On Wednesday, April 9, 2008, as the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Oakland Athletics, attendance was a meager 16,102 at Rogers Center. I was on a first date with a cute girl, a serious baseball fan from Japan. It was her first time going to a Major League Baseball game, and it was my last time watching Dustin McGowan pitch. Normally a 500 level dweller, but looking to impress, I purchased tickets in the 100 level. Our seats were in row 13, aisle 115, right by Mr. Overbay and within decent sight range of McGowan’s new lamb chops.
The brilliance of Harry Leroy Halladay and the hype surrounding Allan James Burnett had pushed the emergence of Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and underdog Jesse Litsch somewhat to the background in 2007. But with each young starter having established himself as part of the rotation that season, the future looked bright, indeed. And so it still was on that crisp Spring evening.
He started strong and struggled a little in the 4th and 5th innings.
“He’s young, but has a lot of talent,” I assured my seatmate.
Not quite a quality start, but a respectable one, walking three and striking out seven, allowing just two runs over five innings in a no-decision. The Jays would ultimately lose 6-3. But despite the loss and some less than culturally sensitive words thrown by hecklers in the direction of the Athletics Hawaiian (and Japanese-American) catcher Kurt Suzuki:
“You’re not even Japanese, Suzuki,”
the game, like every trip to the ballpark, was enjoyable in its own way.
While McGowan didn’t get the win, I did get the girl, with whom I would return to the Rogers Centre when the Jays took on superstar and occasional comedian Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners.
She especially enjoyed that game, from where we sat in right field to be closer to the “Hercules” of Japanese baseball.
I likewise would have soaked up every one of 101 pitches thrown by Dustin McGowan that April 9, had I the slightest inkling that it might be the last time I would see him pitch live. All that power, along with his considerable arsenal of pitches, were analysed in poignant fashion at Baseball Analysts.
What hope Jays fans had for McGowan would be somewhat dashed three months later when it was announced he would have season-ending surgery on a frayed labrum in his shoulder. His career, and the hopes it roused, were further threatened when in July, 2009, another surgery was announced, this time on his knee to repair cartilage damage.
The bright lights that once shone upon the right-hander all but burnt out, when, in June of 2010, news broke that McGowan would undergo season ending surgery to fix a torn rotator cuff. In the realm of the ridiculous, the McGowan situation and the possible role the now 29-year-old might play, if he does make a return to the Jays roster this year, is entertainingly measured at Getting Blanked
In terms of his roster status with the Jays, as May 27 bleacher report article indicates, a decision must be made within 30 days of the end of extended spring training, June 8. He would have to clear waivers, in order to qualify himself with a Jays minor league outfit OR……… re-join the Blue Jays and its active 25-man roster in Toronto for the first time in about 1000 days.
The most improved Blue Jay of 2007 was once thought to have possessed the 4th best fastball in Major League Baseball.
His cutter was recently clocked at 95 mph. Not bad for a guy who’s looked deep into the abyss of a baseball-less future.
CAMPECHE, Mexico – Across the street from El Estadio Nelson Barrera, where Fernando Valenzuela was thought to be discovered, from my bedroom in the Mexican family home I stay, through my laptop and the MLB online stream, it was a thing of beauty to watch the final home game of Cito Gaston and all the bells and whistles that came with it.
A speech from his old roommate Hank Aaron, glowing words from champion Blue Jays Paul Molitor, Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, along with a standing ovation from a packed “SkyDome” and a single tear from a grateful Gaston, conjured the collective joy last felt in 1993.
It was a thing of nostalgia to realize how his leadership of our dear ball club and his presence in our beloved city interconnected with so many great memories from childhood: like game 6 of the 1992 World Series when we leapt out of our seats and ran onto the field to celebrate via Jumbotron with our Jays in Atlanta. A friend had gotten overexcited as the gates opened earlier that night and disappeared in the crowd, charging up to the 500 level, never to be seen again.
It was a last call with Cito, the closing time on the last three seasons of ball games I attended or logged by TV in varying states of elation, frustration, and drunkeness . It was time for him to go, but as a hard man of steely nerve, he is a hard man not to respect, unless you get into the Bob McCowan v. Cito Gaston controversy of yesteryear.
In spite of the near incomprehensible fall from grace of both Adam Lind and Aaron Hill — see .305 and .286 BA. (2009) to .237 and .205 for Lind and Hill respectively, 2010 was the most exciting season of Blue Jays baseball since 1993. Motherload of slumps and all, Lind-Hill still managed to combine for49 dingers.
The team statistics speak for themselves in aesthetically pleasing fashion:
595 extra base hits (team record)
.454 slugging % (mlb leader)
257 team dingers (mlb leader)
54 Bautista dingers (mlb leader)
7 players with 20+ dingers
4 pitchers w/ 10+ wins
Had we maintained an above .500 W-L record through interleague play, as opposed to a dismal 9-17 mark, we would have fought for the wild in September. It was that close.
The bullpen often seemed shaky with a seeming inability to nail down saves i.e. preserving wins for our starters.
0/2= 0% Brian Tallet
0/2= 0% Scott Downs
2/4= 50% Sean Camp
4/8= 50% Jason Frasor
37/43= 86% Kevin Gregg
That’s 16 games the Jays led late in the game, almost all of which were lost. In an ideal baseball world, without an interleague meltdown, where our bullpen had been perfect, we would have amassed a dominant and best ever 100- 62 record, 1 win better than the 1985 squad with Tom Henke as closer. Not the most likely scenario since few teams have converted 100% of save opportunities.
What shocked me is that the Jays finished the season a respectable 5th place in MLB with 45 saves converted. But I would sooner tempt a 53-year-old Tom Henke out of retirement than endure the torture of another season of K-Gregg’s semi-calculated melodramatics: all those BB’s to go for the easiest possible outs.
Whoever next year’s closer, with three of our top four 2010 starters (Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil) returning a year wiser, and Kyle Drabek, Mark Rzepczynski, Jesse Litsch and Brad Mills battling for spots, with Dustin McGowan just maybe on the mend, a full season of opportunity for T-Snyde, Arencibia, and Escobar, a return to form by Lind and Hill, and anything near a repeat season from Bautista; the future looks bright. Then again, the future always shines bright for the Toronto Blue Jays. Every year, we are one year closer to the next time we win another World Series.