As 2013 winds to a close, TSN.ca looks back at the stories and moments that made the year memorable. TSN.ca's writing staff reflects on the best baseball moments from the past 12 months including the Jays' highs and lows, Ichiro's moment in the sun, Todd Helton's farewell and more!
Toronto's Opening Day optimism vanishes in a hurry
By: Barry Riz
A winter unlike most in Blue Jays history had passed with some of the most dramatic player upgrades the franchise had ever seen. Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson were each star additions and made the Blue Jays a revitalized force in the AL East.
Many prognosticators saw Toronto as a 95-win team, and Las Vegas sportsbooks had the Jays as World Series favourites.
Opening Day is usually sold out in Toronto - but tickets to this one against Cleveland were tough to come by two months in advance. There was a buzz in the stadium, an expectation that had been building all winter. The road back to the postseason was going to start - and start in style - with defending NL Cy Young winner Dickey on the hill for the Blue Jays.
Well for those who believe in signs, there were plenty to go around. Catcher J.P. Arencibia allowed three passed balls from the knuckleballer which led in part to Cleveland's first two runs. Toronto's newly potent offence was held to just four hits, with their sole run coming on a double play groundout. The Indians cruised to a 4-1 win.
After months of winter build-up the aura of invincibility for Blue Jay fans was gone in a hurry.
Ichiro joins baseball's elite
By: Shane McNeil
Baseball has had a pretty brutal couple decades from the 1994 players' strike through to the Biogenesis bombshell of 2013, but Ichiro is the type of classic baseball player that performs at the most basic technical level in hugely entertaining fashion.
I don't care that he has hit one home run for every 83 major league plate appearance, because there's no one else in the game I'd rather see run as fast as they can from home to first.
So when Ichiro joined Pete Rose and Ty Cobb as the only professional ball players to reach the 4,000 hit plateau on Aug. 21, it gave baseball fans a chance to respect a man who has excelled at the game on its most basic of levels.
Some put an asterisk on the achievement due to his time in Japan, but there are many reasons why those people are wrong.
Ichiro has played baseball in a beautiful and dignified way for the last 13 years in North America while countless other superstars have chosen not to. If we can't allow the man his one moment in the sun in what is likely the twilight of his MLB career, we're doing something wrong.
A quiet goodbye for a Hall-of-Famer
By: Mike Beauvais
The 2013 MLB season had some great storylines and it was one of the more compelling campaigns in recent memory including legendary New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera's farewell tour.
There was another significant retirement in 2013, but it certainly didn't receive the coverage that Rivera's did.
On Sept. 17, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton announced that the 2013 season would be his last in the MLB. Only 11 days later, he would play his final game at Coors Field. There was a modest ceremony prior to the game and Helton would go on to close out his career in Denver with a home run and three RBI.
Maybe Helton's retirement didn't merit the fanfare that came with Rivera's, but Helton's played out much like the majority of his 17 seasons with the Rockies did â€" quietly and under the mainstream radar.
If you're a casual baseball fan, you just might be taken aback by Helton's career numbers: .316 career batting average, top-10 all-time in OBP (.430,), only player in MLB history to have 10-consecutive seasons of 35 or more doubles as well as countless Rockies career records.
Helton was never the sexy name that Derek Jeter was and never starred in the spotlight of the Bronx like Jeter and Rivera did, but Todd Helton was the Colorado Rockies' talisman and worthy of Cooperstown consideration.
In his final at bat on that cool, September night in Denver, Helton went out as unassumingly as you would think a player like Helton would: he struck out swinging before politely soaking in the standing ovation from the Coors Field crowd.
"It goes by really quick," Helton said after the game of his career. "You blink and here you are."
Brian McCann stands up for his principles
By: Daan De Kerpel
In a two week span in September, Brian McCann had confrontations with Miami Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez followed by Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez after they each admired a home run a little too long.
On Sept. 11, Fernandez was making his last start of the season in Miami. In the sixth inning, he hit a home run and watched it a little too slowly for the Braves' liking. As he rounded third, Fernandez made some gestures to the Braves bench, which didn't sit well with McCann, who immediately started talking to the 20-year-old.
After the game, Fernandez told the media that he apologized to both McCann and Mike Minor, the pitcher who hit the home run off of. McCann's response: "Hey, man, you're a kid but you're in the big leagues. You need to do what big leaguers do."
Perhaps taking a page out of Johnson's playbook, McCann was much more animated two weeks later when Gomez took Paul Maholm deep, watched the ball sail into the seats before running. After trading barbs with Braves players as he ran the bases, McCann stood in front of home plate and wouldn't let the Gomez pass. That led to the benches clearing and even punches being thrown.
While no one is expecting McCann to display this type of fire all the time in the regular season, the fact that he can get that wound up in games against non-playoff teams in September, makes me wonder what he'll be like in a rivalry game against the Red Sox.
The infectious joy that is Munenori Kawasaki
By: Sarah Zintel
The Toronto Blue Jays 2013 season may not have met their fans expectations but they certainly got lucky with the hilarious distraction that was Munenori Kawasaki.
He stormed onto the Jays infield leaving everyone in stiches.
The shortstop quickly became best known for his unorthodox stretching, unique dance moves, original handshakes with teammates, and most importantly his interview skills.
The Japan native's most infamous interview was after his walk-off double for the win at home against the Orioles where he stole the show with his preplanned notes and poor English. The interview quickly went viral and most recently earned him the MLB's GIBBY Award for "Cut 4 Topic of the Year".
Kawasaki's positive and joyous attitude helped motivate not only the fans but also his teammates to come together and celebrate the Blue Jays, despite the team finishing last in the AL East.
The team declined Kawasaki's option for next season and the fans will surely miss his spirit. But one thing that will never be forgotten is: "My name is Munenori Kawasaki. I come from Japan. I'm Japanese!"
MLB strikes unlikely gold in Game 162
By: Shane McNeil
So, we're now two years into Major League Baseball's expanded playoff format and while nothing could replicate the insanity of the final day of the 2011 season, the extra playoff spot has at least provided meaningful games on the season's final day with regularity.
This season was no different, as the Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians entered the final game vying for wild card spots. All three teams won their final game, setting up a one-game playoff between the Rangers and Rays to earn a spot in another one-game playoff with the Indians.
But the highlight of the day would come not from the wild card chase but a meaningless game in Miami.
Marlins hurler Henderson Alvarez no-hit the Detroit Tigers for nine innings, but his teammates were unable to get him a run through eight.
The Marlins caught some fortuitous bounces in the ninth, including the wild pitch that would plate Giancarlo Stanton for the winning run. Immediately after Stanton crossed, the Marlins mobbed Alvarez â€" who was standing in the on-deck circle - to celebrate the achievement.
When was the last time you saw a pitcher relish a no-no with a batter's helmet on?