Tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays travel to Cleveland for their first ever game against the rechristened Guardians. As it turns out, 12 years ago the Jays were also in Cleveland, completing a three game sweep with a 5-4 victory in a getaway day matinee with a late comeback. Though it’s more accurate to say the Cleveland seized defeat from the jaws of victory in a manner that was memorably painful for the host of Cleveland’s post-game show.
The central character in this drama was Cleveland’s badly struggling shortstop, one Luis Valbuena. The whole thing was first brought to my attention when the Jays subsequently claimed Valbuena on waivers in November 2011 (the comments are now erased, but thanks to the Wayback Machine I can thank a certain commenter with the apt handle noname3)
At some point in the early winter of 2020, this randomly flitted across my consciousness, and I thought it would be fun to highlight and revisit on the 10th anniversary. But you know what is said of the best laid plans of mice and men, and in the totality of the circumstances it ended up totally slipping my mind. So what better time to come back to it than the 12 year anniversary?
The 2010 Blue Jays were an interesting outfit. With very low expectations coming off a 75-87 campaign that culminated in the firing of J.P. Riccardi and trade of Roy Halladay, and 2020 was expected to be a rebuilding year. But they proved reasonably competitive in the early going, though in the back of everyone’s was the ephemeral 27-14 start the previous year that ended in collapse.
In any event, the Jays were 13-13 going to Cleveland in early May, and took the first two 5-1 and 8-5 behind Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero. In the finale, Brandon Morrow squared off against Roberto Hernandez (then the artist known as Fausto Carmona). The Jays trailed 4-2 going to the 9th inning, and were down to their last out after Chris Perez induced groundouts from Travis Snider and John Buck.
Fred Lewis hit a two out double to bring up Aaron Hill as the tying run, but he hit a routine grounder to short that should have ended the game. But Valbuena booted it, giving the Jays an additional lease on life, and Adam Lind took full advantage with a go ahead three run bomb. Valbuena then committed another error on a ball hit by Vernon Wells, though this time the damage was contained.
This 9th inning meltdown by Cleveland resulted in post game host Bruce Drennan having a hilarious meltdown of his own on the post-game show:
- “Ah Valbuena [anguished]...Valbuena, Valbuena, Valbuena...give him back to the Mets! Someone said he should be in [Triple-A] Columbus tonight?! I said send him to [short season] Mahoning Valley! He can’t do any harm there, they haven’t even started their season!”
- “[Russell] Branyan...here it is., here’s his stroke...beautiful form. If it’s a practice swing on the first tee! Let’s pretend I’m a ballerina. Unbelievable.”
- “I am in such apin. Pain I say! ... My head hurts, my psyche’s hurt, I’m hurting all over my body! Head to toe! Oh god, we stink!”
- “That can’t be a triple, that can’t be a triple, that can’t be a triple! That’s an error on LaPorta, I don’t care what anyone says, that’s an error on LaPorta! Turning around like this (gesticulating), he’s like in my swivel chair here!”
- “My god, did anyone remind these players, who are making millions f dollars, even the kids are making hundreds of thousands of dollars...did anyone remind them this is the major leagues?”
As mentioned above, the Jays later acquired Valbuena in a minor cash deal 18 months later, when he was out of options for 2012. He looked like an interesting platoon/utility option, but instead the Jays decided they had to have Vizquel’s veteran presents. That squeezed out Valbenua, and the Cubs got him on waivers in April 2012.
He didn’t go much in 2012, but getting him playing time paid dividends when he took a step forward in 2013, and then another step forward in 2014-16 when he was an above average hitter and regular. A darn sight better than Vizquel ended up doing in his swan song. They ended up trading him for Dexter Fowler, who helped them win the 2016 World Series and many wanted the Jays to sign as a free agent after this year (and briefly joined the Jays with Buffalo before requesting his release a few days ago).
Unfortunately, there’s an unhappy ending to this story as Valbuena passed away in December 2018 a week after his 33rd birthday. And a further postscript is that a couple years after that, the short season leagues were eliminated as part of the contraction of the minor leagues, and Mahoning Valley no longer exists as a professional affiliate.