right-hander Todd Stottlemyre for career homer No. 66. Playing at Comiskey Park, the White Sox cruise to a 10-2 victory and Thomas finishes with 5 RBIs.

July 5, 1993: A solo shot off righty Pat Hentgen marks career homer No. 81 for Thomas, whose White Sox go on to win 4-3 at SkyDome.

July 19, 1993: Dave Stewart serves up career home run No. 84 for Thomas, a solo blast in the first inning. The Blue Jays dominate the game, however, winning 15-7 at Comiskey Park.

July 20, 1993: Thomas’s two-run homer in the sixth inning off Juan Guzman accounts for the winning runs in a 2-1 Chicago win. It marks career home run No. 85 and 22nd of the season for Thomas, who is well on his way to winning the AL MVP award.

August 27, 1995: Thomas belts a solo homer, his 33rd of the season, off lefty Al Leiter during a 2-1 Blue Jays win at SkyDome. The homer is career No. 175.

August 30, 1996: During an 11-2 Chicago rout at SkyDome, Thomas belts a two-run homer off Woody Williams for career home run No. 211.

August 21, 1997: Exactly one week after blasting his 250th career homer, Thomas hits No. 251, a two-run shot off Pat Hentgen in the first inning of a 6-3 White Sox victory at Comiskey Park.

August 26, 1997: Thomas hits career homer No. 252 off Marty Janzen during an 8-5 Chicago win at SkyDome.

April 18, 1998 – Both of Thomas’s home runs against the Blue Jays in ’98 come in the same game, as the ‘Big Hurt’ belts career homer No. 259 off Pat Hentgen (a solo shot in the first), and No. 260 off Carlos Almanzar (another solo in the eighth). The Blue Jays win the game though, 9-4.

July 23, 1999: Thomas enters a four-game series against the Blue Jays at Comiskey Park with 298 career homers. He gets No. 299, a solo blast off Joey Hamilton in Game 1, but the Jays win the game 2-1 and hold Thomas homerless over the next three contests.

May 3, 2000: Career homer No. 307 comes against John Frascatore in the sixth inning of a 7-3 Chicago victory at Comiskey Park.

May 19, 2000: Thomas hits No. 308 off Kelvim Escobar during a 5-3 White Sox win at SkyDome. The homer, a three-run blast in the third inning, accounts for the winning runs.

August 26, 2002: Thomas’s lone homer against the Blue Jays in 2002 comes against Michael Smith in the third inning of an 8-4 Toronto win at Comiskey Park. The solo homer marks No. 370 of his career.

May 2, 2004: Thomas launches career homer No. 423 off Miguel Batista in the fourth inning of a 3-2 Chicago win at U.S. Cellular Field. The long ball serves as the winning run in the contest.

May 10, 2006: In his first series against the Blue Jays since joining the Oakland, Thomas belts career homer No. 455 off Gustavo Chacin (a two-run shot) at Rogers Centre. However, Toronto goes on to win 9-7.

July 28, 2006: During a 4-3 Blue Jays win in Oakland, Thomas manages a solo homer off Scott Downs, marking career blast No. 471.

August 23, 2006: Thomas hits a two-run shot off Gustavo Chacin in the top of the first inning, and the A’s go on to win 6-0. For Thomas, the homer marks career No. 475.
Home run notes:
– 12 of the 21 homers were hit at SkyDome/Rogers Centre
– 8 were hit at Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field
– 1 was hit at Network Associates Coliseum

Toronto’s record in games that Thomas homered (20): 7-13
Number of different pitchers: 18
Pitchers who gave up more than one: Pat Hentgen (3), Gustavo Chacin (2)
Thomas’s career stats against the Blue Jays:
.283 (137-for-484) batting average, .416 on-base percentage, 21 HR, 81 RBI, 81 runs scored, 106 BB, 82 K.


