Every time you think you’ve seen the best of Jose Bautista, he turns around and then gives you a little something more.
With each passing week, Bautista makes a play, gets a hit, draws a walk, does something to make the Blue Jays more competitive and more interesting. It has been a very long time — maybe back to Vince Carter, maybe back to Doug Gilmour is his heyday — in this city of non-contenders to see a Toronto athlete who is this much above the rest.
The other night against Cleveland, playing a position he’d rather not play, Bautista had his own Brooks Robinson moment, going behind the bag at third base, falling down, getting up and throwing out an Indians runner from almost short left field.
It’s one thing to be leading the majors in home runs and walks and OPS and just about everything offensively, it’s another to be astounding in the field, making the kind of highlight play that would be shown on a career- ending Hall of Fame film.
Bautista heads to the all-star game first in slugging, home runs, walks, OPS and second in batting in the American League, as well as second in runs scored. What else is he supposed to do?
With him, you just don’t know. The discovery continues and what a discovery this happens to be.
THIS AND THAT
To put Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, all of them with the New York Yankees, into some kind of Canadian perspective, consider this: Tony Fernandez leads all Blue Jays hitters with 1,583 hits while Tim Wallach had the most Montreal Expos hits with 1,694. Fernandez would have had to play eight more seasons in Toronto and deliver 180 hits a year in order to surpass the 3,000 mark. In all, the career hit leaders of 17 big league franchises do not have the number of hits Jeter has managed as a Yankee, and what a way and day to accomplish it ... Major League Baseball needs to take a serious look at its all-star game when Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera have all declined to attend, for any number of reasons ... Sunday essay question: Is the umpiring in baseball as bad as it appears to be, or are the television replays and angles just that definitive? ... David Ortiz has that mean look. Then we saw him fight. We can never think of Big Papi as looking mean again ... If Josh Hamilton never tosses another ball to a fan, it will be understood. But he says he will continue to do so. And good for him ... When a puck killed a young fan in Columbus years ago, the solution was to put up netting to protect the fans — but also impair their vision in some way. Here’s hoping baseball does nothing similar in this tragic case ... The best name in racing on the pole Sunday in Toronto: Will Power ... If Milos Raonic flew to Vail, Colo., for his hip surgery, he went there to see the world famous surgeon, Dr. Marc Phillippon, who has worked on Mario Lemieux, Greg Norman and Priest Holmes among others in the past.
HEAR AND THERE
The Blue Jays have the fewest home victories of any team in the American League. And only the Houston Astros — who actually won a series at the Rogers Centre — have won fewer games at home in the big leagues than do the Jays. Which brings up the old chicken-egg argument: You can’t win at home if you don’t draw more fans and you can’t draw more fans if you don’t win at home. Bottom line: The division leaders in baseball have between 26 and 33 wins at home as of Saturday. The Jays are nowhere close with just 19 wins ... So, Mike Commodore has kicked around the NHL for parts of eight seasons and five different teams. How come he’s just figured out now he wants to wear 64 on his back for the Detroit Red Wings? As in Commodore 64 ... Funny and ironic jerseys are apparently in: Seen at a recent Los Angeles game, a fan wearing a Dodgers jersey with the name Chapter on the back and No. 11 ... Anybody who watched the Vancouver-San Jose series and traded for Dany Heatley has to be a little crazy or a little desperate. I know Chuck Fletcher, the GM of the Minnesota Wild, and he’s neither of those things.
SCENE AND HEARD
Can anyone explain this to me? If a kid plays one game in the OHL, he’s considered a pro and forfeits his ability to get an NCAA hockey scholarship. But a kid already on an NCAA hockey scholarship can attend an NHL rookie camp and play against pros and OHL players? How does any of this make sense? ... The best thing for backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson would be a break from Leafs’ goalie coach, Francois Allaire. Apparently, what Allaire teaches and preaches is polar opposite to what Gustavsson believes in ... Mike Babcock remains one of the really interesting people in hockey. While there were all kinds of obvious and available choices for him to add to his coaching staff in Detroit, he went off the board and added Jeff Blashill from Western Michigan and Bill Peters from Chicago’s AHL franchise ... This is how crazy it’s gotten with the going-bankrupt Dodgers: Not only do they owe Vin Scully money, but now they’ve gone and fired Steve Garvey, who’s been with them for only 30 years, 15 as a player ... Things you just need to know: Reggie Evans spent his lockout time Saturday going fishing for the very first time.
