Blue Jays Flashback: Juan Guzman

Enjoying Bodog Sportsbook’s Blue Jays Flashback series? There’s more to come from our man Kevin Glew, starting with the exploits of the big-time winner Juan Guzman.

Blue Jays Flashback: Juan Guzman


Rance Mulliniks vividly remembers the first time he encountered Juan Guzman.

“The first memory I have of Juan was in the spring training [1988] after the Blue Jays had acquired him,” shared Mulliniks in a recent phone interview. “My hitting group drew him over at the minor league camp. This was in the first eight or nine days of spring training and he was to throw to our group. And he threw extremely hard and was incredibly wild.

“At that point, I was well along in my career and I stepped in the cage and went through the process of just getting through that first round facing him. And then I walked out of the batting cage and I said to Cito [Gaston], ‘Cito, I’m done. If someone else wants to come in and take my place, they can go ahead. I’m getting too far along in my career to get hit by pitches from this guy.’”

But even through Guzman’s wildness, Mulliniks could spot the potential. The raw right-hander had overpowering stuff, if he could only harness his control.

Fortunately for the Blue Jays he did.

In fact, Guzman eventually became the greatest postseason pitcher in Blue Jays’ history.

The Blue Jays landed Guzman in a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 22, 1987 in exchange for infielder Mike Sharperson.

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1966, Guzman was signed by the Dodgers in 1985. With the Dodgers, Guzman exhibited a lively arm as a starter, racking up 113 strikeouts in 110 innings in Class-A in 1987, but he also walked 84 batters.

After the Blue Jays acquired him, Guzman was converted into a reliever and his wildness worsened. In 1989, he walked 90 batters in 68 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Guzman returned to Double-A Knoxville in 1990 and was used more frequently as a starter, registering an 11-9 record with a 4.24 ERA in 37 appearances (21 starts). One of the keys to his improvement was his development of a late-breaking slider. It was a pitch he’d eventually perfect and in 1991, after posting a 4.03 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) in Triple-A, he was called up by the Blue Jays.

After losing his first two big league starts, Guzman reeled off wins in 10 consecutive decisions. Most importantly, he notched five wins in September and early October to help the Blue Jays capture their third division title.

“He had great stuff. His fastball was electric,” said Mulliniks. “It had late movement and when he could command it, he had a slider that was almost unhittable as well.”

Former Blue Jays outfielder Rob Ducey, who played with Guzman in 1991 and 1992, has similar recollections of the right-hander.

“He was a very talented pitcher,” said Ducey. “I just remember he had a good arm and a good slider and he’d go out there and whatever happened, happened. He just went about his business and he didn’t get too fired up.”

In the American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins in 1991, Guzman started Game 2 and allowed just two earned runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings to lead the Blue Jays to their only victory in the series.

That was the beginning of a long string of postseason success for Guzman.

“Juan never let the situation overwhelm him,” said Mulliniks, who played with Guzman on the Blue Jays’ 1991 and 1992 postseason teams. “He just went about his business and prepared. He was always very easygoing and he didn’t show much emotion – at least outwardly. I think he had an excellent perspective about things.”

In 1992, Guzman enjoyed his most successful campaign, finishing with a 16-5 record and a 2.64 ERA. His performance earned him his first and only All-Star Game selection.

He also secured two wins for the Blue Jays in the ALCS against the A’s, including in Game 6 when the Blue Jays clinched their first American League pennant.

His postseason success continued in the Fall Classic when he permitted just one run in eight innings in Game 3 in a contest the Blue Jays eventually won 3-2 over the Atlanta Braves.

Guzman was again a key member of the Blue Jays’ rotation in 1993, completing the campaign with a 14-3 record. Manager Cito Gaston gave him the nod to start Game 1 of the ALCS against the Chicago White Sox and he responded by hurling six strong innings to earn the win. He picked up another victory in Game 5 of the series and then registered a 3.75 ERA in two World Series starts to help the Blue Jays to their second consecutive championship.

In 1994, Guzman was the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter but he struggled to a 5.68 ERA in 25 starts. His ERA ballooned to 6.32 ERA the following year before he rebounded to register an American League-leading 2.93 ERA in 27 starts in 1996.

But injuries limited him to just 13 starts in 1997 and after a poor start to the 1998 season, the Blue Jays dealt him to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline. He would also have stints with the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays.

In all, in parts of 10 major league seasons, Guzman finished with a 91-79 record in 240 starts and a 4.08 ERA. Among Blue Jays pitchers, he ranks fourth in strikeouts (1,030) and seventh in wins (76).

In five American League Championship Series starts for the Blue Jays, he went 5-0 with a 2.27 ERA. So, it’s not surprising that he also ranks first among Blue Jays pitchers in postseason wins (5), starts (8), innings pitched (51 2/3) and strikeouts (41).

“When it counted the most, he came up big and he pitched some great baseball games,” said Mulliniks.



That’s arguably the greatest compliment you can give to an MLB star, that they turned up when it mattered. The same can be said for the likes of Jesse Barfield, Dave Stieb, Ernie Whitt and Tom Henke. Big. Game. Players.