Here are a few classic comments from the fans in the upper deck of Toronto’s 3-2 win over Tampa Bay on Monday night:
“It’s been a very physical game thus far.” – man to nobody in particular in Section 519, referring to game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final while listening to a walkman. I don’t know about anybody else, but this is one of my biggest pet peeves. If you want to watch/listen to/follow along with the hockey game so badly, why in the hell would you come to the Blue Jays game? He wasn’t paying attention to the game at all, but just sat there transfixed by his yellow Sony walkman with 1988 headphones. Why bother?
“Mmmm…” – same hockey follower after pulling out a processed cheese and Wonderbread sandwich from a Blue Jays souvenir shop plastic bag. Really, really, really gross….
“They should score that umpire’s assistance! Not a hit! COME ON!!!” – Bobby (see FLF of the game), after Sean Rodriguez broke up Brandon Morrow’s no-hitter with an infield single.
“F#$% you Overbay! You’re playing F#$%ing kids ball you moron!” – Pingu (see FLF of the game), after Overbay grounded out to second in the 8th.
“You’re dead now Overbay! You’re in deep trouble! I’m gonna be on your ass the rest of the season!” – Pingu, minutes later. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there was absolutely no chance that Overbay would ever be able to hear his heckles from section 519.
As always, if you have can provide any overheard quotes from the upper deck at a Jays game, feel free to post them in the comment box below or send them to 500 Level Fan.
Baseball is a crazy game. Sometimes things happen that are so bizarre, so extreme, and so crazy that all you can do is simply shake your head. Unlike other sports, when things happen in baseball we still feel shock or amazement. Though players try to be innovative in basketball and hockey, fans have pretty much seen every variation of slam dunk and shootout shot that can be seen.
But baseball is different – the unexpected routinely takes place. Look at what has happened so far this year, only about 1/3 of the way into the season:
– Dallas Braden, with a career record of 14-21, 4.68 ERA coming into this season, throws a perfect game
– Coming into this season there had been 18 perfect games in 130 years, or an average of one every 7+ years. Three weeks after Braden’s gem, Roy Halladay does it again for the Phillies
– The Blue Jays hit six solo home runs in a game, accouting for all six of their runs, the first time that had happened in 90 years
– Angel Pagan starts a triple play and hits an inside-the-park home run in the same game
– A-Rod nearly decapitates Cleveland pitcher David Huff on a line drive, leaving the pitcher unconscious on the mound for several minutes yet without any serious injury
– Kendry Morales breaks his leg after jumping on home plate to celebrate a walk-off grand slam, potentially injuring himself for the rest of the season
But of all the things that have happened this year, the strangest (for me, BY FAR the strangest) happened this afternoon. Bottom of the third in Houston, with nobody out and nobody on, this man hit a home run for the Astros:
That’s right – Gustavo Chacin went deep for the ‘Stros this afternoon.
Again – Chacin hit a bomb.
The Gustavo Chacin. The same Gus who pitched for the Blue Jays from 2004 – 2007. The same Chacin who finished 5th in AL Rookie of the Year voting in ’05, after going 13-9 with a 3.72 ERA for Toronto. The very same Mr. Chacin who became “famous” for a Chacin cologne night in Toronto in 2006.
And the very same Gustavo Chacin who was charged with driving under the influence in 2007, released in 2008, and bounced around the minor leagues for the last few years.
I never thought I would ever lay eyes on the hairless wonder again, but to my surprise Houston signed him, and on May 7th he made his NL debut, over three years removed from his last major league appearance. Including today he has made six appearances, with no decisions and a surprisingly effective 1.86 ERA.
But if there was ever to be a player this season to hit a home run, to have more home runs than players like Chone Figgins, Rafael Furcal, Ken Griffey Jr, Grady Sizemore, and Elvis Andrus combined? I would have bet everything I possibly could have that it would NOT be a man with zero career hits.
I would have guaranteed that it would not be Gustavo Chacin.
