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Come stay informed on the latest Toronto Blue Jays news this offseason! And, as always, The 500 Level will continue to delve into the history of the Blue Jays organization — from the infamous snowy  April day in 1977, all the way to the present day.

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‘Pickoff hat trick’

With the Orioles in town, I took a moment today to reminisce about a very bizarre moment in Blue Jay history. I posted the piece over at Jays Nest (friends of The 500 Level). Check it out …

No sweep for you!

One of the knocks on the Toronto Blue Jays over the past few seasons has been their inability to put together win streaks. This year has been no different. Through the first 11 weeks of the season, the longest win streak the Jays had posted was three games in length — which they have accomplished six times overall this year. Toronto extended that to four games in late June, sweeping the Colorado Rockies at home (June 22-24) and following that up with a win in Minnesota. A month later the club topped that with their longest win streak of the year thus far — a five-gamer from July 21-25 in which they beat Seattle twice and swept the Minnesota Twins at home.

By that time, however, the Boston Red Sox had already put together three separate five-game win streaks. The Sox have also won four in a row twice, and three straight nine times. The New York Yankees, meanwhile, have posted a pair of five-game winning streaks, won six straight on another occasion, and recorded a season-best nine-game winning streak from June 5-14.

ImagesAn issue that runs parallel with lengthy winning streaks, of course, is the ability to put together series sweeps. While the Blue Jays have swept five three-game series (four at home) this year, they have also missed out on four other opportunities. On Thursday night the Blue Jays missed a chance to sweep the Los Angeles Angels, falling 4-3 at the Rogers Centre. The other occasions in which the Blue Jays have won the first two games of a series and failed to close out the three-game sweep include: May 11-13 vs. TB, May 28-30 vs. NY, June 15-17 vs. WAS.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have been on the losing end of a three-game series sweep five times as well this season:

April 20-22 @ BAL
May 1-3 @ CLE
May 4-6 @ TEX
May 8-10 @ BOS
June 29-July 1 @ SEA

To compare, in 1992 the Blue Jays recorded seven different three-game series sweeps. They also swept two four-gamers and five more short two-game mini-series. The eventual World Series champs also ran off several big win streaks, including a season-high eight-gamer to open July. The club also posted a six-gamer, a pair of five-gamers and three more win streaks of four games apiece.

The most impressive accomplishment by the Blue Jays during the ’92 regular season was that they managed to go the entire year without being on the losing end of a series sweep. No team had managed that feat since the 1943 Cardinals, and only four other teams had done so in major league history.    

Youngsters pitching in

With the emergence of youngsters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jessie Litsch, the Blue Jays have enjoyed a number of solid pitching performances in the second half of the season. In fact, entering action against the Angels on Tuesday night, Toronto’s pitching staff leads the majors with a 3.40 ERA since the all-star break. Overall, the club’s 4.11 ERA currently ranks fourth in the American League, and would mark the second-lowest ERA — if the season ended today — that the Blue Jays have posted since 1997.

The lowest ERA Toronto has ever posted in a single season came during the 1985 campaign, in which the club won its first-ever AL East division title. The Blue Jays’ ERA that year was 3.29 — which helped lead to a franchise-record 99 wins.

Dave Stieb led the Toronto pitching staff that year with an American League best 2.48 ERA. Meanwhile, Jimmy Key — in his first season as a starter — posted a 14-6 record and a 3.00 ERA. Doyle Alexander and Jim Clancy recorded ERA’s of 3.45 and 3.78, giving the four primary Toronto starters a combined ERA of 3.10.

Out of the bullpen, Bill Caudill posted a 2.99 ERA in 67 appearances, while newly-acquired right-hander Tom Henke pitched to a 2.03 ERA.   

Seeing double

Led by a 16-hit attack, the Blue Jays cruised to a 15-4 lopsided victory over the New York Yankees Wednesday night. Though none of the 16 hits was a home run, Toronto recorded nine doubles on the evening, matching a franchise record in the process.

Leadoff hitter(?) Matt Stairs collected a pair of doubles, as did Alex Rios and Frank Thomas. Meanwhile, Vernon Wells, Gregg Zaun and Lyle Overbay managed one apiece.

BordersThe only other time the Blue Jays have collected nine doubles in the franchise’s 31-year history came in 1993. On September 19 of that season, Toronto won its eighth straight contest, dispatching the Minnesota Twins, 10-0, at the Metrodome.

