Blue Jays: Who Follows José Bautista onto the Level of Excellence?
When you think of elite pitchers in the Blue Jays history, two names come to mind: Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay. But there is one other name that is just behind them and that is Jimmy Key. Key was a third-round pick by the Blue Jays in the 1982 MLB Draft and made his debut 22 months later.
Key did not have quite the adversity that Encarnación had to start his career because he was good right from the start. In his rookie season, Key made 63 appearances out of the bullpen, which ended with 10 saves. By his sophomore season, Key would be moved to the rotation for the duration of his Blue Jays career all they way until his final season in baseball in 1998.
During that first year as a starter, he finished the season with a 14-6 record with a 3.00 ERA that led to an appearance in the All-Star game. This would be the first of eight straight seasons where the lefty would finish with at least 12 wins. Just once as a starter did Key ever have an ERA higher than 3.88, including when he led the American League in 1987 with a 2.76 ERA and 1.057 WHIP that ended with him finishing second in Cy Young Voting.
During the 1992 World Series, Key was one of the best pitchers in the series as he picked up the third and fourth wins for the Blue Jays in the series. In Game 4, with the Blue Jays up 2-1 in the series and in front of a packed Skydome, Key gave one of his best pitching performances.
The 31-year old veteran got within four outs of a complete game, surrendering just one run on five hits and no walks to lead the club to victory. Three days later, Key would come into the game out of the bullpen in the bottom of the tenth inning with one out and induced a pair of groundouts to end the inning. He was able to get the first two outs in the bottom of the eleventh before being relieved by Mike Timlin who had the famous save by getting Otis Nixon to ground out on an attempted bunt.
Key is tied with Stieb for the lowest ERA among starting pitchers in team history, while leading all starting pitchers in WHIP and ranking fourth in the franchise in wins and games started.