By Bob Elliott
It was 11 years ago in Athens when I asked infielder Peter Orr why he wore No. 4.
Was he any relation to Bobby Orr?
“No,” said Orr, “but I think it is incumbent on any player named Orr to wear No. 4.”
Orr was Canada’s best defensive player throughout the round robin in Athens. And in the eighth inning Cuba had a runner on first, Chris Begg on the mound and Canada leading by a run -- six outs to get for a gold medal match up against Australia -- when a ground ball was hit to Orr.
Some said it was a double play ball. Canada didn’t get anyone out and lost 8-5 when Kevin Nicholson’s drive was caught against the fence.
And now move ahead to gold medal game in the Pan Am Games at President’s Choice Park in Ajax with Canada trailing USA by a run with one out.
Skyler Stromsmore was on second and Orr was on first.
Lefty David Huff was on the mound. He had pitched 118 games in the majors with the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers with 58 chances, handling 57 flawlessly. His one error coming in 2012 with the Giants when he attempted to pick off Chicago Cubs Anthony Rizzo, but threw the ball away.
Huff and first baseman Casey Kotchman attempted a back-door pick-off of Orr, threw wildly and the track meet was on: Stromsmoe scored easily, while Orr slid into third as right fielder Brian Bogusevic’s throw sailed into foul ground.
Orr bolted for the plate, the throw was on line launched himself airbone diving head first into catcher Tom Murphy, who had the ball. The ball slithered loose, Orr saw the ball, got to his knees and threw both arms into the air in pure, unbridled joy.
Did it make up for the pain of the 2004 Olympics? Maybe not. But it’s a start to evening things out.
Within minutes a text arrived from Don Campbell of the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians in Ottawa:
“Peter Orr’s slide at the plate ... Bobby Orr flying across the front of the net in St. Louis.”
Then, it was John Milton a coach with the Ontario Terriers:
“I enjoyed seeing Peter Orr fly through the air for the winner, more than Bobby Orr after scoring the winning goal.”
One dive won gold, the other celebrating the Boston Bruins winning the 1970 Stanley Cup.
It’s a shame more Canadians didn’t see one of the strangest, weirdest endings on CBC or there weren’t 16 replays shown and Gregg Zaun to disect.
Post-game in the Olympics or the Pan Ams are different than post-game at the Rogers Centre. After a major-league game the meda walks into the clubhouse and wait and wait. For international events they have what is called a mix zone. The media stands and an athlete stops to talk ... if he wants to talk.
After that heart-breaking loss the one person I did not want to see was USA manager Jim Tracy, a good and decent guy, an excellent baseball man. After listening to a couple of people and talking to some other players I was writing something down and looked up to see Tracy. I congratualted him on his team’s performance: they won the final game to get in and rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the seventh to score a walk off win against Cuba.
“I have no idea where that pick play came from,” Tracy said, “what did you think of the finish?”
“Well, for years I’ve sat and watched 1,000s of games. Only three times have I ever yelled ‘holy crap!’ out loud when something happened,” I told the manager, who had said the loss was one of the most painful including his 11 years managing in the majors.
“One was Buckner?” the manager asked.
Yep, the first was Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when Mookie Wilson’s grounder went between the legs of Boston first baseman Billy Buckner. Everyone had filed their stories how the Curse of the Bambino was over. Suddenly there would be a Game 7.
“What was the second?” the manager asked.
“Game 1 of the 1988 World Series when Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers limped to the plate and homered off Dennis Eckersley, who had been perfect closing out games,” I told him.
“And the third one was tonight, the throw to first?” asked Tracy.
“Nope ... it was the throw to third.”
And off went Peter Orr running, diving and then signalling he was safe.