The Jays continued their hot start to the season in week seven (May 24 – May 30). After dropping two of three to the Angels in Anaheim to start the week, they rebounded by sweeping away the horrendous Orioles back home, a good way to start off a nine game homestand. The Blue Jays need all of those wins because the going is about to get a lot tougher. The next 24 consecutive games are all against teams that are over .500, giving the club a great chance to prove that they are indeed for real this season.
Here are three things that came out of week seven:
1. Jose Bautista – Home Run Hitting Machine
While many baseball pundits are looking at Shaun Marcum, Vernon Wells, and Ricky Romero as the biggest reasons why the Jays are overachieving to this point, the biggest overachiever of all is still flying under the radar. After Sunday’s game, Bautista has 16 home runs, giving him the outright major league lead and tying his career high. He is showing no signs of slowing down either, if the last week is any indication. Bautista dominated the Angels and Orioles pitching staffs, hitting .333 with 2 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R, and an incredible .565 OBP by drawing 8 walks.
For those who think that his power pace is unsustainable, chew on this: this surge actually began at the end of last season. Bautista slugged 10 HR in September/October of 2009, giving him 26 from that point on. Those 26 HR are more than anybody in baseball over that stretch – including names such as Pujols, Rodriguez, Howard, and Braun. If he even keeps up a portion of his current pace his next stop could very well be Anaheim for the All Star game in July.
2. AL East is Insane
Everybody knew coming into the season that the AL East was the toughest division in baseball, but this is getting ridiculous. Eight teams across the entire league have 29 or more victories on the season, and four of them reside in the AL East. With a record of 30-22, Toronto would be in first place in the AL West, NL East, or NL West, but instead find themselves in third, only one game ahead of Boston who are fourth. With nine straight games on the schedule against Tampa and the Yankees beginning on Monday, the Jays will be getting their first true test against the elite teams of the division. They could be in first or fourth when that stretch is done.
But regardless of how they fare, Toronto has a legitimate argument to make for some kind of realignment or playoff system modification. If the season ended today, Toronto would finish sixth overall in the entire MLB yet miss the postseason. Texas, Philadelphia, and St. Louis – all with poorer records than Toronto – would qualify. One look at scenarios like that makes it very difficult not to cry foul. Maybe adding two additional wild card slots would help take away some of unfairness in the current system. But the chances of that happening? I would put it at 0%.
3. Perfection from the Doc
Technically this is cheating since he no longer plays for the Jays and this is a Blue Jays only feature. But Roy Halladay is still beloved in these parts, and his perfect game on Saturday will be celebrated all season long by Jays fans. The way that he mowed down the Marlins in order (11 K’s, 115 pitches) looked effortless, and seeing him smile at the end of the game brought back fond memories of his time here in Toronto. What made the game even more impressive was that it came after his worst start of the season, an 8-3 shellacking by the Red Sox.
When Halladay came within one out of a no-hitter in his second career start back in 1998, it looked like it was only a matter of time until he threw one. The only thing surprising about his perfect game was that it took him 12 years to finally get it. Unfortunately because of the G-20 summit forcing the Jays to move their series against the Phillies down to Philadelphia, Toronto fans won’t get a chance to truly show him our appreciation both for his time spent here and for his gem. Never-the-less, congratulations Doc!
Junior Felix knew how to make a great first impression. The Cat made his major league debut for Toronto on May 4th, 1989 and promptly swatted the first pitch he saw from Kirk McCaskill into the seats for a home run, becoming the 27th AL player to homer on his first at-bat, and only the 10th to do it on the first pitch. He made news later that season by belting an inside-the-park grand slam at Fenway Park, leading the Jays to victory. Yes, the Cat was taking Toronto by storm, and was even featured in one of the greatest films ever produced – Sky High: The Story of the 1989 Toronto Blue Jays.
