Reliever Alex Burnett of the Minnesota Twins was on the mound Wednesday night as he faced the Toronto Blue Jays’ Omar Vizquel with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
The count was 1-0.
This was the last day of the 2012 season for the Jays but, more significantly, it was the final game of Vizquel’s storied baseball career.
Yet the Venezuelan baseball icon had not had an ideal night at the plate that evening. He struck out in his first appearance and had lined out in his second.
“It felt like somebody was holding my bat behind me,” said Vizquel afterward as he tried to describe his first two trips to the batter’s box. “I was so nervous that I didn’t know what was going through my mind at that at-bat.”
So in what would turn out to be the final plate appearance in the major leagues, he decided to call upon a higher power to help him.
“The last at-bat I was going to take in the big league, I wanted to come out with a hit somehow,” said Vizquel. “A bunt or something; I wanted to get a base hit.
“I talked to Him at that at-bat. I said, ‘God, I don’t really talk to you at too many at-bats in my career, but this is the time you have to come through for me.’”
The crack of his bat as it made contact with a 91-mph fastball was barely heard over the roar of the 19,769 fans that were in attendance and on their feet at the Rogers Centre every time Vizquel was at the plate.
And the cheers grew into a crescendo as the ball shot its way into centre field for the single.
Base hit, Vizquel. It was his 2,877 hit of his career and his last as it moved him past Mel Ott for sole possession of 40th on the all-time hits list.
A respectful pause in the game was observed as the 23-year veteran of Major League Baseball took his place at first base as the fans continued to shower their praise for the 11-time Gold Glove recipient.
Venezuelan flags that peppered the stands were waved proudly by those supporters that idolize him.
And the ball that would represent his final hit in his final game at his final at-bat was passed back into the Blue Jays dugout.
Wednesday against the Twins was all about commemorating Vizquel.
A Venezuelan television crew was present to broadcast his last moments as a player live to his homeland. A simple, but poignant montage of his storied career was played over the Jumbo-tron to start the game, as his teammates and the fans stood and applauded their respect and appreciation.
The Jays further honoured him by having him throw the ceremonial first pitch to teammate Ricky Romero, while baseball legends Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Luis Aparicio looked on.
Even his jersey number commemorated this special day. The number 13, the one Vizquel wore for the majority of his life in the game no longer graced the back of Brett Lawrie, who owns the rights to the number as a Blue Jay.
Tonight, number 13 was Omar Vizquel. Lawrie, recognizing the significance of the event, had given it to him for his last game.
It was a decision that the third baseman said was decided upon the night before and was then approved by management.
“That’s been his number for countless years,” said Lawrie. “So this being his last game ever that he’s going to play, I pay a lot of respect to him and he’s paid a lot of respect to the game and I respect the game like that.
“I feel that guy’s spent that amount of time [in the game], they obviously deserve to go through that last game and enjoy every moment of it. And I think he’d do that best wearing the number 13.”
It was the top of the ninth. Toronto led Minnesota 2-1 with two outs and one man on first when Jays manager John Farrell called for a defensive change.
Omar Vizquel was being replaced by Mike McCoy, who moved to second base while Adeiny Hechavarria shifted from second base into shortstop.
And in an act that Farrell later admitted was scripted, Vizquel, to the resounding roar of all those present, was able to walk off the field, for the last time, with his head held high and a huge smile on his face.
A fitting tribute to a long and inspiring career.