Using the way, way, way back machine we take you way, way, back to the night the Blue Jays won their first World Series ... 20 memories from 20 years ago.
1. The Blue Jays charter is rolling across the tarmac at Hartsfield Airport as the pilot announces: “On the right, is the welcoming committee.”
On top of a fuel tanker stands a man wielding a red tomahawk twice his own size, surrounded by airline workers all chopping away.
“We’re mad that we have to come back,” says Kelly Gruber. “We were hoping to wrap it up in Toronto.”
2. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reads: “Still smarting from losing the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta, Toronto fans could win a gold medal for whining this Series,” in reference to the umpiring.
3. The Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium is rocking with the tomahawk chop from the time the doors open on Saturday night. The Braves are behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, but the next two games are at home.
“We have to feel good taking it back home,” says Braves’ Sid Bream. “The feeling is that this team can do it, no doubt in my mind.”
Jays right-handers David Cone and, if necessary, Juan Guzman, will face Braves lefties Steve Avery and Tom Glavine.
Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” go up, even though 20 of the 25 Jays were Americans.
4. Cito Gaston hands in his lineup against lefty Avery. Unable to use the DH, he has Joe Carter, who made four starts at first base over the regular season, at first and Dave Winfield in right field, where he had not started during the regular season. First baseman John Olerud, the Jays second best hitter to this point, is on the bench.
5. Meanwhile, 45,551 fans are at the SkyDome to watch the Jays on the big screen with a 30-minute wait to get into the Hardrock Cafe.
6. In the Jays’ family section, scout Bob Engle sits with his wife, Barbara. A row behind him is scout Gordon Lakey and his wife. Finally, Engle says: “Look, we’re both getting stiff necks, turning to talk to each other. Why don’t the women and the men sit together?”
Lakey responds: “I can’t leave my seat. I told Cito where I was sitting.”
Once the game starts, a scout’s work is done.
7. The game is delayed 20 minutes due to rain. My boss, Scott Morrison, asks a favour: To do a quick interview near the dugout with CTV which was doing a pre-game show. I decline as I’m terrible on TV. But Scotty is a pal, so I found scribe Joe Strauss of the Journal-Constitution and down we go. Plus, it was $200 pay day.
Host Rob Faulds asks me who the MVP is if the Jays “wrapped it up?” Pat Borders is my answer. I forget what he asked Strauss, who now does an excellent job covering the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It wasn’t Faulds fault, but I was never paid.
I’m still searching for the producer who set up the interview. Let’s see $200 compounded monthly ... for 20 years.
Private detectives have located his current workplace as 333 Bloor St., East.
8. At 8:44 Avery throws the first pitch to Devon White. Ball one. That is after the opening ceremonies when all the flags were held the proper way. White hits the next pitch for a single, steals second, advances as Robbie Alomar grounds out and scores on a fly ball by Carter.
9. Bottom of the third: Cone allows a one-out double to Deion Sanders, who steals third and scores on a Terry Pendleton fly, tying the score.
10. Top of the fourth: Left fielder Candy Maldonado hits a 1-0 pitch to left for a solo homer and a 2-1 Jays lead.
11. Bottom of the fifth: After falling behind 3-1 with runners at second and third, Cone throws two breaking balls to Pendleton for the strikeout. Cone throws 103 pitches in six innings, giving the ball to Todd Stottlemyre, whose father, Mel Stottlemyre was Cone’s pitching coach the previous six seasons with the New York Mets.
12. Bottom of the eighth: Winfield, 40, makes a diving grab in right off the bat of Ron Gant, robbing him of extra bases.
13. Bottom of the ninth: Three outs for the Jays to win Canada’s first World Series. Jays president Paul Beeston and his guest, Wayne Gretzky, leave their box for the visiting clubhouse to be in on the celebration as Tom Henke comes on for the save.
On an 0-2 pitch, Jeff Blauser grounds one through the hole between short and third. Damon Berryhill bunts Blauser to second. Two outs to go. Pinch-hitter Lonnie Smith walks, but Francisco Cabrera lines out to left. One out to go. Henke has Otis Nixon swing and miss, then a called strike. One strike until the Jays dugout and the crowd at the SkyDome can explode. Nixon slaps a ball through the hole between third and short. Blauser scores, Maldonado’s throw home is high hitting the screen behind the backstop.
Improvements had been made to Fulton County Stadium in the previous off-season. New netting was erected to protect fans from foul balls behind home plate and the 1992 version extended about 10 feet farther on each side than the old screen.
