By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
AJAX, Ont. – Phillippe Aumont was everything Team Canada could have wanted and more.
Looking to secure a berth in the gold medal matchup at the Pan Am Games, the Canadian squad sent the 26-year-old right-hander to the hill to take on Puerto Rico on Saturday night and he had the game of his life. In the 7-1 win, Aumont threw eight scoreless innings – the first four were perfect – and allowed just three hits, walked one and struck out eight.
“He has the ability to do that every time he goes out,” Team Canada manager Whitt said. “Tonight was special. He was throwing strikes, he was changing speeds. It’s hard to find a better arm in baseball than he has; he just has to throw strikes and he did that tonight.”
The plan was simple – just go out and get after the Puerto Rican hitters. Aumont did just that, and credits 23-year-old Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC) for the way they rolled through the opposition, sitting down one hitter after the next.
“I just had to attack these guys,” Aumont said. “I knew there were going to swing early in the count, so [I had to] just make good pitches. And as the game went on, Deglan was smarter and smarter back there. So I tip my hat to that kid. He’s smart, he’s good back there, he’s going to be tremendous in the future, so it was an honour to work with him and to do this with him.”
The start was Aumont’s third since being designated for assignment by the Philadelphia Phillies – the same organization where Whitt is a roving catching coordinator – and asking for his release. The trio of appearances have come for the team sporting the maple leaf, one in an exhibition game leading up to the international tournament.
“That’s what I expect from him every time he’s out on the mound,” said Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC), who has been with Aumont since long before they were traded to the Phils together from the Seattle Mariners in 2009.
“Absolutely [I believe Aumont could do it every time]. The guy’s got so much skill and potential and the stuff that he has is unreal. Whoever picks him up next is going to be lucky to have him.”
For a short period of time after opting out of the game, the native of Gatineau, Que., didn’t know if he wanted to play, or if he could be a contributor for the national team with the mindset he was in, saying that he, “didn’t want to come here and just not be all in.”
But after a conversation with Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, Aumont hopped on a plane and he hasn’t looked back since, with Saturday’s eight-inning outing following five shutout frames with another eight strikeouts on Monday against Nicaragua.
“It was a great win for everybody, not just for me,” the righty said on Saturday. “The defence; not enough credit to the guy who was behind the plate. Deglan was tremendous back there and we were on the same page the whole time. We kept riding what was working and that’s a credit to him. He’s really smart. He’s good back there. Big thanks to Ernie to keep that confidence in me.”
Whitt has seen Aumont enough to know what the pitcher has to offer, and how unbeatable he can be when he is on top of his game. In the top of the eighth, with two runners on, Canada’s skipper made a visit to the mound, retreating to the dugout alone. The former first-round pick followed with two strikeouts to end the inning.
“I wanted to talk to him,” Whitt said. “We had a guy ready. It’s a hot, humid night. I asked how he was feeling and he said, ‘I’d like to get one more guy.’
“It’s one thing I always tell my pitchers – be honest with me. I thought he was still throwing the ball well, but it being so humid, and he has gone up to 100-110 pitches this season, so I knew he still had it in him. So when he told me he wanted another guy, I’m going to let him have it because he deserved it.”
Aumont added: “He asked me if I wanted to come out to applause or if I wanted to finish it. I said, ‘I’m going to finish it, and then I’m going to come out to that applause.’”
It was the best Gillies had ever seen Aumont.
“I’ve played with Phillippe, lived with him for years, ever since we were with the Mariners, [and] the Phillies – I’ve never seen that guy battle like he did in that last inning,” Gillies said. “Those extra two strikeouts that he pulled out … to come right out there and battle it out and keep going, that’s huge. It doesn’t matter if you’re up by 15 runs or you’re up by two runs, what he did today was special.”
Aumont’s special performance was an emotional one for Team Canada. The squad was fired up from the moment the anthems were played, when one of the opposing coaches left a Puerto Rican flag in the middle of the field for Stubby Clapp to quickly remove.
Things got a little more heated with some back-and-forth between the two dugouts. When Gillies homered in the fourth to give his team a seven-run advantage, words were exchanged before next batter Skyler Stromsmoe (Bow Island, Alta.) was plunked with a pitch from Luis Gonzalez.
But it was the Canadian audience that got to Aumont. After some noise complaints – that there wasn’t enough – earlier in the week, the Canuck fans came out in full force and at maximum decibel level on Saturday, and the starting pitcher loved every second of it.
“It might have just been the crowd,” he said. “We feed off of that. I can’t say it enough that we need them, especially in international competition. We’re a group of guys; we’re solid together, but we’re even better on home soil and with the crowd with us. Tonight they were electric and so were we, and it was just great.”
The team is hoping for much more of the same when it defends its gold medal win from 2011 at the Pan Am Games in Mexico. Sunday’s game is a rematch between Canada and USA, the Canadians winning 2-1 four years ago, behind the pitching of Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) and Scott Richmond (Vancouver, BC) last time, with two big RBI from Jimmy Van Ostrand (Richmond, BC).
“The plan for tomorrow is the same thing,” Gillies said. “Battling it out every inning. You know Team USA is a really good team, and they’re going to be coming hungry because in 2011 Canada took the gold.”