The drive was worth it for Albers

 * LHP Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) became only the sixth pitcher to debut with eight-plus innings of scoreless ball in his first two career starts. .... MLB open workouts 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent


By Bob Elliott

When he driving his 2004 Buick Le Sabre he contemplated his future.

Somewhere -- maybe driving down I-10 in southwest Texas without a radio station to listen to -- Andrew Albers must have dreamed of making the majors, even winning a game.

But this?

This is Hollywood stuff.

Heck, this was worth the drive:

The 27-hour drive from Peoria, Az. home to North Battleford, Sask. after being released by the San Diego Padres in 2010.

The 32-hour ride from Phoenix to Fort Myers for the chance to audition before Minnesota Twins scouts in the spring of 2011 after trying out for the Anaheim Angels, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, whose evaluators collectively said “next.”

Albers threw a complete-game, two-hit, shut out over the Cleveland Indians Monday night in Minneapolis before 30,922, who were on their feet as Nick Swisher bounced to short to end it.

Six days before he worked 8 1/3 scoreless in his major-league debut against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. His debut was the best by a Canadian since Toronto’s Alex (Dooney) Hardy pitched the 1902 Chicago Orphans to a 1-0 shutout of the Brooklyn Superbas. Hardy lost his second outing 6-5 to the Boston Beaneaters.

Albers becomes the sixth pitcher to debut with back-to-back outings of eight-plus scoreless innings since 1920.

He needed 102 pitches to dispatch the Indians, didn’t walk a man and struck out two. He’s been compared to lefty Jamie Moyer and popped the radar gun with six snow men ... six pitches at 88 MPH.

* * *

“You don’t have to throw 95 MPH to get people out,” said Fergie Jenkins, Canada’s only Hall of Famer, from Phoenix. “He must change speeds well, that’s what it’s all about.

“Left-handers are the kind of pitchers every team wants, if you can hold your own that’s a plus and he’s been doing more than that.”

And now he’s worked 17 1/3 scoreless.

The record for most scoreless innings at the start of a career is Brad Ziegler (38 innings) for the Oakland A’s in 2008 and the second best is by George McQuillan of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1907 (25 innings). McQuillan set his streak as a starter while Ziegler’s were all in relief.

The American League record for starters is 22 inning by Dave (Boo) Ferriss of the Boston Red Sox in 1945.

Albers was ahead 0-2 on 10 of the first 20 Indians hitter he faced. He had a perfect game going until Jason Kipnis blooped a soft single to centre with two outs in the fourth.

With the shut out, Albers became sixth pitcher in Live Ball Era to go eight-plus scoreless innings in each of first two career games.

The last pitcher to throw 8 1/3 scoreless in first two starts, was Tommy Phoebus with the 1966 Baltimore Orioles.

“Don’t the Twins have another good lefty ... a kid named Diamond?”

Guelph’s Scott Diamond was send to triple-A Rochester creating a vacancy for Albers, the first major leaguer from Saskatchewan since Terry Puhl retired in 1991.


* * *

“And Andrew’s from North Battleford, home of the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Puhl, coach of the University of Houston-Victoria Jaguars team which begins fall workouts later this week.

“(The late) Dave Shury would be over the top with pride.”

Shury was the driving force behind the Hall in 1983. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and confined to a wheelchair for the last 40 years of his life, Shury was a respected voice for Canadian baseball. He organized first national senior team to compete in the 1967 Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg.

“Andrew works so quickly, he’s easy to watch on the MLB package, real easy when it’s a two-hour game (actually 2:21),” said Puhl from Houston. “He shut down two decent hitting teams. He was 0-2 on 12 of the first 18 hitters, never behind in the count. They asked him in the post-game interview what he’d do for an encore after 8 1/3 scoreless? And Andrew said ‘I’m hoping not to give up 15.’