Had it been 1991, and Maldonado uncorked his wild throw, it would have wound up in the 12th row and the Braves would have won to force a Game 7.
But, as a result, Smith holds at third. Ron Gant flies out to centre. On to extras after Henke’s first blown save since July 24.
14. Top of the 10th: Gruber singles with out out. Gaston pinch-hits Pat Tabler for Manny Lee, who storms into the dugout and flings his helmet. It bounces off the concrete and hits a coach below the eye.
“Everyone was on the same program that year, except for the third baseman (Gruber) and the shortstop (Lee),” one member of the 1992 team told us years later. “Cito figured it out before most of the players.”
15. Bottom of the 10th: Henke gets the first out, then lefty Jimmy Key the next two.
16. Top of the 11th: Gaston allows Key to hit and he pops up. White is hit by a pitch and Alomar singles on a 1-0 pitch. Carter flies out.
Bobby Cox and Gaston’s managerial styles are almost identical. Both were players managers and disliked the bunt, although Cox used it more in the NL. Both were easy-going until a player reached the end of his leash (see Derek Bell, Yunel Escobar). There was one difference: Cox and third base coach Jimy Williams, both with the Braves, didn’t guard the lines in late innings, as Gaston did.
When Olerud made a diving catch in Game 4 at the SkyDome, Cox was shocked the first baseman was on the line with the Braves down a run and two men in scoring position to catch a ball hit by Blauser.
So, the Braves had third baseman Terry Pendleton positioned far off the bag with Winfield — a right-handed bat — at the plate.
Winfield hits a 2-0 pitch for, what otherwise would have been, a routine grounder off lefty Charlie Leibrandt, But with Pendleton off the bag, it shoots down the left-field line for a two-run double and a 4-2 Toronto lead. White scores the lead run, serving as an additional third base coach waving Alomar home, too.
17. Bottom of the 11th: Blauser singles to left off Key and Berryhill reaches when Alfredo Griffin, Lee’s replacement, boots a ball at short. Pitcher John Smoltz pinch-runs for Berryhill. Rafael Belliard bunts over the runners, two outs to go. Brian Hunter grounds to first with Blauser scoring, cutting the lead to 4-3, with one out to go.
Gaston makes a mound visit, asking if he was okay to face the fleet Nixon. Most pitchers would have answered: “Sure skip, I’ll get him.” But Key answers honestly: “You know, I’ve never had much luck with this guy.” Gaston calls for Mike Timlin, who had not recorded a save all season. As Gaston leaves the mound, Carter says: “Watch the bunt.”
In the press room, we hear legendary Braves broadcaster Skip Caray tell his listeners: “Don’t be surprised if Otis drops one down here.”
Nixon bunts the 0-1 pitch, Smoltz races home from third, Timlin fields the bunt and throws to Carter for the final out. Carter begins jumping in the air, although it was nothing like October of 1993.
The clock reads 12:50 a.m.
Borders is presented the MVP trophy after hitting .450 with two hits in Game 6, extending his consecutive-game, post-season hitting streak to 14, matching Brooks Robinson for the third-longest hitting streak in playoff history.
18. The clubhouse opens to the media, except it wasn’t a clubhouse. It was like walking into a room after the sprinkler system went off. Champagne sprinklers. Then beer. And plenty of tears.
“How much was he out by?” a tearful Gillick asks.
“Does it matter?” is the reply.
There are hugs, tears and pronouncements of let’s do it again next year.
“America’s game,” Winfield says, “is going to Canada for a while.”
19. At Fizgerald’s, a downtown Atlanta saloon, columnist Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register tinkles the ivories. His final song near dawn was O Canada.
Beeston, Gillick, Gaston, the players, coaches, scouts, trainers, equipment men, support staff, wives and the rest of the travelling party celebrate the night away at the Hotel Nikko in Buckhead, an Atlanta suburb.
20. And the next day our Christie Blatchford writes: “‘Somewhere, over the rainbow, Blue birds fly’ from Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
“The rainbow ended in the visitors clubhouse, where the lockers were draped in plastic sheeting, the floor was wet with sweat and beer, and the Blue Jays sang the Atlanta Braves’ war cry and chopped the air with spraying champagne bottles, and the gentle adults who play the children’s game stood in corners and wept.
“Borders’ small mother, Donna, whispers to her daughter-in-law: ‘That took 10 years off my life, shee-it.’”