AND ANOTHER THING
If I’m Jim Barker the coach, I go to Jim Barker the general manager and demand he find me a better quarterback and some better receivers for the Argos ... What a piece of television: The best of Brian Williams getting Mr. and Mrs. Matt Dunigan to open up about how concussion problems have altered their lives, their family and their marriage ... Deceptive numbers: Cleo Lemon passed for 248 yards against Winnipeg on Friday night, but almost half of that came in the final five minutes of the game. For more than three quarters, there wasn’t much offence for the Argos ... I guess the question — How will the Atlanta Braves do without Bobby Cox? — has already been answered ... Eric Fehr said he’s fulfilling a dream in playing for the Winnipeg Jets, after being traded from Washington. Born in Winkler, Man., Fehr was 10 years old when the original Jets moved to Phoenix ... With the NFL lockout getting closer to an ending, there are all kinds of rumour out there pointing to Vince Young joining the Buffalo Bills ... Happy birthday to Bob Bailor (60), Andre Dawson (57), Adam Foote (40), Chico Resch (63), Darryl Talley (51) and Billy Jack Haynes (58) ... And hey, whatever became of Sam Cvijanovich?
STONES LEFT UNTURNED
Brian Burke said he has no objection to making a restricted free agent offer, under what he considers to be the right circumstances. Which, I find, just a little confusing and contradictory.
Burke said the other day that he considered making an RFA offer on Phil Kessel, until he was able to agree on a trade with the Boston Bruins. But if you go back, the price for Kessel as an RFA was less than Burke paid in trading for him.
So, had he made the RFA offer, the Leafs would have been better off in the long term. Philosophies and principles are wonderful things, but if your No. 1 priority is to make your hockey team better, you need to use every means available.
Burke’s unwillingness to make offers on players such as Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty is noble. It’s just not necessarily productive.
IF LEAFS IN, WHO'S OUT?
The question for Maple Leafs management is this: If they’re planning to make the playoffs next season, who misses out?
It’s not likely to be the Stanley Cup-champion Bruins or the suddenly improved Washington Capitals.
It’s not likely to be the redesigned Philadelphia Flyers or the high flying Tampa Bay Lightning.
And the expectation is, without any knowledge, that Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin will be back in Pittsburgh, which adds another playoff team to the mix.
Now it gets interesting. Montreal has Carey Price and enough to challenge for a top-eight spot.
The Rangers, already with Henrik Lundqvist, added Brad Richards and Michael Rupp.
The suddenly cash-happy Buffalo Sabres added Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr and Ville Leino to a lineup that was already 10 points better than the Leafs.
And then there are the New Jersey Devils, coming off a horrible first half, but basically equal to the Leafs in the second.
In order to move up, the Leafs need to reduce their goals against by at least 40 to become a playoff team.
So who do the Leafs overtake to get a top-eight spot? For that there is no easy or obvious answer.
NO SAVING GRACE FOR JAYS
Mariano Rivera and Frank Francisco have at least one thing in common as of Saturday. Both have blown four saves this season. The difference: Rivera has saved 21 of his 25 chances with the New York Yankees, an 84% success rate.
Francisco has messed up four of his 14 opportunities to close games with the Blue Jays — a 71% success rate. What’s worse with the Jays, though, is that the entire bullpen — a supposed strength coming into the season — has blown 14 of 32 save opportunities for a dreadful success rate of 56%.
The 14 blown saves rank second last in the American League. In the AL East, where Rivera, Jonathan (19 of 20) Papelbon and the accidental closer, Kyle Farnsworth, hang out, you can’t begin to contend without saving at least 70% of all games.
The Jays, with Francisco and Jon Rauch rotating as closers, are a clear step behind in that category.