When he made his debut in May of 1989, the Blue Jays were in the midst of a dismal start to the season, sitting 10-18 in 6th place in the AL East. While many people point the finger at the hiring of Cito Gaston to replace Jimy Williams at the reason for the turnaround that season, don’t underestimate Mr. Felix. His speed and versatility allowed Toronto to bat him lead-off or ninth, giving Cito numerous lineup options. Sure the Jays had Whitt, McGriff, Fernandez, Gruber, Moseby, and Bell, but Junior Felix became the sparkplug that made the team run. After his call-up to the bigs, the Jays finished the season on a 79-55 run to claim the division.
After a disappointing five game ALCS loss to Oakland, Felix was back in 1990. He hit .263 with 15 HR, 65 RBI, and 13 SB and wrote his name further into Blue Jay folk lore by catching the final out of Dave Stieb’s no-hitter in September. Felix the Cat t-shirts were selling like hot cakes in Toronto. I was only 11 years old so my memory is foggy, but I’m sure that women were throwing themselves at him wherever he went. It looked like there was a real chance that Junior might become a mainstay in the Blue Jay lineup for years to come. Continue reading Blast From the Past – Junior Felix→
Believe it or not, occasionally 500 Level Fan actually spends some time doing research, collecting data, organizing the results, and forming an educated and informed opinion. With the MLB first year player draft coming up on June 7th, this is one of those times. This year’s draft will be the first for the Jays under the direction of new GM Alex Anthopoulos. AA spent much of the offseason revamping the scouting department, beefing it up in hopes of increasing Toronto’s ability to find good, young, and cheap players. The first year draft will be his first real opportunity to use the knowledge he has acquired from this initiative.
So with the draft on the horizon, I thought it would be interesting to look at how Anthopoulos’ predecessors fared in the draft while they were at the helm of the Jays. Now, even a small child can tell you that the draft in any sport is a crapshoot, but baseball is the biggest shot in the dark of them all. The sheer volume of players, rounds, and minor league teams and levels, make baseball drafting an inexact science at best, and a blind dart shot at worst. But that being said, today I am armed with perfect 20/20 hindsight, giving me the ability to see where the Jays messed up and where they didn’t.
To make the study a bit easier, I focused only on Toronto’s first round selections, ignoring subsequent rounds and supplemental draft picks. I placed each first round pick into one of four categories:
Good: These are players who were successful Toronto Blue Jays. Not necessarily All-Stars, but good, solid contributors while wearing the blue bird on the uniform.
Decent: These are players who ended up being fairly successul major league players, but not for the Jays. Technically the draft pick was good, just not for the right team.
Bad: These are players who made the Blue Jays and either were not very good, or outright sucked.
Ugly: First round draft picks who never even made the major leagues.
For every pick that was not classified as “good”, I looked at other players the Jays could have selected in their draft slot but passed over. Of course, as I said, I have 20/20 hindsight, so I know what players ended up being All-Stars or Hall-of-Famers. But this is supposed to be fun, so I took creative license.
The Blue Jays have had three general managers before AA, and while we can effectively close the book as to how Pat Gillick and Gord Ash fared in their drafts, many of the players JP Ricciardi selected are still working their way up through the minors. But I think we can get a pretty good idea whether they’ll make it or not. Enough said – on with the game.
Contestant 1 – Pat Gillick
Tenure: GM from 1977 – 1994, 18 drafts with 18 first round selections
Good – Lloyd Moseby (2nd overall, 1978), John Cerutti (21st, 1981), Ed Sprague (25th, 1988), Shawn Green (16th, 1991), Shannon Stewart(19th, 1992)
Decent – Steve Karsay (22nd, 1990 – was traded for Rickey Henderson), Chris Carpenter (15th, 1993)
Bad – Matt Williams (pitcher, 5th, 1981), Matt Stark (9th, 1983), Alex Sanchez (17th, 1987), Eddie Zosky (19th, 1989), Kevin Witt (28th, 1994)
Ugly – Tom Goffena (25th, 1977), Jay Schroeder (3rd, 1979), Gary Harris (2nd, 1980), Augie Schmidt (2nd, 1982), Greg David (25th, 1985), Earl Sanders (26th, 1986)
There are a lot of things that people hate in life, things that might not seem terrible on the surface but have the ability to nag at you, eat at you, annoy you to the core. Some examples include biting into an apple and finding it to be soft, leaving a game early and missing a miracle comeback by the home team, parking in a no-parking space for less than 60 seconds yet still getting a parking ticket. But of all of those annoyances, nothing angers a guy more than when he bumps into an ex and finds that she is happier without you, much happier than she ever was with you. We take it as a personal insult, as a commentary on ourselves. It is not good.
