Blue Jays 8 Yankees 4
TORONTO — Cito Gaston’s unshakable and steadying hand has guided the Toronto Blue Jays through virtually every single high-point in franchise history.
Fans have watched him lead the way to four division titles and two World Series championships, and help players from George Bell to Jose Bautista thrive under his tutelage. On Wednesday, they saw something new from the retiring manager in his final home game — a tear.
The 66-year-old said goodbye before an adoring Rogers Centre crowd of 33,143, unable to fully keep his emotions in check during a moving 30-minute pre-game ceremony paying tribute to his career. His players then proceeded to honour him in their own way, pounding out three home runs to establish a new franchise record at 247 in an 8-4 victory over the New York Yankees.
With only a four-game series in Minnesota remaining before the 2010 season comes to a close, the Blue Jays pulled out all the stops for a “Thank You Cito” night, bringing back former stars George Bell, Pat Hentgen, Joe Carter and Devon White and compiling a video featuring Hank Aaron, Bobby Cox, Dusty Baker, Bud Selig, Roberto Alomar, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor, among others.
Fans stood and applauded him over and over, as did the players from both clubs. Gaston looked to be fighting back his emotions throughout the ceremony, a single tear finally breaking free and streaming down his right cheek as he addressed the crowd.
“I could probably stand here and enjoy that a little longer,” Gaston said during one his standing ovations, “but we’ve got a baseball game to play.”
Team president Paul Beeston and Rogers Communications Inc. CEO Nadir Mohamed presented Gaston with four plane tickets anywhere in the world — Beeston joked that Gaston might even invite wife Linda if Carter didn’t get in the way — as well as a portrait by Vernon Wells Sr.
His son, centre-fielder Vernon Wells, thanked Gaston on behalf of the players, presented him with a gift and then told the crowd: “He rocks the moustache better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
That had the Blue Jays doubled over with laughter, and many of them, Wells included, took the field with eye-black on their upper lips as a sign of respect.
Travis Snider was rocking the faux moustache when he leadoff the first with a solo shot, his 13th homer of the season and the team’s 245th, breaking the mark of 244 set by the 2000 Blue Jays when Gaston was hitting coach.
John Buck added his 20th of the season in the second to make it a 2-0 game while Aaron Hill’s 26th, a three-run blast in the fifth, made it 6-0 and pushed the total to 247, good for fifth all time in big-league history.
Brett Cecil (15-7) allowed three runs in 5 1-3 innings to earn the win as the Blue Jays (82-76) capped their home season in style at 45-33. They finished with a total attendance of 1,625,555, their lowest total since drawing 1,275,978 in 1982.
Javier Vazquez (10-10) took the loss for the Yankees (94-65), who clinched a playoff spot Tuesday. Alex Rodriguez hit his 30th homer, giving him 14 seasons with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, 13 of them consecutively.
But the day belonged to Gaston.
He arrived at the Rogers Centre around 1:15 p.m., signed some autographs, met with well-wishers and chatted with his players, former and current.
The busy nature of his schedule kept things from really sinking in, he said during a 30-minute chat with media, during which he repeatedly thanked fans for their support and expressed his love for the city of Toronto and the Blue Jays organization.
“I’m cool, I’m OK. This is OK,” he said. “It’s not like I’m dead, it’s just that I’m moving on to do something else. I’m fine, everything is good.”
The 66-year-old served as Blue Jays hitting coach from 1982 until he was promoted — forcibly by Beeston — to manager after the firing of Jimy Williams in 1989. Gaston was in charge until his dismissal late in the ’97 season, returning in June 2008 when John Gibbons was fired.
His all-time record of 910-850 over two stints as manager isn’t bad for someone who was reluctant to take the job in the first place.
“I had Paul Beeston with a gun in my back saying go do it,” Gaston quipped. “I’m joking but I thank him for making me, and he absolutely said to me: ’You’re it, we want you to do that.’
“I said what about Al Widmar, what about John Sullivan, they’ve done this before. I’d never managed before in my life and I wasn’t afraid, but not knowing what to expect and believe me, you learn real quick that every day you walk in that door there’s a problem.”
Most have been handled well, but White couldn’t help but chuckle when asked for his favourite Gaston memory. He brought up an infamous 1991 incident when Gaston came out to pull David Wells from a game, and unhappy left-hander threw the ball down the left-field line, leading to a scuffle between the two under the stands.
“That’s the first time we ever saw Cito go berserk, crazy, but that’s one of our favourites,” said White. “At that time, he had the bad back, it was like ’Cito, what are you going to do? You can’t do anything.’ It was pretty funny that he still had that kind of rage.”
Such incidents have been few and far between, and Hentgen said most players thrived under Gaston.
“Cito basically had two rules: You be on time, you play hard,” he said. “If you can’t go by those rules, you have issues. Sometimes less is more.”
Though Gaston is leaving the dugout, he’ll remain with the club as an adviser for the next four years.
“It’s a lot different because I’m leaving on my own terms this time,” he said. “It’s not too often you get a chance to go out this way. Usually they just tell you don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out. …
“And I’m still not leaving, I’ll be around for another four years so, it’s not like hey, that’s it, it’s all over and done, I’ll just be doing different things.”