Pat Borders led the way with a pair of doubles. Meanwhile, seven other players notched a two-bagger as well. Those included: Devon White, Darnell Coles, Tony Fernandez, Paul Molitor, John Olerud, Roberto Alomar and Ed Sprague. Interestingly, that meant that Joe Carter was the only player in the starting lineup without a double in the game. Carter went 1-for-4 with a single in the contest.

Bonds

And there you have it. Like it or not, Barry Bonds is the new home run king, having launched No. 756 off Nationals pitcher Mike Bascik last night. Without Bud Selig’s invention created to bring back fans following the 1994 work stoppage, the Toronto Blue Jays would never have faced Bonds and, thus, not contributed to the San Francisco slugger’s homer total. However, that hasn’t been the case, as the Blue Jays and Giants have squared off nine times since the adoption of Interleague play in 1997.

And the result? Bonds hit two homers against the Jays, including a game-tying, two-run shot off Josh Towers(No. 747) on June 11 of this year. His other homer occurred at the Rogers Centre (then SkyDome) on June 12, 2002. Already ahead 5-3 in the ninth, Bonds provided an insurance run with a solo homer off Cliff Politte(No. 589). As an aside, that three-game series between the Jays and Giants marked the first time back to Toronto for second baseman Jeff Kent, who was traded by the Blue Jays for David Cone in August of 1992.

In nine games overall, Bonds has gone 9-for-21 (.429) with a pair of homers, three RBIs, five runs scored and 11 walks against the Blue Jays in his career.   

Why do I get the feeling that, should Bonds never hit another home run, the blame will fall on Josh Towers?

The Rocket

With Roger Clemens in town, let’s take a look at The Rocket’s best performances as a member of the Blue Jays back in 1997 & 98 …

T1_clemensAugust 25, 1998 – At home against the Kansas City Royals, Clemens tosses a complete-game, three-hit shutout during a 3-0 Toronto win. His 18 strikeouts on the day set a new Blue Jays franchise record. With the win, Clemens improves to 16-6 on the season, and is well on his way to capturing a second straight AL Cy Young award.

September 7, 1997 – Clemens improves his record to 21-5 with a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Texas Rangers at SkyDome. The Rocket strikes out 14 batters, his second-highest total on the season. Clemens goes on to win his fourth Cy Young award, and his first as a Blue Jay.

July 12, 1997 – After allowing a single run in the first inning during his first game back to Fenway Park, Clemens shuts down the Red Sox for the remainder of the game, which includes a season-high 16 strikeouts — setting a Toronto franchise record. With the 3-1 victory over his former team, the right-hander improves his record to 14-3 on the year.

August 30, 1998 – The Minnesota Twins manage just two singles off Clemens during a 6-0 Toronto victory at SkyDome. Remarkably, it is the third straight complete-game shutout for The Rocket, who allowed just eight hits in 27.0 innings during that span.

Story time

After graduating from McMaster University a couple of years ago, I departed for Ottawa and did an internship with the Ottawa Lynx, the Triple-A affiliate (at the time) of the Baltimore Orioles. It was a great experience, and I got the chance to share a press box with some fine people, including — but not limited to — Brian Morris, Darren Desaulniers and Barre Campbell. There were several highlights that season, including yours truly catching a foul pop up through the window of the press box on the second-to-last game of the season (and then proceeding to do some sort of touchdown dance).

ThomasAnother highlight came during a four-game series in May (2005), in which the Charlotte Knights were in town. That series marked the first time that Frank Thomas had seen action since July 6, 2004. Thomas, who suffered an ankle injury on that date and underwent season-ending surgery, completed an 11-game rehab assignment before rejoining the White Sox.

I was on the field during pre-game activities, and turned to see Thomas emerge from the visitor’s dugout, stopping at the top step. In a moment that seemed eerily similar to a certain movie, Thomas looked out at beautiful Lynx Stadium and wondered aloud, "Is this heaven?" to which I replied, "No, it’s Ottawa."

Okay, that didn’t happen. But Thomas did have a successful return to the field that evening, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a pair of runs scored. The walk, which came in the fifth inning, proved quite interesting. Those in the press box had already counted four balls, yet Thomas remained at the plate. It took a fifth ball before home plate umpire Josh Miller awarded him first base. Thomas, himself, thought he had only received four balls, but that was not the case. A forgotten ball in the dirt accounted for the mysterious fifth ball. Anyways …

During the four-game set, Thomas went 4-for-15 at the plate as the designatedCarter_joe  hitter. "It’s always good to have a Hall of Famer around, even if he’s at three-quarters or half speed," said Knights manager Nick Leyva. "It’s good for the young to see Frank in here at 1:30 every day working on stuff and getting ready and doing what he needs to do to be successful. Hopefully some of it will rub off on them."