“He reminds me of Greg Maddux the pace he works at, you couldn’t leave the batter’s box with Maddux or the ball was coming at you. That’s why they made so many good plays behind Andrew because he works so fast. We haven’t seen a pitcher like (Albers) in some time. He was like a magician.”

The two most recent major leaguers from Saskatchewan have never met, but Puhl congratulated Albers by text and is trying to book lunch when the Twins visit Houston later this season.

Puhl noticed Albers for Prime Minister sign, held by his former North Battleford midget Beavers teammates, as five pals stood bare chested spelling out A-LB-E-R-S.

Ex-teammate Tyler Russell was the letter A, was Ryan Muyers was LB, Aaron Cadrain was the letter E, Brad Eischen the letter R and Brandon Gregroire was the S ... Put them all together and they spell A-LB-E-R-S.

Former teammates Brock Harrison, Michael George, David George were in K.C. along with Albers parents, Denise and Bernie, along with sisters Pam and Christine.

The sign had been autographed by Albers.

“My wife said only Canadians know what they’re talking about,” said Puhl. “He could succeed as premier.”

On the white portion of the sign were logos of the teams Albers has played with: the Beavers, the Quebec Capitales, Team Canada (winning gold at the Pan-Am Games and bronze at the World Cup in 2011), class-A Fort Myers Miracle, double-A New Britain Rock Cats, triple-A Rochester Red Wings and the saying “North Battleford Beaver for life.” 

“You have to tip your cap to his parents,” said Puhl. Albers’ father Bernie, a right-hander, was one of the better senior pitchers in the province.

“He has not taken the most direct route to the majors,” said Puhl. “Mine was a little quicker.”

Wayne Morgan, Houston Astros scout, signed Puhl in 1973, he began his pro career the next season and in 1977 he was wearing an Astros uniform against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the AstroDome.

“I was watching him throw that cut slider to the inside corner to right-handed hitters and I thought he was throwing it for a strike,” said Puhl. “but the ump wasn’t giving it to him. He was consistent.

“When hitters get used to the slower stuff his 86-88 MPH fastball looks like 9, they get ready for it to break one way or another -- and then nothing.”

Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven was broadcasting the game.

“And talking about growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan,” said Puhl. The Blylevens emmigrated from Holland and lived on a farm near in rural Saskatchewan working the Berry farm for four years before moving to Melville, Sask. (Puhl’s hometown), before moving to California.


* * *

One of two men who re-started Albers career, Twins scout Earl Winn, was at the Rogers Centre Tuesday. His son Kevin a Padres minor-leaguer told his pop to remember the name Andrew Albers away back in 2008 after the Padres made Albers a 10th round draft choice as a senior from the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Pop forgot but he and Twins scout Tim O’Neill were there to see Albers, face Kentucky hitters in a workout.

“He hadn’t had a catcher to throw to, he’d been throwing against a wall,” said Winn, who arrived thinking he was going to see Albers throw a bullpen. Instead a catcher from Kentucky, plus four hitters with wood bats (rather than aluminum showed).

“That should tell you something about the Kentucky program,” said Winn. “I’m thinking some guy who doesn’t throw real hard is coming to come out and try to put out some numbers on the gun. He was 86-88, inside corner, outside corner, he hit all the spots.

“Over comes Tim and whispers ‘I’m in,” I said I’ve been in since his first change up.”

Then, it was a matter of getting the Twins doctors to approve medical reports and obtain a visa.

Winn showed us a “thank you text” from Albers and said in a pretend gruff manner: “Ah, didn’t do a thing, the kid did it all himself.”

You have no idea how many times you ask a major leaguer who his scout was and he’ll shrug his shoulders.

"Andrew’s situation is a great example of organizational teamwork from scouting, player development and the medical staff in addition to the most important aspect of all – Andrew’s character, desire and refusal to give up," said Winn.


