With a record of 6-11, an ERA hovering around 6.00, and the threat of banishment to the bullpen if his start tonight didn’t go well, Blue Jays newcomer Tom Underwood did what any nervous pitcher would’ve done under similar circumstances: he went out and pitched his best game of the season, a 5-hitter against the hapless Mariners that was good for a 16-5 win in front of a small but wildly supportive crowd at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
For Underwood, the victory couldn’t have come at a better time, as Toronto manager Roy Hartsfield had made it quite clear before the game that his starting pitcher’s assignment that night would be his last if he didn’t perform up to expectations. Luckily for Underwood, not only did he prove to Hartsfield that he could still function effectively as a member of the Jays rotation, but he also received the backing of his teammates, who pounded an SP78 AL-record 25 hits—including a trio of triples in the Jays’ big 9-run fourth inning—to supply him with all the offense he would need to record his seventh win.
“The guys really helped me out,” said an exhausted Underwood after the game. “With the number of hits and ribbies they were collecting, I could’ve had my worst outing ever and still earned the win.”
Seattle grabbed their only lead of the game in the third inning, when designated hitter Leroy Stanton walked, raced to third on a single by Julio Cruz, and scored when a Craig Reynolds dribbler back to the mound was mishandled by Underwood for an error. Cruz advanced to third on the play, putting runners at the corners, but Reynolds ended the rally when he was cut down trying to steal second by Jays catcher Alan Ashby.
That lead didn’t last long, however, as the Blue Jays came right back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring with a barrage of doubles, singles, and the first of third baseman Bill Stein’s three errors in the game; unfortunately for Seattle, the four runs were just a warm-up for the next inning, as Toronto soon dismantled M’s pitching for nine more runs in the fourth, all of which were scored when eleven consecutive Jays batters reached base: Dave McKay and Luis Gomez struck for back-to-back triples to lead off the frame, the ensuing four batters all singled, then Doug Ault laced the third three-bagger of the inning off the left-field wall to clear the loaded bases. Two more hits, a reached base on another error by Stein, and a base on balls followed, with Al Woods finally ending the string with a long fly-out to center, prompting a chorus of good-natured boos from the partisan crowd as the Jays entered the fifth with a 13-1 advantage.
The Mariners mounted a mild comeback threat offUnderwood in the seventh; with two out; a bases-loaded walk to Stanton sent one runner home, and Julio Cruz delivered the game’s fourth triple to empty the bases and complete the four-run outburst. Unfortunately, the game was well out of hand by then, and the Jays only added injury to insult from that point on, scoring again in the seventh on an Ault solo home run, and twice more in the eighth on RBI singles from DH John Mayberry and, again, Ault, who finished the night with a stellar 4-for-6 with two runs scored and five RBI.
“Definitely one of my better games,” the beaming first baseman told CKFH’s Tom Cheek and Early Wynn during their post-game radio show. When asked if his performance tonight was more satisfying than his two-homer night in Toronto’s maiden game in 1977, Ault replied with a grin, “It’s close.”
Underwood, who came to the Blue Jays along with Victor Cruz in a trade with the Cardinals last December, struck out seven and walked five during his nine innings of work against the Mariners, earning his fourth complete game of the season, and first of the month. Though his lack of precision proved costly in the earned run column—four of the five Seattle batters who reached based via free passes would eventually score—it was still a solid performance by the right-hander from Kokomo, and more importantly, a chance to prove himself again five games from now against the visiting Brewers.