Wait a minute, Nick Leyva? Yep, that’s the same Nick Leyva who was seen jumping up and down like a little boy and hugging Joe Carter as the latter rounded third base after launching a World Series-winning homer for the Toronto Blue Jays back in 1993. See … it always comes back to the Blue Jays.

‘The Streak’

The Toronto Blue Jays know a thing or two about Cal Ripken Jr., the ‘Iron Man’ who played in a major-league record 2,632 consecutive games. Ripken was, of course, inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon alongside Tony Gwynn, another player who spent his entire career with one team. On May 29, 1982, the Baltimore Orioles played a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays at Memorial Stadium. Ripken played in the first game, but sat out the second. That would mark the last time he would sit out a game for the next 16-plus years. The following day’s game against Toronto marked the beginning of ‘The Streak’, which would see him play 2,632 straight games until September 20, 1998.

Also impressive was the fact that Ripken played every single inning from May 30, 1982 until September 14, 1987, when he was given an inning off during a blowout loss to … the Toronto Blue Jays, of course.

P1_ripkenCourtesy of SI.com …

"Dad (Cal Sr.) took the responsibility as the manager of the team, he thought it was right to take me out. In actuality when I came off the field after the Blue Jays had hit 10 home runs — a record 10 home runs in a game — we were getting beat very bad in Toronto and I think Dad in the weeks coming up to that thought it was a little bit of a burden that I constantly had to respond… because people started thinking about [my] playing every inning, every game, and there was a certain burden of managing that kind of thing when you came to a new city.

When I came to the bench he asked me, "What do you think of taking an inning off," and I immediately posed the question, "What do you think?" He said, "I think it would be a good thing." And I said, "Fine." And I sat on the bench. Having played in the field so long, naturally, I felt out of place. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I should go in and take a shower or should I sit on the bench. It was a weird sort of feeling."

Thomas now on the other side

Having played 15 seasons at U.S. Cellular Field (Old Comiskey Park) during his time with the White Sox, Frank Thomas must still feel a little weird not going to the home clubhouse. Thomas enjoyed some spectacular seasons as a member of the White Sox, including the 1993 campaign, in which he won the first of back-to-back American League MVP awards. The ‘Big Hurt’ — in his third full season with Chicago — posted a .317 batting average, 41 home runs and 128 RBIs that year to help lead the White Sox to their second-ever AL West Division title. 1993 also marked the only time during his 16-year career with the Sox that Thomas advanced to the ALCS.

And who were their opponents that year? The Toronto Blue Jays, of course. Coming off their first-ever World Series title a year before, the Blue Jays posted a 95-67 record in ’93 to capture the AL East once again and return to the postseason for the fifth time in franchise history. Going into the series, Toronto knew that in order to beat the Sox, they would have to keep Frank Thomas from beating them. In Game 1 it became evident that the Blue Jays did not want to give Thomas anything to hit, as the mammoth slugger recorded four walks to go along with a single during Toronto’s 7-3 victory.

Frank_thomas_white_soxThomas went 2-for-3 with a walk in Game 2, but the Blue Jays came away with another win, this time by a 3-1 margin. Despite having reached base eight times in nine plate appearances over the first two games, Thomas had not hurt the Blue Jays, who headed home with a 2-0 series lead. The White Sox would come away with a 6-1 victory in Game 3 at SkyDome, with the ‘Big Hurt’ going 1-for-3 with a pair of walks, a run scored and an RBI. He posted those same numbers in Game 4, including a game-tying homer off Todd Stottlemyre to help lead Chicago to a series-evening 7-4 win. 

Perhaps the key to Game 5 for Toronto was the fact that they managed to hold Thomas completely in check. Juan Guzman struck out the big man twice, and Duane Ward fanned him in the ninth, as the Jays went on to win 5-3 and take a 3-2 series lead. Back in Chicago, Dave Stewart tossed 7.1 innings of two-run ball — one run coming on a HBP to Thomas — to improve his ALCS record to a remarkable 8-0 and, more importantly, send the Blue Jays to their second straight World Series. Overall, Toronto did, in fact, keep the AL MVP in check, allowing Thomas just one homer and three RBIs for the series. For his part, the ‘Big Hurt’ certainly took what the Jays gave him. Thanks to 12 walks, he managed to post an obscene .593 on-base percentage. However, the Blue Jays were able to shut down the rest of his teammates when it counted. Overall, Thomas — who reached base 18 times — ended up scoring just twice.

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