The stars were out in ’91

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It’s been nearly 16 years since Toronto played host to the MLB all-star game. The SkyDome was just over two years old when it welcomed the league’s best on July 9, 1991, marking just the second all-star game ever played in Canada (Montreal had played host in 1981).
In his first season with Toronto, second baseman Roberto Alomar became just the second Blue Jay (George Bell, 1987) in team history to be voted onto the American League starting lineup. Joe Carter and Jimmy Key, meanwhile, were also added to the AL squad along with Jays manager Cito Gaston, who served as one of Tony LaRussa’s coaches.
Mlbasg_1961Prior to the main event, the American League cruised past their National League counterparts by a 20-7 margin in the home run derby. Cal Ripken Jr. dominated the event, blasting 12 homers in total. Carter, the hometown favourite, chipped in with a pair for the AL squad.
As it turned out, Ripken was just getting warmed up. The following night, the ‘Iron Man’ played the hero in the 62nd annual midsummer classic, launching a three-run homer off Montreal’s Dennis Martinez in the third inning that helped propel the American League to a 4-2 win, their fourth straight.
Both Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President George Bush were on hand for the game, accounting for two of the 52,382 in attendance, which still stands as a SkyDome/Rogers Centre record.
Alomar went 0-for-4 at the plate, but finished with a game-high four assists while playing a full nine innings at second base. Key came away with the win after tossing a scoreless third inning. Carter, meanwhile, walked in the fifth, and singled and scored in the seventh.

Taking a walk

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Despite his lack of production this season, Frank Thomas backers will quickly point to his on-base percentage. At .378 entering action Tuesday night, it was the second-highest on the team next to Troy Glaus’ .397. In fact, when you consider only those players with the minimum required plate appearances (233 through 75 games) to qualify for the league leaders, Thomas’s mark is actually tops among Toronto hitters.
Furthermore, Thomas is the only Blue Jay (min. 233 PA) to have recorded more walks (47) than strikeouts (44) this season. I’ve always found this to be an interesting stat. A quick look at walk-to-strikeout ratios throughout Blue Jays history turns up only 22 occurrences (by 10 different players) where a Toronto hitter finished with more bases on balls than whiffs. Here’s the list — complete with walk-to-strikeout ratios:
2005 – Gregg Zaun 73:70 (512 PA)
2000 – Carlos Delgado 123:104 (711 PA)
1999 – Tony Fernandez 77:62 (576 PA)
1996 – Otis Nixon 71:68 (575 PA)
1995 – Paul Molitor 61:57 (598 PA), John Olerud 84:54 (581 PA), Roberto Alomar 47:45 (577 PA) – minimum was 446 PA due to shortened season
1994 – Molitor 55:48 (515 PA), Olerud 61:53 (455 PA), Alomar 51:41 (453 PA) — minimum was 357 PA due to strike
1993 – Molitor 77:71 (725 PA), Olerud 114:65 (679 PA) Alomar 80:67 (683 PA)
1992 – Alomar 87:52 (671 PA), Olerud 70:61 (537 PA)
1990 – Fernandez 71:70 (721 PA)
1987 – Fernandez 51:48 (642 PA)
1985 – Fernandez 43:41 (618 PA)
1979 – John Mayberry 69:60 (541 PA), Rico Carty 46:45 (512 PA)
1978 – Bob Bailor 38:21 (676 PA), Mayberry 60:57 (587 PA)
Note: minimum number of plate appearances in a regular season is equal to (3.1 x 162) = 502

