Not here, as in the visiting clubhouse in Angel Stadium. But here, as in owners of the American League's best record. Burnett fled, starting pitchers Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan remain on the disabled list, hot-starting rookie Ricky Romero joined them, and at this point, the Jays shouldn't be more than a collection of feathers headed to stuff some pillow.
|If it weren't for some fellow Canadians who thought he had talent, Scott Richmond might still be pitching in obscurity. (Getty Images)|
"We've got a lot of guys hurt. We're just trying to hang in there until they all come back," Cito Gaston, the manager then and now, says. Then he grins. "If these kids keep up like this, who cares?"
Baseball's most improbable story?
So far, heck yeah.
Especially when you consider that the man replacing Burnett as the Jays' most important pitcher behind ace Roy Halladay celebrated finishing high school not by being drafted, but by spending the next three years working on the shipyard docks in his native Vancouver.
Yep, isn't that how everybody prepares for the majors? Scrubbing oil from barges and running chain saws in the rain in the Pacific Northwest?
"I'm so happy for that kid," Gaston says.
So are the rest of the Blue Jays, and they're not too proud to admit there's some self-interest involved. Scott Richmond, a 6-5, 215-pound right-hander, is off to a 4-0 start and his 2.67 ERA ranks fourth in the AL. Opponents are batting .217 against him. Only Tampa Bay's Matt Garza (.170), Boston's Tim Wakefield (.183) and Kansas City's Zack Greinke (.189) have been more stingy with hitters.
Did we mention that Richmond's high school had no baseball team?
Or that he went undrafted out of college?
Once he found a college.
There's an old saying that getting to the majors is easy, it's the staying in the majors that is difficult.
"The tough thing for me was getting here," says Richmond, 29, whose next start will come Friday night in Oakland.
A baseball rat with no place to go following high school in Vancouver, Richmond hired on at Seaspan International upon graduation and spent the next three years working the docks. In his off hours, he played community baseball.
On the job, he painted, ran chainsaws to cut stray logs, used oil pads on log barges, cleaned the cranes that hoist log bundles off the boats and performed other assorted tasks.
"Before the barges were allowed in United States water, you'd have to make sure they were not leaking any oil," Richmond says. "There would be all sorts of things on the barges -- salt, wood chips, stuff they'd import and export.
"Once the barges were emptied, there would be residue on them. So we'd go in with fire hoses, spray off the barges, clean off the material, take chain saws to logs that would wash up."
He played ball in his off hours. Each time he would find a team, the new coach would take one look at him pitching and tell him the same old thing: "What are you doing here? You need to get out of here."
Three years on the docks, and Richmond finally decided they were right.
So he tossed his $25-an-hour job overboard and followed his dream.
"It was good money," says Richmond, who had started at $18 an hour and also worked plenty of overtime at time-and-a-half. "For a kid out of high school with no education, you've got money, you're saving money. ...
"I had to go from having money to having no money. But I loved the game enough to do it."
Ah, love. It took him to Moose Jaw, where he pitched in a wood bat league while attending Douglas College in New Westminster, Canada. The coach there knew the coach at Missouri Valley College, an NAIA school in Marshall, Mo., and Richmond, looking to wedge a cleat in the door of his baseball dream, left Canada and set sail for the heartland.
"My whole goal at that point was to make it at a U.S. school," Richmond says.
He followed his coach to Bossier Parish College in Bossier City, La., and from there landed at Oklahoma State. Where, after his junior season, he went undrafted. Of course.
So he returned to Oklahoma State for his senior year, picked up an economics degree (oh, the irony) and ... this is the part where the scouts found him and he got his break, right?
Uh, no. Still nothing, even after Stillwater.
So he signed with Edmonton, and pitched three years for the Cracker Cats of the Independent Golden Baseball League. Through a friend, he hooked up with former big league pitcher Lou Pote. In the spring of 2007, they stayed at Pote's place in Arizona and went to multiple big league tryout camps.
Richmond tried out for the Chicago White Sox. No thanks. Tried out for the Colorado Rockies. Nope. The Arizona Diamondbacks. Thanks for coming, kid.
At Oakland's camp that spring, as Pote was trying to hang onto his career, Pote threw for the Athletics. But when Richmond, who had accompanied Pote, asked if he could please throw for the scouts, too, he was told they were out of time.
"Nothing new to me," Richmond says. "I just kept taking that as, 'Well, your loss' and moving on."
Meantime, in Edmonton, he had hooked up with a handful of Canadian friends who had played in the majors and, most importantly, had played on the 2004 Canadian Olympic team. Guys like Ryan Radmanovich, Stubby Clapp and Mike Johnson told Rob Ducey, a former Blue Jay who was managing the Canadian national team, that they should check out this Richmond kid.
Eventually, Ducey did. And in November 2007, Richmond was in Florida for another tryout -- this time with Toronto -- and one night the telephone rang and it was the Blue Jays. They were inviting him to spring training.
And darned if the very next morning, Richmond received another call, informing him he would be a part of the Canadian team that would be playing in the World Cup later that month.
That night, you bet he celebrated.
"I went out to dinner on my dad," Richmond says. "He wasn't there, but my best friend was with me and my dad told us to go to dinner.
"That was my best day in baseball to that point."
Funny thing is, after all of that, what happened when Team Canada shoved off to the Olympics in Beijing last summer? The Blue Jays wouldn't let him go! In the minors, Richmond had pitched himself into Toronto's plans. He was like the late bloomer in high school who could never get a date, then suddenly didn't have enough nights in the week for all the girls who were suddenly interested.
He isn't overpowering. His fastball sits in the low 90s, usually 91, 92 mph. But he has a two-seam fastball, a solid change-up, a good slider and a dependable curve.
"He throws strikes and he gets his breaking ball over," Gaston says. "In certain fastball counts, he's able to get his change and curve over. In this league, you have to be able to do that."
"I just want to keep it going as long as possible, keep doing what I've been doing," Richmond says, and to that end, he's taking it five starts at a time because, well, a ginormous task seems more manageable that way.
"My first five starts are over with," he says. "My next five, I'm going to try and make it just as good as the previous five."
It doesn't get easier from here. Toronto is 20-10 following Wednesday night's 13-1 rout of the Los Angeles Angels, two games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. But the Jays have cruised through their schedule so far without any games against division rivals Boston, Tampa Bay or New York. Still, you've got to win the games on your schedule, and the Jays are doing just that.
Already, Richmond was named as the AL Rookie Pitcher of the Month for April. Odds are against him continuing to dominate once detailed scouting reports get written and hitters see him a second and third time, but who knows? So far, Richmond says the chartered flights are nice in the majors, and having your own hotel room on the road is sweet, but mostly, what he has in mind is contributing to the team. Plain and simple.
"He goes after it when he's on the mound," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells says, and is it any surprise?
It's a long way from the Vancouver docks to the bigs.
"Makes you tougher," Richmond says.
And then he smiles. Big.