Yeah 1995 was a train wreck kids. It is normal for teams to fall off a bit after winning it all. Age, injuries, contract decisions, they all lead to changing of the guard. The Blue Jays desperately tried to keep a good core together for ’95 but by 1996 they were in full blown rebuilding-on-the-fly mode. I am a proponent of letting the team tank to gain draft position, to acquire prospects for aging players and whatnot. Gord Ash, try as he might, thought the team needed to be tweaked and not overhauled. This gave us the glorious 1996 outfield of aging Joe Carter, aged Otis Nixon and who-the-heck-is-he Robert Perez (platooning with old fogie Juan Samuel). Yikes! Also gone was Roberto Alomar, replaced by Tilson Brito (remember Mr. Brito? good memory old man). Oh and don’t forget Charlie O’Brien catching. He may have been aged but it was he who helped develop the hockey style rearguard masks we see today.
Put all that with Frank Viola (gone by June), Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen along with Woody Williams and Erik Hanson (amongst a bevy of others) as your starters and a bullpen with Mike Timlin as closer and you have yourself an aging and yet somewhat promising 4th place 74-88 team. It was a year of transition. A year of little hope. How did that translate to the Home Opener?
Date: April 9, 1996
Location: The SkyDome, Toronto, ON, Canada
Game: California Angels vs. YOUR Toronto Blue Jays
Weather: yeah I got nuthin’.
If there is one thing the Blue Jays have going for them heading into their 20th Home Opener is the fact that they seem to kick butt during their first home game of the season. Could Pat Hentgen and the ‘Who’ Jays take out power armed Mark Langston, CF Jim Edmonds, RF Tim Salmon, DH Chili Davis and the rest of the California Angels? You betcha. Why? Because of the highly underrated (at the time) Hentgen who had himself one heck of a day. He probably saw the mess that was the offence and decided to take matters into his own hands.
With the helpful experience of O’Brien (along with Charlie’s 3 RBIs) Hentgen would go a full 9, striking out 6, walking 3 and giving up a mere 5 hits (2 to Mr. Davis) to win the game 5-0. Complete game shutouts were becoming rarer and rarer and here was one of our stalwarts pitching one of his best games ever. It would be the springboard for a Cy Young Season…the first in franchise history.
This team had its moments but when all was said and done there was no cohesion. The fan base, still ticked off at the strike a couple seasons ago, brought only 36, 616 to the home opener. It was a doomsday sign to say the least. Hopefully when 1997 rolled around then the last two season would have been a hiccup in an other wise great ascent to baseball heights by an expansion team…a team destined to be great for years to come…right? Right? Yeah I know kids…we’re still waiting.