An extension of the same thing happens in sports, when a player leaves your hometown team and instantly explodes into a successful player (or even a superstar) elsewhere. Toronto sports fans know this feeling all too well, not just in baseball but in all sports. Conor Casey played two matches for Toronto FC, was kicked out the door to Colorado, then promptly exploded to score 16 goals in 24 matches to finish second in the goal scoring race behind Jeff Cunningham, another former TFC player. Ask a Leafs fan about Tuuka Rask, Alyn McCauley, or Brad Boyes and you’ll probably hear a string of curse words directed at upper management. The Jays have a few that have stung over the years as well, most notably 2005 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.
But of all the players to leave, there is nobody that angers me more than Eric F-ing Hinske. You remember Hinske don’t you? He was the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner for the Blue Jays. After a season that saw him hit .279 with 24 HR, 84 RBI, and 13 SB Hinske was the toast of the town, expected to team up with Delgado, Wells, Stewart, and Alex Gonzalez to lead the Jays back to the playoffs. But a funny thing happened to Hinske after he won the ROY. He got fat. He got lazy. He forgot how to play defense. He no longer could hit, either for average or for power. He was so badly out of shape that Toronto sports writers wondered aloud whether or not he actually ate his rookie of the year trophy. The Jays finally tired of him and dumped him on Boston – a division rival no less! – in 2006.
We all know the story from there. Hinske swallowed a horseshoe and became the luckiest player in baseball, maybe even in the history of sports. With very little to offer, Eric went to three consecutive World Series, winning two rings. His luck is chronicled in an article I wrote for TOSports.
This offseason Hinske signed with Atlanta. The Braves were expected to possibly contend this year, but playing in the same division as Utley, Howard, Rollins, Werth, Halladay and the rest of the Phillies, it looked like the Wild Card might be their only chance to reach the postseason. There was little chance that Hinkse was going to come back to haunt me yet again. Until this morning…
Playing in a competitive fantasy baseball league, I found myself slowly but surely falling down the standings, from first to second to third. Needing an offensive boost, I took a look at the free agents available in the pool and sorted by RBI’s. To my shock, suprise, and horror, Eric Hinske floated towards the top. With only 68 AB on the season, Hinske has 20 RBI – a pace that would put him over 145 RBI if projected to a full season. He also has 4 HR and is hitting .368 with an out-of-this-world 1.127 OPS. How is this possible?
Toronto is playing excellent baseball but has a serious lack of depth that might become a large issue the deeper the season becomes. Their current bench (catchers excluded) of John McDonald, Jeremy Reed, and Mike McCoy have COMBINED for 92 AB and produced a .272 avg, 0 HR, and 5 RBI. In other words three players have combined to a produce a fraction of what Hinske has produced on his own.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a plea to Alex Anthopoulos to re-acquire Eric. There is no way that we want Hinske back in town. There is no way that we want him playing, or trying to play, 3B or OF for the 2010 Jays. But he is a living, walking, and breathing vision of everything a Blue Jays fan does want – a productive bench, playoff appearances, and world series rings.
Week Seven (May 17 – May 23) saw the return of interleague play, a time of the season that Toronto hates. Since the advent of interleague play in 1997, Toronto is 13 games under .500 against the weaker National League, only better than Baltimore, Kansas City, and Tampa. At a time of the schedule that is supposed to help AL clubs fatten up their record, the Jays have done the opposite. This year began no different, as they dropped two of three to Arizona.
