Elliott: Oakland infield cruel place for Shoemaker, Stieb

Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox talks to RHP Dave Stieb (37) and C Ernie Whitt.

Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox talks to RHP Dave Stieb (37) and C Ernie Whitt.

By Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

By Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

Long before this weekend, visiting Oakland has been a tough visit on Toronto Blue Jays starters.

RHP Aaron Sanchez left after four innings with a broken nail on his right middle finger and only 59 pitches on Sunday afternoon. The Jays hope he will return this Sunday to face the Oakland A’s at the Rogers Centre.

And after RHP Matt Shoemaker chased down A’s 3B Matt Chapman in a 2-3-4-1, fourth-inning rundown on Saturday, Shoemaker will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. Shoemaker has proved before that is a game for survivors. The previous two seasons he had arm injuries and in 2016 he fractured his skull when hit by a line drive from Seattle Mariners’ Kyle Seager.

Through it all, he has always persevered. In his first five starts he was 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA, walking nine and fanning 24 in 28 2/3 innings this season.

There were others before Shoemaker and Sanchez went down.

RHP Matt Shoemaker, third from left, is helped off the field by the Blue Jays medical staff and others after tearing his AC.

RHP Matt Shoemaker, third from left, is helped off the field by the Blue Jays medical staff and others after tearing his AC.

And no, we are not talking about Frank Wills, who made a spot start for the 1989 Blue Jays and had a 7-0 lead when he took the mound in the bottom of the first after 11 men when to the plate with Junior Felix hitting two singles (one off A’s starter Curt Young, the other facing reliever Bill Dawley), Tony Fernandez hitting a double, Kelly Gruber hitting a single, George Bell and Fred McGriff earning walks, Pat Borders singling and Nelson Liriano driving a double to left.

Wills was used to pitching with a seven-run lead, but not in the first. Rickey Henderson and Dave Henderson each singled, then Wills (Dave Parker, Ron Hassey and Carney Lansford) drew three walks in a span of four hitters, Glenn Hubbard singled and Mike Gallego tripled. Cito Gaston hooked Wills with the Jays leading 7-6 after he retired two men.

“Almost giving up a seven run lead in the first, that’s like almost like giving up a 14-0 lead,” said Gaston, who seldom knocked his players. DeWayne Buice restored order as the Jays scored a 10-8 win.

The most serious injury happened on May 22, 1991 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. That’s when Dave Stieb lost his ace status.

An indicator of how tough starters in the 1990s were Stieb was injured with two out in the first ... yet he managed to work 6 2/3 innings striking out eight and walking four that Wednesday afternoon.

Oakland scored a pair in the first as Rickey Henderson singled and an out later, Jose Canseco doubled. Harold Baines reached on an infield single and then Ernie Riles bounced to first baseman John Olerud.

Olerud threw to SS Rene Gonzales, making one of his 22 starts at short, to start what Olerud hoped would be an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play. Stieb, made an off-balance catch covering first, but lost control when bowled over by Riles on the outfield side of first. Canseco scored the deciding run in a 2-1 win.

Yet, what was much worse than the loss, for the Jays was the fact Stieb never made another start that season due to an injury he suffered in the pileup with Riles at first base. Shoulder tendonitis forced him to miss a series of starts and a disc problem developed in his back.

Stieb went down at first base, while Shoemaker spun on the tag half-way between first and seecond. Two season-ending injuries 45 feet apart.

That September, Stieb returned to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for the previous time, when his toughest decision was which sign from the catcher to shake off.

‘’What do you do?’’ asked Stieb, 34, giving a small sense of the tip of the anguish iceberg he’s been under since being disabled.

‘’Do you hope it gets better with rest? Do you have surgery?,’’ he says shrugging his shoulders to a group who have plenty of questions and zero answers.

‘’Do you go through October, November and December, have the surgery and it’s four months before I’m able to pitch again?,’’ he asks. ‘’Some people say traction helps. Others have an injection. Friends say have the surgery. Other friends, who have had surgery, say don’t ever have surgery.’’

Doctors told Stieb he had a ‘textbook herniation’ and predicted he would pitch in 1992.

Jeff Reardon and Scott Sanderson both had back surgery and came back to pitch. Don Mattingly, on the other hand, didn’t have surgery. He chose rest and continued to play, but his power diminished.

Stieb spent his first summer at home since he was a young pup.

‘’It’s like when I’m home in the winter ... except it’s hotter and I’m hurt,’’ said Stieb, who watches as many Jays games as possible on the satellite dish. The worst was July 19-31 when he was hospitalized and couldn’t leave his room for nine straight days.

‘’I was getting claustrophobic,’’ he said. ‘’One night I sat up in bed and said ‘Get a grip. Get a grip!’ I was having an anxiety attack.

‘’I thought, ‘I can’t run, I can’t pitch, I can’t golf. Will I ever be able to do those things again?’ The answer then was ‘No’.’’

Now walking normally, although he has to kneel to put on his left sock, he rates himself a four out of 10, after being at zero when he was laid up in hospital.

Stieb from 1979-91 …

W-L ERA G GS IP H ER BB SO

170-126 3.33 399 391 2726.1 1119 1010 960 1586

Stieb’s final three season, 1992 with the Blue Jays, the Chicago White Sox in 1993 and his comeback year in 1998 …

W-L ERA G GS IP H ER BB SO

6-11 5.11 44 21 169.0 183 96 74 83

People who saw them all -- all the Cy Young award winners in their prime: Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens, Chris Carpenter and Hall of Famer Roy Halladay -- like broadcaster Buck Martinez say that Stieb was the best.