2001 was a very bland year for our Blue Jays. A space odyssey it was not. It seemed to be another of those pesky “can we do anything right” types of scenarios. Enter a fan favourite to run the ship after Jim Fregosi was let go. ‘ello to Buck Martinez! A decent broadcaster and still owner of one of the best double plays I have ever witnessed. He is a feel good story and will be even more feel good if he can get the likes of Vernon Wells Jose Cruz Jr., Tony Batista, Carlos Delgado and the rest of the offence to light up the scoreboard because if Esteban Loaiza is your opening day starter…well that’s just scary.
Now this Home Opener is different. It is the only one that wasn’t played at the SkyDome but rather in the cozy confines of Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a nice gesture although the stadium, at that time, was less than ideal for a major league game…heck 19,000+ decended upon the stadium and that amount packed the place. We were to take on a Texas Rangers team led by Rick Helling…and I thought Loaiza was a tough sell as a number one starter…yikes!
Date: April 1, 2001
Location: Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Game: Texas Rangers vs. YOUR Toronto Blue Jays
Weather: 86F with no sign of rain…muggy though…
As I glance up and down the lineup of the Rangers I see Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, Andres Galarraga and Ken Caminiti. At the time that was a pretty formidable line up of hitters…and they would be facing a former teammate to boot (why we gave up Michael Young for this doorstop will forever haunt my dreams). We rolled out a decent hitting team and Loaiza was on his game. With 7 innings pitched of 8 hits, 1 earned and 9 Ks Loaiza gave us the chance to rock the Rangers and rock them we did.
Helling went 6 and gave up 4 earned but my favourite line was from the next pitcher in, Mark Petkovsek: 0 innings, 4 earned, on 4 hits. Shannon Stewart led the way for us going 3-5 with a home run and 3 RBIs. Batista added a 2 run shot and the “home” team kicked the Rangers right in the star 8-1. This ran our Home Opener record to an astonishing 20-5! Now that is pleasing the home crowd I must say.
That was one of few noteworthy achievements as the Jays gave the division to the Yankees again and handed the Red Sox second place by going 80-82 (the other being the 2nd cycle hit in the history of the Blue Jays franchise…by Jeff Frye of all people). The fielding was average or below, the hitting was streaky and the pitching was just medicore. I was surprised they pulled out 80 wins.
It is starting to sound repetitive isn’t it? Stop gap veterans and horrid drafting leading the team further into oblivion. Was there any way that 2002 would allow them to rise up and be relevant again? We will see.