* * *

Greg Brons of Saskatchewan Baseball sat in Sherbrooke watching the final New Brunswick-Manitoba game at the Summer Game with Baseball Canada’s Jim Baba, a Saskatchewan native, and Baseball Canada president Ray Carter last week the night of Albers debut.

“Jim was checking his phone, ‘three scoreless, four scoreless, five,” said Brons. “Then, we’re thinking maybe (manager) Ron Gardenhire will let him go five and get him out of there -- man the guy gets into the ninth.”

What will Albers success do for baseball in the province?

“We’re a hockey, football province,” said Brons. “It’s hard to compete with so many kids competing in soccer and lacrosse too, but it’s re-freshing to see Andrew’s picture on the front page of the Star-Phoenix.”

How many pictures of lacrosse or soccer players are on the front page of the paper of a lefty earning $490,000 US?

Registration is underway for fall ball, but Brons won’t know for a couple of weeks as to how much of a spike there is in registration.

Brons recalls Kevin Mitchell of the Star Phoenix asking back in 2008 who Brons thought had the best chance of making the majors. Reliever Dustin Molleken of Regina (a 15th round draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003) is at triple-A with Nashville in the Milwaukee Brewers system and right-hander James Avery of Moose Jaw (a fifth round choice of the Cincinnati Reds in 2005) is pitching in Mexico.

“The Cincinnati Reds had put Avery on their 40-man was at double-A Chattanooga and Molleken was at class-A in the Pirates system,” said Brons. “I said Albers had the best shot -- just because he was left-handed.

Albers stays at Brons homestead the night before flying south each spring for the Saskatoon-Minneapolis-Fort Myers shuttle.

And the Brons children always ask “dad, when Andrew makes the majors, will you take us to see him pitch?”

And when Brons returned home, there were the aptly named children of a baseball man: Maris 11, Easton nine and Reese five, wondering.

“Saskatoon to Minneapolis is a 14 hour drive,” said Brons. “that’s a light drive when you live on the prairies.”

Albers would agree.


Pitchers to throw eight-plus innings in their first two career starts without allowing a run

(since 1920)

2013 Andrew Albers, Twins

Team Score IP H R ER BB SO

at KC W 7-0, 8.1 4 0 0 1 2

vs. Cleve W 3-0 9.0 2 0 0 0 2


1966  Tom Phoebus Orioles  

Team Score IP H R ER BB SO

vs. Cal. W 2-0 9.0 4 0 0 2 8

at KC W 4-0 9.0 5 0  0 3 7

Lifetime record: Orioles, Padres, Cubs 201 G, 149 GS 56-52 W-L 3.33 ERA 7 Sv


1954 Karl Spooner Dodgers

Team Score IP H R ER BB SO

NYG W 3-0 9.0 3 0 0 3 15

Pit W 1-0 9.0 4 0 0 3 13

Lifetime record: Dodgers 31 G, 16 GS 10-6 W-L 3.09 ERA 2 Sv


1953  Al Worthington NY Giants

Team Score IP H R ER BB SO

PHI W 6-0 9.0 2 0 0 4 6

at BRO W 6-0 9.0 4 0 0 1 7

Lifetime record: Twins, Giants, Reds, Red Sox, White Sox 602 G, 69 GS 75-82 W-L 3.39 ERA 110 Sv


1945 Dave (Boo) Ferriss Red Sox

Team Score IP H R ER BB SO

at A’s W 2-0 9.0 5 0 0 6 5

NYY W 5-0 9.0 7 0 0 0 5 4

Lifetime record: Red Sox 144 G, 103 GS 65-30 W-L 3.64 ERA 8 Sv


1933 Johnny Marcum Philadelphia A’s

Team Score IP H R ER BB SO

CLE W 6-0 9.0 5 0 0 6 4

CHW W 8-0 9.0 5 0 0 3 3

Lifetime record: Red Sox, A’s, Browns, White Sox 195 G, 132 GS 65-63 W-L 4.66 ERA 7 Sv