Though they managed to avoid the sweep on Sunday, the week was not a good one for Toronto. They finished with a 3-4 record, and saw continued struggles from Dana Eveland and Aaron Hill, along with new struggles from Kevin Gregg. Hopefully these are only temporary hiccups to an otherwise incredible season.
Here are three things that came out of week seven:
1. The Revenge of Overbay
The 2010 season hit rock bottom for Lyle Overbay on Monday May 17th. An 0-4 performance and two brutal errors on the same play had fans screaming for blood at the Rogers Centre. Thunderous boo’s and chants of “you suck”, “Lyle Overpaid”, and “We want Wallace” serenaded the first baseman as he ran off the field each inning.
Well, maybe Lyle was due to explode, or maybe the booing woke him up. Whatever the case, he has responded in a big way. In the next six games of week seven, Overbay went 10/25 for a .400 average, with 2 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, and 4 R, rasiing his season average from .181 to .215. While the numbers might not seem elite, he is finally contributing and helping the Jays win. If only he can start to rub off on Aaron Hill…
2. Encarnacion Goes INSANE!!!
Edwin Encarnacion became kind of a forgotten man after his injury in April. The Jays continued to roll right along without him, and with Jose Bautista moving over to third and tearing up the league, many fans were doubting Edwin’s return. But man did he ever announce his presence in a big way!
Playing in his first game in a month on Tuesday, Encarnacion launched a two-run homer against the Twins. He then absolutely destroyed Diamondback pitching over the weekend, crushing three bombs on Friday, and then one each on Saturday and Sunday. Overall, in the six games since his return Encarnacion is hitting .368 with 6 HR, 11 RBI, and 7 R. He is also playing exceptional defense, maybe proving that he does deserve a spot on this club after all.
3. Bye Bye Eveland
What started off as a great story for Toronto ended in disappointment on Sunday as Dana Eveland was designated for assignment. The left-hander was brought on just before camp, and surprised many by pitching well enough to make the team. He started strong out of the gate, winning his first two starts, and sported a 3-1 record with a 3.82 ERA on May 6th. But the wheels fell off in his next three starts, as Eveland surrendered 17 ER in only 9.1 IP, losing all three.
With Brian Tallet, Jessie Litsch, and Mark Rzepczynski all coming off the DL it was up to Eveland to prove that he still deserved a rotation spot. When he didn’t, the Jays had no choice but to release him. It’s hard not to feel sad for the pitcher, especially when he called Toronto the greatest organization he has had the chance to be a part of. There’s a chance he still ends up in Vegas and makes a return appearance with the Jays, but whatever happens, best of luck Dana.
Tough game last night as the Jays couldn’t solve Dan Haren. He dominated Toronto both on the mound and at the plate, pitching 8 IP with 4 ER, 9 H and 8 K, and also going 2-4 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI. But it was a very interesting game for the Jays despite the loss. They smacked six long balls, including three alone for Edwin Encarnacion, extending their MLB HR lead. Bautista also went deep for the 13th time this season, continuing his absolutely torrid pace.
All of those home runs inspired me to take a deeper look into some of the numbers early on in the 2010 MLB season:
6 – Runs scored by the Blue Jays yesterday, all coming on solo home runs. That is the first time that has happened since 1920.
45.5 – Percentage of Edwin Encarnacion’s hits that have been home runs. After launching three yesterday, the 3B now has 11 hits on the season, 5 of them being dingers.
4 – Home runs out of the five hit by Encarnacion this season that have been solo shots. Either the Jays can’t get runners on for his at-bats, or he can’t hit with runners on-base.
64 – Strikeouts this season by Ricky Romero, 2nd most in the AL. A Blue Jay has won the AL strikeout title three times in team history: AJ Burnett (2008), and Roger Clemens (1997 & 1998)
292 – Toronto’s single season strikeout record, set by Roger Clemens in 1997. At his current pace of 9.1 K/9, Romero would need to pitch 282 innings to break the record. Unlikely.
13 – Wild pitches by Ricky Romero, most in the major leagues. A Jay has lead all of baseball in wild pitches twice in club history: Juan Guzman in 1993 (with 26) and 1994 (with 13).