Alomar plays the hero

Monday, June 25, 2007

No one has ever suited up in a Blue Jay uniform that had more career homers than Frank Thomas. At 499, the 39-year-old designated hitter is also just one shy of joining the exclusive ‘500 club’, of which there are only 20 other members. That will certainly be a big home run for Thomas, and will also serve as a unique accomplishment in Blue Jay history.
As a franchise, the Blue Jays have had several big-time home runs. But perhaps the biggest — prior to Joe Carter’s heroics in the ’93 World Series, of course — came off the bat of Roberto Alomar in the 1992 ALCS against the Oakland Athletics. Just how important was that homer? It served as the turning point in the series, putting the Blue Jays ahead three games to one, and more importantly, gave Toronto a boost of momentum that they rode all the way to their first World Series title.
Moment39alomar_58989With the Jays entering the contest with a 2-1 series lead, Game 4 was definitely the pivotal moment in the ’92 ALCS. It didn’t start out well for Toronto, however, as Jack Morris struggled out of the gate and left in the fourth inning trailing 5-1. Toronto was down 6-1 in the eighth, but rallied to score three runs to pull within two heading into the final inning.
With Dennis Eckersley on the mound, the same Dennis Eckersley that saved 51 games in 1992 en route to earning both Cy Young and AL MVP honours, the Jays’ chances looked bleak. Still, Eckersley had already allowed a pair of RBI singles in the eighth before getting out of the jam. After striking out Ed Sprague, Eckersley pumped his fist and pointed his finger while glaring into the Blue Jays dugout.
Little did the 47,732 in attendance know, Toronto would get the last laugh on this day. After Devon White singled and advanced to third on a Rickey Henderson error, Alomar worked Eckersley to a full count before belting the biggest home run — up to that point — in Blue Jays history. Moments after the ball left his bat, Alomar raised his arms in celebration, savouring the key moment in what he later called “the best game I ever played in my whole life”.
With the game tied 6-6 and the momentum now on their side, the Jays would go on to win in the 11th inning thanks to a Pat Borders sac fly. Shortly after, Tom Henke wrapped things up to give the visitors a 3-1 series lead and the confidence they needed to make it to — and eventually win — their first ever World Series title.
Eckersley later acknowledged Alomar’s homer with the following statement: “That’s the one that hurts the most. I got in the car with my wife afterward and cried like a baby. I hadn’t cried that way since I was in Little League.”
I’m sure the Jays hadn’t celebrated that way since Little League, either.

Halladay produces unforgettable season-finale

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In light of Dustin McGowan‘s near no-hitter Sunday afternoon against the Rockies, ‘The 500 Level’ has penned a guest column over at ‘Jays Nest’ reminiscing about Roy Halladay‘s near ‘no-no’ against the Detroit Tigers on the final day of the regular season back in 1998.
‘At 25 years and three months, McGowan becomes the second-youngest pitcher to accomplish the feat, trailing only current Blue Jay ace Halladay, who will take the mound tomorrow in Minnesota hoping to give Toronto its first four-game win streak since last September. Halladay was just 21 years, four months and 13 days old when he took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Detroit Tigers at SkyDome back on September 27, 1998. What was most impressive was the fact that it was just Halladay’s second career start in the majors … ‘
Click here to read more …

The group of seven

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Jim Clancy, Dave Stieb, David Cone, Dave Stieb, Roy Halladay, Dave Stieb.
With a brilliant performance Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre, 25-year-old Dustin McGowan joined that Jays’ group of ‘oh so close’ hurlers who have had a no-hitter spoiled in the ninth inning. Colorado’s Jeff Baker was the culprit on Sunday, lining a single up the middle to open the final frame. McGowan managed to retire the next three hitters though, picking up his first complete game victory in the process.
Stieb_1Stieb, of course, is the most famous in this group since he had three close calls — including two in one week. But perhaps McGowan can take solace in the fact that Stieb, on September 2, 1990, finally sealed the deal, tossing the first and only no-hitter in Blue Jays franchise history …
Having taken something away from his first three near-misses, Stieb noted after the game, “I wasn’t living and dying on every pitch [today] because when I’ve thought about no-hitters in the past it’s always been too soon.” However, that didn’t stop Jays fans from thinking about it as the afternoon rolled along. Despite issuing a trio of walks, Stieb entered the bottom of the ninth inning at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium with his no-hitter intact.
Leading 3-0, the Jays’ right-hander retired pinch-hitter Chris James on a fly out, then got Candy Maldonado to strike out swinging. Following a two-out walk to Alex Cole, Jerry Browne lined a ball to right-fielder Junior Felix, who made the catch to give Stieb his long-overdue no-hitter.

