1992 World Series Time Capsule: Blue Jays win intense Game 3 at home

Kelly Gruber. (Charles Krupa/AP)

It’s been 25 years since the Toronto Blue Jays reached the World Series for the first time in franchise history. We all know the result—the Blue Jays beat the Braves in six games—but the specifics of the series can fade over the years.

In 1992, I was a kid listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth call the games on the radio. Over the next week I’ll be looking back at each game of the series on the 25-year-anniversary of the night it was played.

Game 3 Final score: Blue Jays 3, Braves 2
Blue Jays lead series 2-1
The 51,813 fans who packed SkyDome for the first World Series game ever to take place outside of the U.S. witnessed an especially memorable game that included perhaps the most storied defensive play in franchise history and ended with a walk-off win.

First: the catch. With two on and none out in the fourth inning, Devon White raced back to the centre field wall and robbed David Justice of extra bases with a catch so spectacular that it caught the two Braves baserunners completely off-guard. Terry Pendleton was called out for passing Deion Sanders, which meant the Blue Jays had a chance at a triple play. Kelly Gruber dove for Sanders and tagged his heel as he scrambled back to second, but umpire Bob Davidson called him safe. Regardless, it was the signature defensive play of a gifted centre fielder.

Thanks to White’s catch, Juan Guzman escaped the fourth unscathed and Joe Carter homered in the bottom of the inning to give the Blue Jays the lead. But the Braves tied the score in the sixth and took the lead on an unearned run in the eighth with some help from a Kelly Gruber error. In the bottom of the inning, Gruber made up for it. He led off the eighth with a solo home run to tie the game and set up a dramatic finish.

To lead off the bottom of the ninth Roberto Alomar singled off of Steve Avery, who was otherwise impressive in Game 3. Three pitching changes later, Alomar scored on a walk-off Candy Maldonado single and all those Blue Jays fans left SkyDome with their team leading the series 2-1.

How it looked on Toronto TV in 1992
City Toronto’s post-game report from Oct. 20, 1992:

City Toronto’s report on Buffalo sports loyalty:

City Toronto’s report on the economic impact of the World Series:

Conventional-then-but-controversial-now managerial move:
Where to begin? After 25 years, this game offers all kinds of opportunity for second guessing. It was another era, of course, and we shouldn’t expect that the Blue Jays and Braves would manage by today’s norms any more than we’d expect the 1927 Yankees to bat Babe Ruth second, but it’s fun to contrast the playing styles.

To start, let’s skip ahead to the bottom of the ninth, since that inning alone was managed completely differently than it would be today. Here’s a partial list of the more noteworthy decisions made by Jimy Williams (who was managing in place of the ejected Bobby Cox) and Cito Gaston:

• The Braves allowed Steve Avery to start the ninth inning of a tie game, even though he had already thrown 113 pitches and was now facing the Blue Jays’ batting order for the fourth time.

• In 1992, Dave Winfield was a 41-year-old, Hall of Fame-bound cleanup hitter with 432 career home runs to his name. He had one sacrifice in the last year. And yet with nobody out and two on, he laid down a sac bunt (to his credit, it was a pretty good one). Even the Braves were surprised; Brian Hunter was playing deep at first base, not the ideal position to field a bunt attempt.

•When the Braves brought lefty Mike Stanton into the game to face the left-handed hitting John Olerud, Gaston went to his bench and replaced Olerud with the previous game’s hero, Ed Sprague. The right-handed hitting Sprague would have the platoon advantage against Stanton, but his lifetime totals paled compared to those of Olerud. Sprague had a lifetime OPS of .725 while Olerud had a lifetime .804 mark. Even against lefties Olerud had a .393 on-base percentage, yet it would be Sprague who stepped up to the plate.

•But the Braves preferred to see Jeff Reardon face Candy Maldonado, so they walked Sprague, whose run didn’t matter, to load the bases and set up a potential double play. On paper, this is one move that made sense—Reardon had whiffed Maldonado seven times over the years, including three of four at bats earlier in the 1992 season—but it backfired when Maldonado singled off Reardon for the walk-off win.

Toronto Star Game 3 headline from 1992:

Game 3 Boxscore (via Baseball Almanac)

Game 1: Oct. 17
Game 2: Oct. 18
Game 3: Oct. 20
Game 4: Oct. 21
Game 5: Oct. 22
Game 6: Oct. 24