Tagged: June

Vernon Wells: future hit king

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.

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Rickey

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

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

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.

Jeff Kent: back where it all started

Though it seems like ages ago, Jeff Kent once called the Rogers Centre home. Well, it was the SkyDome then, and Kent was in his first season in the big leagues, having cracked Toronto’s opening day roster out of Spring Training in 1992. Prior to that, he had blistered his way through the Jays’ minor-league system, despite being taken in the 20th round (521st overall) of the 1989 draft.

Kentbio02
With Kelly Gruber seemingly always injured during the ’92 campaign, Kent received more and more playing time, eventually taking over the everyday job in early June. However, it would be short-lived. On August 28, general manager Pat Gillick shipped Kent and outfielder Ryan Thompson to the New York Mets in exchange for David Cone.

Gillick was lauded for the trade. More than anything, it showed his desire to win immediately, which Stephen Brunt noted in his book, ‘Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball’. “By acquiring Cone, Gillick sent a message to his players,” said Brunt. “Already they had one of the highest payrolls in the majors, but they were willing to spend more if it was necessary to get to a championship.”

Still, what seemed like a one-sided deal at the time, certainly ended up benefiting more parties than just the Toronto Blue Jays. Brunt wrote back in 1996 that Kent “might someday develop into a low-end major league regular,” adding, “There were a hundred guys like Kent and Thompson in and around the American and National Leagues.”

With the advantage of hindsight, we can now say: A low-end regular, Kent did not turn out to be. In fact, over the last 15 seasons he has established himself as perhaps one of the best offensive second basemen of all-time. From 1997-2005, Kent managed at least 20 home runs and 100 RBIs in eight of nine seasons, including the 2000 campaign, in which he hit a career-high 33 homers and collected 125 RBIs as a member of the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, he batted .334/.424/.596 that season en route to beating out teammate Barry Bonds for the National League MVP award.

What does this mean? Likely, Kent would have put up those numbers as Toronto’s second baseman after Roberto Alomar bolted following the ’95 campaign. Would the Blue Jays have won the World Series without Cone? We’ll never know.


“Cone would pitch very well down the stretch—very well, but not spectacularly, compiling a record of 4-3 with a 2.55 ERA,” said Brunt of the right-hander’s performance following the trade in ‘92. “But there’s no doubt that his acquisition did provide a confidence boost for the team just at the time when, in other years, they might have been ready to fold.”
For what it’s worth, Cone went 1-1 with a 3.22 ERA (22.1 IP, 8 ER) in four postseason starts, with the Blue Jays winning three of those contests.

Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this whole scenario, is the fact that Kent came out on the losing end. Though he received a World Series ring for his contributions during the ’92 regular season, the opportunity to experience winning a world championship was taken away from him on that fateful August 28. Now, nearly 15 years later, Kent has still yet to taste victory on the biggest stage, a fact he is not shy to discuss. "I can’t be No. 1 with an MVP trophy,” Kent once stated. “I could be No. 1 with the championship ring and the championship trophy on my fireplace.”

Happy belated Father’s Day

Baseball has long been a family affair. According to Baseball Almanac, more than 100 father-and-son combinations have made it to the big leagues. Check out how the Toronto Blue Jays have factored into this family affair:

Roberto Alomar, 2B

– Perhaps the best second baseman of his time, Robbie won five gold gloves in his five seasons with the Blue Jays (1991-95), earning two World Series rings in the process. His father, Sandy Alomar, played in the big leagues from 1964-78 as a second baseman, and assumed a coaching career following his retirement. Meanwhile, brother Sandy Jr., was a catcher for 19 seasons in the majors. He signed a minor-league contract with the Mets at the start of the ’07 campaign, and is currently playing for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs.

Jesse Barfield, OF
– A star in the outfield for the Blue Jays in the 80’s, Barfield currently has a son in the Major Leagues. Josh Barfield is now in his second season, and his first as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

Charlie Beamon
– Played eight career games for the Blue Jays (all in 1981). His father, Charlie Sr., also enjoyed a very short big-league career as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. From 1956-58, he appeared in 27 games (five starts) as a pitcher.

Pedro Borbon Jr., LHP
– Pitched for the Blue Jays from 2000-02, going 4-7 with a 4.93 ERA in 146 relief appearances. His father, Pedro Sr., was a right-handed reliever who played from 1969-80.

Jeff Burroughs, OF
– Closed out his career with the Blue Jays, signing as a free agent prior to the 1985 season. He hit .257 in 86 games that year. His son, Sean, has played six seasons in the majors. Three days ago, however, he was released by the Seattle Mariners.

Joe Coleman, RHP
– Went 2-0 with a 4.60 ERA in 31 relief appearances for the Jays in 1978. His father, Joe Sr., was a starting pitcher in the majors from 1942-55.

Jose Cruz Jr., OF
– Hit .250 with 122 home runs and 355 RBIs for Toronto from 1997-2002. His father, Jose Cruz Sr., was a big-league outfielder from 1970-88.

Mike Darr, RHP
– Made one career start for the Blue Jays in 1977, allowing five runs in 1.1 innings of work. His son, Mike Sr., played three seasons with the Padres, but died tragically in a car accident in 2002.

Cecil Fielder, 1B
– Opened his Major League career with the Blue Jays, batting .243 with 31 home runs and 84 RBIs from 1985-88. His son, Prince, is in his second full season with the Brewers. His 25 home runs currently lead the National League.

Darrin Fletcher, C
– Closed out his career with the Jays, batting a combined .276 from 1998-2002. His father, Tom, was a left-handed pitcher who made one career appearance in the big leagues – a 1962 contest as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

Steve Grilli, RHP
– Made one career appearance with Toronto in 1979, working 2.1 scoreless innings. His son, Jason, is in his second full season as a pitcher for the Tigers.

Bobby Mattick, MGR
– Managed the Blue Jays during the 1980 and 1981 seasons, compiling a record of 104-164 (.388). His father, Wally Mattick, played for the Chicago White Sox during the 1912-13 seasons, and another eight games for the Cardinals in 1918.

Dave McKay, INF
– Was one of the original Blue Jays, playing three seasons with the club (1977-79), during which he batted .223 overall. His son, Cody, was a member of the Athletics in 2002 and the Cardinals in 2004.

**** Schofield, SS
– Was a member of the Blue Jays during the 1993 and 1994 seasons. His father, **** Sr., debuted as an 18-year-old shortstop with the Cardinals in 1953. Overall, he played 19 years in the big leagues.

David Segui, 1B/DH
– Played one season with Toronto (1999), batting .316 with five homers and 13 RBIs in 31 games. His dad, Diego, was a Major League pitcher from 1962-77.

Justin Speier, RHP
– Spent 2004-06 in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, going 8-10 with a 3.18 ERA in 185 appearances. His dad, Chris Speier, was a middle infielder for five different teams from 1971-89.

Ed Sprague, 3B
– Played with the Blue Jays from 1991-98, batting a combined .245 with 113 home runs and 418 RBIs. His father, Ed Sr., was a right-handed pitcher in the big leagues from 1968-76.

Todd Stottlemyre, RHP
– Pitched for Toronto from 1988-94, compiling a 69-70 record and a 4.39 ERA in 206 games (175 starts). His father, Mel Stottlemyre, pitched for the New York Yankees from 1964-1974. Meanwhile, his brother, Mel Jr., pitched in 13 games for the Kansas City Royals in 1990.

Jayson Werth
– Was a member of the Blue Jays during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, batting .234 in 41 games overall. His father, Dennis, was a catcher for the Yankees and Royals from 1979-82.