Vernon Wells: future hit king

Saturday, June 23, 2007

With his 2-for-4 performance during Friday night’s 9-8 win over the Rockies, Blue Jays’ center-fielder Vernon Wells has an even 1,000 hits in a Toronto uniform entering action Saturday afternoon. Wells becomes the eighth player in franchise history to reach that milestone, accomplishing the feat in 3,509 at-bats — the fourth-fastest Blue Jay to do so (Shannon Stewart was the fastest — 3,302 at-bats). Here’s a glance at the Jays’ all-time hits leaders …
1. Tony Fernandez, 1583
2. Carlos Delgado, 1413
3. Lloyd Moseby, 1319
4. George Bell, 1294
5. Joe Carter, 1051
6. Shannon Stewart, 1040
7. Damaso Garcia, 1028
8. Vernon Wells, 1000
VernonWells is already the owner of the single-season franchise mark for hits, having banged out 215 of them back in 2003. That broke Fernandez’s mark of 213, which the shortstop set in 1986. Paul Molitor (211), meanwhile, sits at No. 3 on that list.
Keeping (roughly) the same pace he has set over the last two seasons, Wells should become Toronto’s all-time hits leader during the 2010 campaign. Having signed a seven-year contract extension prior to this season, Wells virtually guaranteed himself that record. Even if he doesn’t break it in 2010, he’ll still have another full season before given the chance to opt-out of his current contract.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Alex Rios notched his team-leading 16th home run of the season Friday night, a first-inning solo shot off Jason Hirsh during the Jays’ 9-8 extra-inning win over the Rockies. Though Friday’s homer didn’t come out of the leadoff spot (as Vernon Wells interestingly made his first career start since 2002 in that role), Rios has 12 long balls as the No. 1 hitter this year, the most in the majors in that category.
Through Friday night, Rios has seen action in the leadoff role in 54 of the Jays’ 72 games this season, exactly 75% of the time. Assuming he maintained that pace (which will be difficult when Reed Johnson returns, but still), the right-fielder would hit 27 home runs out of the leadoff spot by the end of the year, which would be quite an accomplishment. In fact, it would be just one short of the mark set by Rickey Henderson, the game’s all-time leadoff home run king. Henderson, perhaps the greatest catalyst of all time, twice managed 28 home runs in the leadoff spot; in 1986 with the New York Yankees; and again in 1990 as a member of the Oakland A’s.
He also managed four homers as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays — that is, after general manager Pat Gillick made a deal for the future hall-of-famer at the 1993 trade deadline. Already possessing one of the most potent offensive lineups in the majors, the Blue Jays welcomed Henderson — a former nemesis — as their new leadoff hitter on August 3. It took 20 games before Henderson notched his first homer in a Toronto uniform, and it fittingly came against his former team — in his first game back. At Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 30, Henderson went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the fifth inning to help lead his new team to a 4-2 win over the A’s.
It could be argued that that was Henderson’s best game as a Blue Jay. Truth be told, it’s debatable whether or not the addition of Henderson improved the Toronto ball club at all. Gillick even later admitted he shouldn’t have made the deal. At any rate though, it was certainly exciting for a lot of Blue Jay fans to see perhaps the greatest leadoff man in the history of baseball suit up for the home team.
10103537btorontobluejays1993worldseriescIn 44 regular season games for Toronto in ’93, Henderson batted just .215 while posting a .356 on-base percentage. That weak effort continued into the playoffs, as the Jays’ new left-fielder went 0-for-6 in the ALCS opener against the Chicago White Sox. For the series, Henderson posted a meager .120 (3-for-25) batting average with a pair of stolen bases and four runs scored.
He fared a little better in the World Series, batting .227 (5-for-22) with a .393 on-base percentage and six runs scored against the Phillies. Perhaps his greatest contribution though, came during his last plate appearance of the series in the ninth inning of Game 6 at SkyDome. Trailing by a run and facing ‘Wild Thing’ Mitch Williams, Henderson drew a walk to open the frame, giving Williams a distraction as he tried to close out the game. After a Devon White fly out to center, Henderson moved up to second base on a Paul Molitor single, which set the stage for Joe Carter.
With perhaps the best view in the house, save for Williams of course, Henderson watched as Carter connected on a 2-2 slider, driving the ball over the left-field fence to produce the greatest moment in Toronto Blue Jays history. By the time Carter reached home plate, Henderson was ready, along with the rest of his teammates, to greet their hero and begin the celebration.

