Toronto at Kansas City, 3 Apr-6 Apr

Monday, April 03 2023 @ 07:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

Missouri loves company.

And while we could take a train - we could even take a plane - it's probably simpler to just take Interstate 70 west for four hours or so. (If I have to walk, I'm definitely not going.)

Just up to the state line, but no further. Kansas is one thing, Missouri is another thing. I remember my first experience of Kansas. It was a grim and grey place, where terrifying tornadoes suddenly descended from the sky, threatening the lives of everyone. From which one escaped to a fantastical world, populated by weird and wonderful beings, and all in glorious Technicolour.

Whereas Missouri, on the other hand - St. Louis gave the world Miles Davis, and while Charlie Parker was born on the Kansas side of the state line, he grew up and learned his craft in Kansas City Missouri. Enormous, revolutionary talents these men were. All this surely means something to everyone who cares about jazz. Both of you.

Baseball? You want me to talk about baseball? Come on, it's the third of April. There's nothing to report.

Oh, hang on. Eephus sent me a text yesterday as the fun was unfolding and he rather casually wondered if we were seeing the worst Jays debut ever. I foolishly reminded him that I did maintain a database that recorded the work of the starting pitcher in each and every Blue Jays game since 1977. I thought, however, that this might be a tedious task. He assured me that in that case, I was just the fella for the job.

I'm not sure how I should take that.

But he was right. I am the fellow for the job. Let it be noted that we're not talking about Blue Jays pitching debuts. I do not maintain a database with the pitching line of every Jays pitcher in every Jays game. What kind of maniac do you take me for? No, we are only considering first appearances as the Blue Jays starting pitcher. That, I can look up in the database of Blue Jays starts since 1977 that I have so assiduously maintained. Because that's the type of maniac I am.

Chris Bassitt didn't has it yesterday - 3.1 IP, 10 Hits, 9 Runs (all earned), 4 Home Runs, no Walks and No Ks. The Game Score: 4.

Which is truly, truly terrible. But the worst Jays debut ever?

No. Almost, but not quite. So very, very close as it happens. But this dubious distinction still belongs to Frank Viola.

Let's say right away that Viola's place in the web of the game isn't tarnished one little bit by this bit of badness. His baseball legacy is safe as houses, as far as I'm concerned. Viola had a featured role in what has been called the greatest college game ever played, when he and Ron Darling battled for eleven scoreless innings on behalf of St.John's and Yale (Darling didn't give up a hit until the twelfth) before someone finally scored. Roger Angell was sitting in the stands with none other than Smokey Joe Wood himself, and wrote one of his most memorable pieces about it all. A few years after that, Viola was the MVP of the 1987 World Series, starting and winning the first and the seventh games against the Cardinals. He won a Cy Young the following season. I've never been in the house for a no-hitter - Viola (along with Dave Stieb, of course) is one of the men I saw take a no-hit bid into the ninth inning  (with the Red Sox, against David Cone - Devon Whyte broke it up..) Absolutely no one, ever, when they think of Frank Viola, is thinking of Frank Viola the Blue Jay.

Which is just as well. Viola's elbow blew up in May 1994, the last year of his deal with the Red Sox. He had Tommy John surgery that summer, the players went on strike, it was all eventually settled, and the Blue Jays signed him to a contract in April 1995 . He made three appearances for Dunedin, before being released. He was signed the same day by Cincinnati, and one suspects this was all a courtesy to a respected veteran - the Jays didn't have a major league spot available at that moment and the Reds did. Viola made three mediocre starts for the Reds and was a free agent again that winter. The Jays signed him again, and after some impressive outings for AA Knoxville he made it to the big leagues. On 28 April 1996, the Jays gave Viola the baseball. Alas, the mighty Cleveland Indians were in town, ready to inflict all manner of cruel and unusual punishments. The trouble started about as fast as trouble can start. Kenny Lofton was leading off...

Kenny Lofton - SINGLE
Julio Franco - SINGLE, Lofton to 2nd
Carlos Baerga - Flyout
Albert Belle - SINGLE, Lofton scores, Franco to second
Eddie Murray - SINGLE, Franco scores, Belle to second
Manny Ramirez - SAFE on Cedeno error, Belle scores, Murray to third
Sandy Alomar - HOME RUN, Murray and Ramirez score.

Viola finally escaped by striking out Jim Thome, hitting Omar Vizquel, and getting Lofton to ground out. One of the six runs was unearned because of the Cedeno error.

Perhaps Cito Gaston thought - what the hell. We're already down 6-0. Maybe he can at least soak up a few innings. So Viola went out for a second inning. Franco, Baerga, and Belle each singled to plate another run and put runners on the corners. Viola walked Murray to load the bases with no one out. Manny hit a sac fly to "deep" left-centre, with Belle taking third; Alomar "lined" a second sac fly to centre. Viola did have Jim Thome's number. and he got him on a groundout to end the inning.

Back out for the third inning, trailing 9-0? Sure, why not. Vizquel lined out to centre field, and Lofton lined out to short. Julio Franco grounded a single up the middle, but Viola got Baerga to fly out to centre.

A scoreless inning! That calls for another, surely. Back out he went for the fourth inning, only to be greeted by an Albert Belle homer. Murray flied out to left, Manny drew a walk, but Sandy Alomar grounded into a double play. And that was Frank Viola's Blue Jays debut. Giovanni Carrara (yes, this was a Blue Jays pitcher and not some Italian movie star) took over for the fifth with the Jays trailing 10-0. The Indians quickly roughed Carrara up for another 6 runs in his two innings. The final was 17-3. That Cleveland lineup was pretty damn scary. Might I point out that Jim Thome - Hall of Famer Jim Thome, 612 career homer Jim Thome - was batting eighth in that lineup.

Viola worked 4 IP, allowing 10 Hits, 10 Runs (9 earned). He walked 2, struck out 1, hit a batter, and allowed 2 Home Runs. Game Score: 3. So close, Chris Bassitt. So close and yet what?

Viola was 0-1, 20.25 as a Blue Jay at that moment. He made five more starts for the team in May 1996, and was able to lower his season ERA in each of them - hey, when you start at 20.25, you have room to work with  - and by the end of the month, his record was 1-3, 7.71. That's when the Jays released him, and that was the end of his playing career. To be fair, only one of his six starts for the Jays was actually good -  a couple were almost mediocre - and by weird coincidence, Viola's one quality game (and his only victory) as a Blue Jay (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K) happened at Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City. What can I say? Meet me at the scene of the crime.

The people of Kansas City have a long, noble tradition of supporting their minor league baseball teams. Unfortunately, their teams don't actually play in the minor leagues anymore, and this has generally meant a whole lot of losing at the major league level. That's how the Athletics did it when they played here, and except for that ten year period almost half a century ago when Kansas City's shiny new team was "the model expansion franchise" that's how the Royals have done it as well. They've had four winning seasons in the last 28 years (2003, 2013, 2014, 2015). They're almost certainly going to have another losing season this year. The Royals have lost more than 100 games six times since the 2000s commenced. Six times! The last time the Cardinals, their Missouri neighbours,  lost 100 games was in 1908.

This is obviously a trap. Proceed at your own risk. After all, the Kansas City Royals messing with the Blue Jays is a bad, bad movie and one I've seen too many times.


Mon 3 April - Berrios (---) vs Singer (---)
Tue 4 April - Kikuchi (---) vs Bubic (---)
Wed 5 April - Manoah (0-0, 13.50) vs Greinke (0-1, 3.38)
Thu 6 April - Gausman (0-1, 0.00) vs Lyles (0-1,  1.69)