08/07/2002 11:12 pm ET
Woodward has the good wood
Blue Jays shortstop hits three homers in losing cause
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
TORONTO -- Chris Woodward is all muscle, a sturdy 185-pounder with barely an ounce of fat on his body. For all of his fitness, though, he doesn't seem to be an imposing figure, either at the plate or in the clubhouse. With his soft voice and relaxed nature, Woodward is an easy guy to deal with -- unless you're an opposing pitcher.
The shortstop proved that point in a big way on Wednesday night, taking Seattle pitchers deep three times. It was a career game for Woodward, his first multi-homer game in the Major Leagues, but it still felt slightly empty. That's because the Mariners overcame his heroics to steal a 5-4 win in extra innings.
"We lost -- I'm still trying to figure out how we could've won that game," he said. "That's what we play the game for. It's great to hit three home runs in a game, but if you don't win, then you really didn't accomplish what you set out to do."
Before anyone thinks that Woodward raided the cliche barrel before the postgame interview, there's one thing that should be known: he meant every word of it. The modest middle infielder is a team player through and through, and it's nearly impossible to get him to speak about himself. Only relentless questioning may get him to acknowledge his own accomplishments.
"A lot of guys go their whole careers without hitting three home runs in a game," he said. "Obviously, I'll look back and this will be a big game for me. I might never do it again, so obviously it's nice to feel that."
Woodward described the evening as bittersweet. It was the right thing to say, but it wasn't absolutely necessary. After all, who could blame him for being ecstatic after a game like that?
Nobody, especially when one considers how far he's come. In the beginning of the season, Woodward was an afterthought, a reserve without a regular role. He had proven that he could hit at Triple-A, but he never really got the opportunity to do so in the Majors. Buck Martinez, Toronto's former manager, said several times that he thought Woodward could eventually hit 15 homers in a season. That was an intriguing prediction, but nobody knew where it came from. At the minor-league level, the most he had ever hit was 11.
Now, just 152 at-bats into this season, Woodward has 11 homers. Can he sustain that over an extended period of time? Nobody really knows, including him.
"A lot of guys go their whole careers without hitting three home runs in a game. Obviously, I'll look back and this will be a big game for me. I might never do it again, so obviously it's nice to feel that."
-- Chris Woodward
"I don't even know what I'm capable of, given a whole season. I haven't really played a whole season in like three years," Woodward said. "All I can do now is take what I'm given for the rest of the year, see what I can do.
"You can project numbers and stuff, but I have tons of respect for guys who can do it over the whole year," he continued. "That's the bottom line -- that's why they're superstars. A-Rod hits 11 homers in 150 at-bats every time."
Carlos Tosca, Toronto's current manager, said he's not surprised by Woodward's sudden power stroke. He said that the shortstop's strength, along with the leverage in his swing, are the main reasons why. The only question Tosca had was whether Woodward could get enough confidence in the big leagues to let his talent do the rest of the work.
"If you look at his numbers in the minors, he had a good home-run ratio, per at-bat," Tosca said. "He's got a lot of power. He stepped it up and he's playing outstanding for us. The kid had a great night. Unfortunately, it was in a losing cause."
That's accurate, although it's no fault of Woodward's. He hit homers off two different pitchers, Joel Pineiro and Kazuhiro Sasaki, and every one of them was huge. The first shot, in the fifth inning, tied the game at 1-1. The second, in the seventh, gave the Blue Jays a short-lived one-run lead. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, the 26-year-old took advantage of Sasaki, an All-Star closer, pounding the ball over the left-field fence. That shot, with his team clinging to their last at-bats, was the biggest one for Woodward.
"It's a one-run game, he's in the game to do a job, to get us out, to get a save," he said. "Tying the game off him was a big thrill. A lot of high fives, a lot of congratulations. After that, we went back to the game. We wanted to win the game.
"We want to prove a point, especially to the good teams. Obviously, we want to beat every team, but we want to play the good teams well to show where we're at. I think we've done that."
Mission accomplished -- and then some.
Spencer Fordin, who covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.