Flag and Sprague

Thursday, June 21, 2007

In light of the flag fiasco at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago, the Star’s Richard Griffin today turned back the clock 31 years to when the infamous — at least in Canada — Rick Monday saved an American flag from being burned on the field during a Dodgers contest on April 25, 1976.
Today I’d like to turn my attention to another famous flag incident — one that Canadians everywhere took great offence to — at least momentarily — back in 1992 …
Maybe the U.S. Marine Color Guard should have been given some slack. After all, the ’92 World Series was the first one to ever feature a Canadian team. Still, when one of the marines walked out onto the field prior to Game 2 with the Canadian flag upside down, more than a few Canucks believed that perhaps it was an intentional move — a deliberate insult to Canada.
061024_92ws_flag_blogThe conspiracy theory didn’t last long, however, and the Marines — in a classy move — requested the chance to redeem themselves in Game 3 on Canadian soil. And that’s all it took. As they walked onto the SkyDome turf during pregame ceremonies, it became apparent that their neighbours to the north were willing to forgive and forget.
However, before the Marines got the chance to make up for their miscue, there was the matter of playing Game 2 in Atlanta. And with millions cheering on the visiting team on television back home, the Toronto Blue Jays did not disappoint. Trailing 1-0 in the series and 4-3 in the current contest, the Blue Jays were faced with their backs against the wall — just three outs away from going down 2-0 in their first ever World Series.
To make matters worse, Jeff Reardon — the game’s all-time saves leader — was on the hill for Atlanta. But, with one out in the ninth, Derek Bell managed to draw a walk. With the pitcher’s spot due up, manager Cito Gaston opted to pinch-hit Ed Sprague. On the surface, the move raised question marks, as Gaston had the left-handed hitting Rance Mulliniks on the bench as well. Had he strictly ‘played the percentages’, Gaston would have of course tabbed Mulliniks to hit against the right-handed Reardon.
Sprague quickly put any second-guessing to rest, however, sending Reardon’s first pitch into the left-field bleachers for the go-ahead two-run homer, giving Toronto the 5-4 lead. Just like that, Sprague became the second player ever to hit a pinch-hit home run to bring his team from behind to win a World Series contest.
That may have also helped Canadians put the ‘flag incident’ behind them.

Slammin’ time

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Frank Thomas made his 497th career homer count on Wednesday night, as the ‘Big Hurt’ slugged a second inning grand slam, helping propel the Blue Jays to a lopsided 12-1 win over the Dodgers. With the blast, Thomas is now seven home runs shy of Eddie Murray (504) for 20th on the all-time list (As an aside, Murray was relieved of his hitting coach duties by the Dodgers last week).
The slam by Thomas — his second of the season — marked the 101st in Blue Jays franchise history. Three of those were of the pinch-hit variety. Let’s take a look …
Jesse Barfield, April 24, 1982 vs. Boston
The first such occurrence came during Toronto’s sixth Major League campaign. Trailing 8-3 in the bottom half of the eighth inning, Bobby Cox sent Jesse Barfield up to pinch-hit for Lloyd Moseby. Barfield greeted Boston reliever Tom Burgmeier by hitting his first homer of the season — a grand slam — that plated Alfredo Griffin, Damaso Garcia and Rance Mulliniks to pull Toronto within one run, at 8-7. Unfortunately, the Jays were unable to score again, falling short for the fourth straight game.
Tony Fernandez, September 4, 2001 vs. New York
The next pinch-hit grand slam came 19 years later, courtesy of Tony Fernandez, who was closing out his fourth and final stint with the Blue Jays. Fernandez was a pinch-hitting specialist in 2001, finishing the season with a franchise-record 16 pinch hits. Though he was forced into several clutch situations that year, it was during perhaps the least clutch situation that Fernandez managed to hit a pinch-hit grand slam. The Blue Jays were up 9-0 against the Yankees on Sept. 4 at SkyDome when he was summoned to hit for designated hitter Shannon Stewart. With one out, Fernandez delivered a round-tripper off future Blue Jay Ted Lilly, scoring Cesar Izturis, Chris Latham and Alex Gonzalez in the process. Like Barfield, the slam marked Fernandez’s first home run of the season. Toronto would go on to win 14-0 against their AL East counterparts, with Chris Carpenter picking up the complete-game shutout victory.
Reed Johnson, July 1, 2005 at Boston
The third pinch-hit grand slam in Blue Jays franchise history occurred during another lopsided victory, this time against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Ahead 5-1 in the top of the sixth, John Gibbons tabbed Reed Johnson to hit for Frank Catalanotto after the Red Sox brought in left-hander Mike Myers. Johnson welcomed the new hurler with a home run, scoring Eric Hinske, Orlando Hudson and Russ Adams. The beneficiary of the Johnson’s blast was, ironically, Ted Lilly, who was now a member of the Blue Jays’ rotation. Lilly picked up the win, as Toronto cruised to a 15-2 victory.