By BOB ELLIOTT
It is a short list of Canadian pitchers who faced the Cuban national team and walked off the mound with a victory.
Off the top of our head (and if we missed someone let us know) …
– RHP Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.) at the 2021 Olympic Qualifiers in St. Lucie, Fla.
– RHP Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) at the 2015 Premier 12 tournament in Taichung, Taiwan.
– RHP Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont) at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Ajax, Ont.
– RHP Mike Johnson (Sherwood Park, Alta.) in a pre-Olympic tournament in Nettuno Italy in 2004.
– Former first-rounder RHP Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Ont.) in Puerto Rico when he fanned 10 in five innings at the World Juniors. And again at the 2019 Premier 12 tournament in Seoul, Korea.
– RHP Steve Green (Greenfield Park, Que.) at the 1999 Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg.
– LHP Mike Kusiewicz (Ottawa, Ont.) in Brandon at the 1993 World Juniors, when Cuba managed one unearned run. One scout — a former member of the Canadian seniors, who disliked Cuba stealing and bunting up by 12, enjoyed the Canuck lead so much he missed his flight out of Winnipeg
– RHP Mike Carnegie (Etobicoke, Ont.) got the win over Cuba in 1983 in Belgium.
– And LHP Perry Lychak (Glendon, Alta.) at the 1981 Intercontinental Cup at Renfrew Park in Edmonton.
Lychak passed away Sept. 20 in Kinston, N.C., where he pitched for five seasons after signing as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Going to high school in Edmonton, Lychak was the hometown hero as he beat Cuba 2-1 on a three-hitter to deal the Cuban national team its first loss in five years. Tournament games were played at Renfrew and South Industrial Park.
“Perry was our best pitcher,” said Larry Downes (Niagara-on-The-Lake, Ont.), his catcher that night. “He threw hard and his fastball moved, a great curveball too. He was very competitive and could pitch inside, no problem.”
Downes remembers Canada meeting Cuba in the second game of the tourney. The two MacKenzies — Eric MacKenzie (Courtright, Ont.) and Bill MacKenzie (Ottawa, Ont.) — decided to start Lychak “only to get some work in so he could be saved him for later games.”
“We all figured he’d go three innings at the most, but something strange occurred,” Downes said. “He was so ON! He waltzed through the first three and the Cubans kept waiting and waiting to swing for the fences on a juicy fastball or hanging curve. It never happened. They were relegated to protecting the plate and making contact with two strikes. They were frustrated. Our team and the whole Renfrew Park crowd sensed something was special that night.”
The last sharp ground ball was hit to veteran 3B Randy Rasmussen.
“Everyone of our Team Canada knew the game was over as Raz, also one of our leaders, threw a seed over to first base,” Downes said.
It was game over, on Perry Lychak’s spectacular arm that night, Team Canada defeated Cuba, the first team to do it in five years.
Lychak also pitched for Canada in the 1979 Pan American Games and the 1980 World Cup. Growing up in Alberta, he headed south to pitch at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Wash. and then transferred to Indiana State.
Blue Jays scout Wayne Morgan (Kindersley, Sask.), who also inked Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.), signed Lychak. The left-hander reported to the class-A Kinston Blue Jays and was part of the Toronto farm system for four seasons. And he was there a fifth year with the Kinston Eagles who were still in the Carolina League but were not affiliated with the Jays.
It is rare for a player to stay five years in one town like Lychak did. He appeared in 190 games — making eight starts — and was a career 15-18 with 40 saves and a 3.02 ERA. He struck out 243 batters in 286 innings. He had 14 saves in both 1985 and 1986, with 1985 being his best campaign when he compiled a 4-2 won-loss record with a 1.75 ERA.
The old line when a player is in a town for more than two years is, “Are you running for town council?” Well, Lychak came to pitch in Kinston, N.C., stayed and taught both middle school and high school.
Services will be held at Woodington Middle School gym in Kinston on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, at 11 am; with a celebration of life in Edmonton to follow at a later date.
Donations may be made to: Woodington Athletics Department, 4939 Hwy. 258 South, Kinston, NC 28504 in remembrance.
Deepest sympathies are extended.