April 24, 2024

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

It seems fitting that the greatest Canadian pitcher in major league history was the first to toss a shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays.

On April 24, 1977, 47 years ago today, Fergie Jenkins, toeing the rubber for the Boston Red Sox, dominated the Blue Jays for nine innings in front of 29,303 fans at Exhibition Stadium. The Chatham, Ont., native limited the Blue Jays to three hits in a 9-0 win.

“This is a super city and a good sports town and I always enjoy coming here,” the 34-year-old Jenkins told Toronto Star reporter Neil MacCarl after the game. “The fans know I’m Canadian and I had the feeling a lot of them were pulling for me.”

According to MacCarl’s game story (Writer’s note: Neil MacCarl was the first winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney award for media excellence), Jenkins needed just 101 pitches – 79 of them strikes – to dispose of the Blue Jays, who were in their first month of their first regular season.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander had “excellent command of his fastball, sinker and slider” and faced just 29 batters, with only one Jay (Alvis Woods) reaching second base.

“The surgeon simply carved ’em up,” said Sox manager Don Zimmer of Jenkins’ performance. “What more can you say about it?”

Well, Milt Dunnell, a revered Canadian columnist and the second winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award, had plenty to say about it.

“It’s quite in order to say that Fergie Jenkins made yellow-billed cuckoos out of our upstart Blue Jays,” Dunnell wrote of Jenkins’ shutout in the following day’s paper. “The yellow-billed cuckoo has a reputation of shyness – of taking it on the lam into the most impenetrable thicket in order to escape human notice. The Blue Jays had no reason to preen in public after Jenkins fired a three-hitter at them yesterday.”

Blue Jays manager Roy Hartsfield had a similar assessment, though in much plainer language.

“I don’t think Mr. Jenkins has lost anything,” Hartsfield told the Associated Press following the game. “He didn’t win all those games by accident.”

Aside from Jenkins, three other future Cooperstowners – Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk – made their Exhibition Stadium debuts that day. Fisk had two singles and two runs and was behind the plate for Jenkins’ masterpiece, while Yastrzemski added a single and an RBI.

Burly first baseman George Scott belted a two-run homer off Blue Jays starter Bill Singer in the seventh inning, while all-star right fielder Dwight Evans added a two-run shot off reliever Jerry Johnson in the eighth.

Jenkins told reporters after the game that he had last played in Toronto as a member of the International League’s triple-A Buffalo Bisons against the Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Stadium in 1962.

“It’s [Toronto] a super city, a great sports city and definitely deserves major league baseball,” Jenkins told the Associated Press.

For the record, Jenkins was not the only Canadian on the field that day. Vancouver native and fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dave McKay was manning third base for the Blue Jays and was 0-for-3 against Jenkins. Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland, who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, was also on the Red Sox pitching staff.

An interesting note at the end of MacCarl’s article indicates that Red Sox backup catcher Bob Montgomery was presented with a copy of Louis Cauz’s book “Baseball’s Back in Town” – which is a history of baseball in Toronto – prior to the game. Montgomery had played for the Red Sox triple-A affiliate Toronto Maple Leafs in 1966 and 1967.

Dunnell also notes in his column that Blue Jays hitting coach Bobby Doerr planned to return to the club when the Blue Jays traveled to Kansas City on the following Friday. If Doerr had’ve been present at this game, there would have been five future National Baseball Hall of Famers with Red Sox links at the ballpark.

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