12 – Saves by Kevin Gregg, tied for the lead in the AL. The last Jay to lead the AL in saves was Duane Ward in 1993. The great Tom Henke also won a saves title as a Jay in 1987.
13 – HR by Jose Bautista, one behind major league leader Paul Konerko. Only once has a Jay lead baseball in home runs, Jesse Barfield with 40 in 1986. (Fred McGriff did win an AL HR crown in 1989.)
116 – Wins that the Tampa Bay Rays are on pace for through 42 games. The major league record in a season is 116 (Seattle in 2001, Chi Cubs in 1906). Might be tough to catch them this year…
To this day, Jim Acker remains my second favourite middle reliever in Blue Jays history. Behind the beautiful and outstanding Mark Eichhorn, Acker holds a small piece of my heart all to himself. Maybe it’s the beard, maybe it’s the ferocious stare, or maybe it’s just because I pity him for the way his career unfolded. Either way, the Ack played an integral part in both the Blue Jay glory era, and my childhood.
Acker actually enjoyed two different tours of duty with Toronto. After being selected in the first round of the draft by Atlanta, the Jays stole him in the Rule 5 draft in 1982. From 1983 – 1986 he was a key member of the Blue Jay bullpen, helping them capture their first ever AL East division title in 1985. He didn’t really have a set role on that club, but contributed in so many ways – 7-2 record, 3.23 ERA, 10 saves, best facial hair, and worst control (43 walks to 42 strikeouts).
But despite all that, Toronto broke a piece of my heart by dealing Acker back to Atlanta midway through ’86. While my heart eventually healed (helped a lot by Mr. Eichhorn), it didn’t come fully back until the trade deadline of 1989 when Acker was re-acquired for Tony Castillo and Francisco Cabrera. He dominated down the stretch (1.59 ERA, 24 K in 28.1 IP), and propelled Toronto to their second playoff appearance. Continue reading Blast From the Past – Jim Acker→
It was bound to happen. There were so many aspects of today’s ninth inning that were screaming out for a market correction. The Jays took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th, had the AL leader in saves on the hill, and were facing the worst offense in baseball. Even more – the worst offense in baseball was riding a five-game losing streak and had done nothing worthwhile all day long. It can even be argued that they embarrassed themselves by having to resort to back-to-back bunts in the third inning to score their lone run of the game. Offense like that is bad on a monumental level.
But it became very evident in the 9th that Toronto was not going to win today’s ballgame. Kevin Gregg couldn’t throw strikes. Seattle started getting hits. For the first time this season baseball reverted back to what was “supposed” to happen. Even Ken “Sleepy” Griffey had a hit, the game winning single of all things.
I don’t chalk this loss up to Kevin Gregg falling apart. I don’t foresee this loss starting Toronto’s second annual May collapse. No – this loss is simply the law of averages striking back, hitting Jays fans directly in the nuts. Take the following into consideration:
– Before this season, Kevin Gregg had a career K:BB ratio of 2.26:1. This season it was 4.4:1. The law of averages dictated that more walks should be on the horizon, and today Gregg walked two and struck out zero.
– Similarly, Gregg’s career ERA was 4.10 pre-2010, compared to 1.89 this season. Today? 3 ER in 0.1 IP – law of averages wins again.
– The Jays had won three games in the ninth inning that they had no business winning this season. For a team that is not expected to contend for a championship, logic dictates that by the end of the season they should wind up with a similar number of losses in games they had no business losing. Today was one.
– Seattle had only six comeback wins through the first 40 games, including only one win in 18 games when they trailed in the ninth. For a team expected to contend for the AL West title, that number is too low. Consider today a market correction.
– Ken Griffey Jr. was having one of the worst seasons on record, not only for him, but for anybody. In 93 AB, he was scuffling along with a .183 avg, .449 OPS, 0 HR, and 6 RBI. When he came to the plate in the ninth with the winning run on second, everybody knew it was over. It was the God of Averages that made sure the future hall-of-famer had at least one more moment of glory.