For the past 18 years, the Toronto Blue Jays have been a reluctant member of an unenviable club in Major League Baseball. Since the wild-card era began in 1995, only three teams – the Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, and Pittsburgh Pirates – have failed to reach baseball’s expanded playoffs.
Over that span, and indeed since Joe Carter touched ‘em all in 1993, there have been glimmers of hope but no real breakthrough in the uber-competitive American League East.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos set out to change that following a dismal 73-win season in 2012. Recognizing that traditional powers New York and Boston are currently in a transitional phase, Anthopoulos oversaw a remarkable, rigorous overhaul of the Blue Jays roster.
A blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins brought in shortstop Jose Reyes, and pitchers Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson and brought on comparisons between Anthopoulos and Pat Gillick, the architect of the great Blue Jays clubs in the early 1990s. Anthopoulos then signed Melky Cabrera, the 2012 All-Star Game MVP who was later suspended for PED use and missed out on the San Francisco Giants’ World Series run.
It’s no secret that athletes often speak in clichés. But when members of Canada’s national baseball team talk about how close the team is, and how fond they are of each other, you can tell they are serious.
Canada’s best ball players get together only every three or four years. The players love the experience and the time together, though there has yet to be an on-field breakthrough at the World Baseball Classic. Canada again missed out on the second round of the tournament following a heartbreaking 9-4 loss to the United States in Phoenix on Sunday.
On paper, this was supposed to be one of the best teams Canada has assembled for the event. But the loss of major-league caliber players like Brett Lawrie, Russell Martin, Jesse Crain and Scott Diamond became too much of a hurdle to overcome. Still, the Canadian team, in its gritty Canadian way, battled to the end and come within five outs of upsetting the mighty American team on its home turf. The 2013 Canadian will be remembered for that near upset – and its headline-grabbing brawl with Mexico on Saturday.
PHOENIX – After Saturday’s brawl with Mexico, Canada didn’t quite have enough fight left for the United States. Canada came close – five outs away – from knocking off the United States on its home turf, but came up short.
Canada lost a heartbreaking World Baseball Classic decision to the U.S., 9-4, in a winner-moves-on game on Sunday at Chase Field. The final score is not at all indicative of the way the Canadians played, or how close and tense the game was.
Consider, the Americans did not have a lead until the eighth inning and scored seven runs in the final two innings to put the game away. Canada took a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning and turned the game over to their Milwaukee Brewers bullpen combination of Jim Henderson and John Axford.
“If you have a game plan, you draw it up just like that,” manager Ernie Whitt said. “You have your best pitchers closing out the game for you. But, again, sometimes it doesn't always come the way you expect it to.”
PHOENIX – Canada may have found its newest baseball folk hero on Saturday, the new Stubby Clapp, if you will. Even before he was partially responsible for causing a massive brawl, catcher Chris Robinson was winning the hearts and minds of Canadians.
And if there was any doubt that the World Baseball Classic doesn’t matter to the teams or players, those doubts vanished in the top of the ninth inning of Saturday’s game between Canada and Mexico.
With Canada leading a must-win game 9-3, Robinson bunted down the third-base line for a single. As soon as Mexico third baseman Luis Cruz picked up the ball, he motioned to pitcher Arnold Leon to hit the next batter.
Rene Tosoni came to bat for Canada. Leon threw two pitches near him before finally plunking him in the back.
Then chaos ensued.
Tosoni made a move toward the mound which prompted both dugouts and bullpens to empty, prompting an all-out brawl.
PHOENIX — Out pitched. Out hit. Out managed. And barring a miracle, out of the tournament.
To say Canada’s 2013 World Baseball Classic debut was a disaster would be putting it lightly. Canada was embarrassed by Italy, succumbing to the mercy rule after eight innings in a 14-4 loss. Canada’s WBC hopes unraveled quickly against the surprising Italians, who are now 2-0. Italy is almost assured of advancing to the second round for the first time, while Canada has faint hope of moving on.
“We just got beat. They came up with some key hits that really kind of hurt,” Canada manager Ernie Whitt said.
Yes, Italy had some key hits. It had a lot of hits. Small hits, big hits, 17 hits when it was all said and done. Canada’s pitchers looked helpless against the Italian hitters, a mix of a few major leaguers and lot of players few have heard of. Canada used six different pitchers and all but one – righty Dustin Molleken – gave up at least two runs.
PHOENIX – If you can believe it, Canada is ranked sixth in the world baseball rankings, well ahead of such baseball factories as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. For reference, Canada is ranked fifth in the world hockey rankings.
That impressive ranking is mostly a result of some fine performances in world competition – a gold medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games and a bronze at the World Cup in 2011. But when Canada’s major-leaguers take the field together, success has been hard to come by. The Canadian team assembled for the 2013 World Baseball Classic has a chance to change that.
Canada opens the tournament on Friday against Italy in the third rendition of the (supposed to be) best-on-best tournament. Canada has yet to advance out of the first round of the event, finishing ninth in 2006 and 12th in 2009.
TORONTO – As Canada’s biggest city, with a crowded pro-sports market and dozens of other entertainment options, it’s difficult for the Argonauts, and indeed the entire CFL, to steal the spotlight in Toronto.
In October, a local paper even ignored the team altogether when discussing the poor play of Toronto teams in recent years.
What a difference a month makes. On Sunday night, in front of a boisterous, pro-Toronto crowd of 53,208 at the Rogers Centre, the Toronto Argonauts captured the 100th Grey Cup thanks to a 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders.
There’s no telling if the buzz generated from a successful Grey Cup week, capped with the home team winning the title will last in Toronto. But for at least one night, the city belonged to the Argonauts.
It was something Argos receiver Mike Bradwell never thought he would see.
“This is incredible,” the Toronto native said about winning a title with his hometown team. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This place was so loud, the crowd was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it.”