Rider Nation gets its way: Albers great, Jays win

* LHP Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) had fans like this group at his first two starts and at least another bus load of 49 fans from Saskatoon rooting for both him and the Blue Jays Sunday in Minneapolis. .... 2014 Top Canadians eligible for draft 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent

By Bob Elliott

MINNEAPOLIS _ Fans usually have a straight forward agenda upon entering a ball park.

Saskatoon’s Mike Sieben sat with his wife Whitney with a more complicated agenda in section 17 at Target Field on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Wearing his No. 19 Jose Bautista jersey, Sieben had two goals.

“I’d like to see Andrew Albers pitch real well and then the Jays win it by beating up the Twins bullpen,” said Sieben, part of the Saskatchewan Roughriders Nation which made up the crowd of 29,450.

Sieben got his wishes.

The North Battleford, Sask. lefty pitched seven scoreless and nine pitches later, thanks to Ryan Goins and Jose Reyes, the Blue Jays had broken a scoreless tie on their way to a 2-0 win for a sweep of the series as one Saskatchewan fan waved a broom.

“Pretty impressive,” Jays manager John Gibbons said of Albers. “He has a good feel for pitching. His fastball had a little skip to it compared to the numbers you saw on the board.”

Proving once again velocity is not No. 1 -- changing speeds is a starter’s best asset -- Albers fanned: Davis on an 87 MPH sinker; J.P. Arencibia on an 88 MPH sinker and two innings later Arencibia on an 87 MPH sinker; Brett Lawrie with a 66 MPH curve and Adam Lind with a 79 MPH slider.

Sieben played for the Saskatoon Giants and often faced Albers and his North Battleford Beavers in the provincials.

“I might have had a couple of hits against him, but he usually got the best of me,” said Sieben, 27, a mechanic for CN, before Albers was introduced to a standing ovation from the Saskatchewan faithful.

“He looks about the same,” said Sieben watching Albers work the first inning from down the left field nation, some fans wearing Blue Jays blue, others wearing Roughriders green. “He was always a tall, lanky kid. It looks like he’s filled in ... he wasn’t throwing 89 MPH back then when we were 16-to-18.

“It is kinda neat looking out at a big-league park and seeing a guy you played against.”

As Sieben gazed around beautifully manufactured Target Field he was asked if this park was as nice as the one he played on visiting North Battleford.

“Heck, they don’t even have fields like this in Saskatoon,” he said.

Albers retired Reyes on a grounder, struck out Davis (“he gone,” said Sieben) and fielded a come backer from Lawrie for a 1-2-3 smooth-as-silk first.

Just then a beer vendor walked by and asked a member of Rider Nation a few rows in front “how did that water go down Saturday?” to roars of laughter. Turns out that the last time the vendor saw the customer on Saturday the fan was sleeping.

The Siebens were part of a group of 49 who made the 17-hour bus trip of from Saskatoon. Two rows in front were: Tanner Peters, 25 a boiler maker, Tyler Asselin, 26, an electrician, Jordan Gottinger, 22, a student and Kirk Flaman, 26, who works for the family business selling grain bins.

“We helped the Minneapolis economy a little this weekend,” said Flaman. “We’re wearing green because the Roughriders are in Winnipeg today.”

Asselin asked: “did you hear the signing Oh Canada with one out in the ninth in Saturday’s 11-2 win. That was us. That was us signing ‘Jose, Jose’ every time Reyes came up.”

After Albers was hooked by manager Ron Gardenhire with the game still scoreless, Goins led off the eighth singling against reliever Jared Burton. He was bunted to second by Kevin Pillar and scored on a Reyes double. Rajai Davis singled home Reyes.

Esmil Rogers was equally as stingy as Albers, but he had help, especially from Goins. Pedro Florimon led off the sixth with a drive to right centre and scooted to second, as Davis and Moises Sierra collided, .

An Alex Presley single chased Florimon to third and he might have scored but third base coach Joe Vavra elected to hold him.

Chris Herrmann bounced to Goins, playing double play depth. Goins fielded the ball, came up throwing and erased Florimon at the plate.

“(Coach) Luis Rivera signalled that if the ball was hard hit to come home,” said first baseman Mark DeRosa. “A lot of kids might have tried to turn two for one run. He’s opened some eyes since he got here. He’s on the radar for next year.”

Rogers escaped with a fly ball out and a grounder to keep the game scoreless. Twice Rogers retired seven consecutive, pitching 7 2/3 scoreless. Brett Cecil, Sergio Santos and Casey Janssen, 29th save in 31 opportunities, got the final five outs to raise Rogers’ record to 5-7.

All in all, a good day for Albers/Jays rooters.

The last time Andrew Albers heard Oh Canada played before a start?

It was on May 15 at triple-A Rochester on Canada Day. Canada Day in May? The Rochester Red Wings celebrates Canada Day early because it’s the birthday of alumnus and former Twins MVP Justin Morneau. Albers hadn’t heard Oh Canada since the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix as Canada was seven outs away from eliminating Team USA before giving up seven runs in a 9-4 loss. Albers pitched in relief of Chris Leroux against Mexico, a 10-3 win, allowing two runs in three innings. So does that mean Mexico’s WBC roster is better than the Blue Jays?

Albers has worked 178 innings at Rochester and for the Twins. He has walked three in 45 2/3 innings. He largest workload was 103 innings at double-A New Britain.

Guelph lefty Scott Diamond will be promoted and likely join the Twins roster now that Rochester lost Sunday’s Governor’s Cup 3-0 in the fifth and deciding game. Diamond was 4-0 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts after being demoted. He walked nine and struck out 19.

With the Twins in 20 starts this season Diamond was 5-10 with a 5.52, walking 31 and striking out 45 in 107 2/3 innings. With James Paxton of Ladner, B.C. picking up his first win Saturday night for the Seattle Mariners and Chris Robinson of the San Diego Padres making his debut in a pinch-hitting appearance, 20 Canadians have appeared in the majors this season. Vancouver’s Mike Nickeas of the Jays is on the major-league roster but have yet to see action.