Never too late to make a deal

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

No longer is it days until the the non-waiver trade deadline.

Only hours remain -- depending upon how early you're up today -- until today's 4 o'clock deadline.

Maybe the Jays can pull off a deal like in 1997 when the Boston Red Sox obtained catcher Jason Varitek and righty Derek Lowe from the Seattle Mariners.

That year, Jays general manager Gord Ash and M's GM Woody Woodward completed a deal which sent Jose Cruz to the Jays, with Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric going to Seattle less than half an hour before deadline.

Then, Woodward phoned Boston's Dan Duquette with the clock ticking. In the afternoon, Seattle had discussed acquiring Heathcliff Slocumb from Boston for either Varitek or Lowe.

When Woodward phoned back to do the deal, it went like this:

Woodward: "So, what were we talking about? Varitek and Lowe for Slocumb."

Duquette: "Ahhhh ... yes."

Woodward: "Okay, done deal."

WHISPERS

The Los Angeles Angels had their eyes on Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett and Cleveland Indians righty Kevin Millwood. They also were interested in the Jays' Shea Hillenbrand to help their offence, which managed just four runs in its past 50 innings before yesterday, including the 18-inning loss to the Jays ... The Red Sox put Manny Ramirez on waivers once before in an attempt to move him and this winter considered dealing him to the New York Mets, so they could sign free-agent Carlos Delgado. Ramirez could be headed to the Chicago Cubs ... The White Sox may move away from Burnett and look for a hitter, what with Frank Thomas likely done for the season. Mike Lowell? ... The Mets are interested in Daryle Ward as they are looking to upgrade offensively at first base over Doug Mientkiewicz.

TRADE WRAP

The Texas Rangers added Phil Nevin from the San Diego Padres for Chan Ho Park on Friday. Park wanted "ace" money, but didn't want the pressure of starting opening day a couple of years back. Advantage Rangers, although pitching help is still needed ... The Baltimore Orioles added Eric Byrnes from the Colorado Rockies for Larry Bigbie, which is an upgrade. Advantage Orioles.

MEMORIES

It seems like only yesterday, actually it was 20 years ago Thursday we woke up in the New York Sheraton ready to tape our ankles to cover the Montreal Expos night game against the Mets.

"You should be covering the Blue Jays -- they have a better chance --not the Expos," the sports editor said into the phone.

At the time, the Expos were in third place, 4 1/2 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals and a game behind the Mets. Meanwhile, the Jays were seven games up on the New York Yankees and were in Baltimore to play the O's at Memorial Stadium.

"Well, get to Baltimore," said the boss. And we were there to see the dawn of a new era for the Jays. The Jays had been through the mill when it came to closers:

Pete Vuckovich had eight saves in 1977; Victor Cruz had nine the next year, Tom Buskey had seven in 1979 and Jerry Garvin had eight in 1980.

Joey McLaughlin managed to save 10 in 1981, Dale Murray closed 11 in 1982, Randy Moffitt had 10 the next year and despite landing free-agent Dennis Lamp, after missing out on Goose Gossage, they didn't find the answer in 1983.

Lamp had nine saves, but Jimmy Key and Roy Lee Jackson led with 10 apiece.

The 1985 season was supposed to be different. The Jays acquired proven closer Bill Caudill -- coming off a 36-save season with the Oakland A's -- by dealing shortstop Alfredo Griffin and Dave Collins to the coast at the winter meetings.

Caudill wasn't the same. One night in Detroit, Jays manager Bobby Cox whispered to catcher Ernie Whitt on his way to the mound to speak to Caudill "why call a change on the first pitch?" Whitt answered that it was a fastball. Cox didn't say much and after ball four, Caudill was gone.

Fast forward to a muggy night in Baltimore, Cox turned to Jays pitcher Tom Henke with the score tied in the ninth. The bespectacled one retired Jim Dwyer and Mike Young on ground balls and struck out Floyd Rayford.

After Damo Garcia homered with one out in the 10th, Henke struck out Wayne Gross, walked Larry Sheets, retired John Shelby on a grounder and Cal Ripken on a fly ball. It was Henke's first win with the Jays.

Two nights later Henke took over from Gary Lavelle with a man on base and a 5-3 lead in the eighth. He retired Sheets on a fly ball, got Young on a ground ball and struck out Gross.

In the bottom of the ninth, Henke went 1-2-3 getting Dwyer and Allan Wiggins on ground balls and fanned Lee Lacy.

He could have been awarded the save, but since starter Ron Musselman only worked 3 2/3 innings, the scorer awarded Henke with the win -- he was that dominant.

So, in the two Baltimore outings he worked four innings, didn't give up a hit and allowed one base runner on a walk, while fanning four.

Caudill led the Jays in 1985 with 14 saves in 67 games. Henke had 13 in 28, but it was clear the Henke era had arrived.

While many point to the 1990 winter meetings, when the Jays acquired centre fielder Devon White, second baseman Robbie Alomar and outfielder Joe Carter in deals with the Angels and the San Diego Padres, Henke's arrival was just as significant.

With Henke and Duane Ward taking over as the setup man in 1988, the Jays turned games into six-inning affairs. If a starter took the lead into the seventh, Ward gobbled up the seventh and eighth and Henke closed the door in the ninth.

The Jays obtained Henke from the Rangers in the compensation draft after the Angels picked Donnie Moore from the Atlanta Braves. Jays scout Moose Johnson suggested Henke and who knows what would have happened had he not.

All he did is save 217 games for the Jays and won a World Series ring.

QUESTIONS

How would you rate Hall of Fame third basemen? Glad you asked: 1. Eddie Mathews, my favourite as a 10-year-old; 2. Mike Schmidt; 3. George Brett; 4. Brooks Robinson; 5. Wade Boggs ... How bad was the hitting (or how good was the pitching) in the Jays 18-inning win over the Angels? The bullpens combined to go 27 up, 27 down in extras. The two teams hit 18-for-120 (.150). Of the 18 hits, two were for extra bases , neither were homers. A total of 27 men struck out and there were 462 pitches. Biggest collars: Garrett Anderson and Gregg Zaun, who each went 0-for-7.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE

San Francisco Giants' Jason Christiansen on winning an 11-inning game at Wrigley Field that did not end until 1:16 a.m. because it was delayed 2:49 by rain: "I was looking up and it was a quarter to one, I was on the mound and I should have been at a bar somewhere making last call."


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