How 1992 World Series win transformed Blue Jays and their fans

Take a trip down memory lane with this City Toronto post-game report inside the Blue Jays clubhouse as they celebrate their Game 6 win and their 1992 World Series championship.

This week’s Blue Jays Time Capsule articles on the 1992 World Series brought back a lot of memories and, maybe more to the point, feelings.

Of course, it’s fun to look back and reminisce and feel the joy that we felt when the Blue Jays won. But reading along in something approximating real time, it’s easy to be brought back to the mindset that you had as the Series was unfolding.

And more than anything, that mindset was steeped in doubt.

The Blue Jays’ history of futility wasn’t long and storied, but by the time they made their first appearance in the World Series, fans had withstood a succession of heartbreaks over the previous seven seasons.

The loss in the 1985 ALCS to the Kansas City Royals after being up 3-1; Losing the AL East in 1987 after a collapse in the final week; Getting pasted by the Bash Brother-era Oakland A’s in the 1989 ALCS; Losing the AL East in the final weekend of the 1990 season; Losing to the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 ALCS, even though the Jays were probably the better team.

The uncharitable had taken to calling the Blue Jays “chokers,” which was an ugly and unfair term for a team that was consistently among the elite in the league. Few back then thought of the playoffs as a crapshoot, or recognized the degree to which luck factored into a best-of-seven series. Rather, failure as a team in a pennant race or the playoffs was a reflection of a lack of character, or the “will to win.”

And where someone can point out the flaws in someone else’s character, there were many who relished the opportunity to heap scorn on the team and their naïve die-hard fans from a position of moral superiority. It seemed at the time that there were people who took glee in rubbing it in, and couldn’t wait to do so again.

(In my experience, a not-insignificant number of those who savoured the Jays’ struggles were Expos fans. Funny how that all worked out.)

For the more earnest fans, the excitement of finally making it to the World Series was matched with equal portions of anxiety and dread. Reading through the capsules of Game 1 and 2 of the series, one remembers the depths of losing the first game, but even more profoundly, the feeling in Game 2 of “here we go again.”

Somehow, in the fog of retrospect, Ed Sprague’s home run in Game 2 has slipped behind Roberto Alomar’s ALCS homer or Joe Carter’s walk-off from the next season. Watching that game for the first time in years, one is reminded of the sense of resignation that had begun to take over up until that moment.

On the verge of going down 0-2, with the Braves’ closer on the mound, with all the then-recent history of failure in the post-season it was hard to access whatever reserves of hope you had less. The temptation was to give up rather than be crushed by expectations once again.

And then, one swing of the bat. A pinch-hit homer. From the backup catcher.

That the moment came from the bat of Sprague, who had almost no profile on a star-studded team, made the moment all the more surreal. It was a reminder of one of baseball’s best attributes, that anyone with a bat in their hands is dangerous. And on any day, any player can be the hero.

Though the Blue Jays had two hard-fought, one-run wins in the following two games to go up 3-1 in the series, and it began to feel as though maybe this team was different, it still didn’t prevent the old demons from creeping back in Game 5. Lonnie Smith’s grand slam in the top of the fifth essentially put an end to the notion of the Jays clinching the series at home, and reminded fans of the sure-thing leads that evaporated before.

The return of that dreadful anxiety is part of what makes Game 6 of the 1992 World Series one of the most memorable in Blue Jays’ history. Had they waltzed easily to a 4-1 series win, the moment may not have been nearly as resonant.

But in a 3-2 series, with the Blue Jays teetering on the cusp of needing to go to a winner-take-all seventh game, every inning and every play was excruciating.

Tom Henke blowing the championship save in the ninth inning of Game 6 is thankfully forgotten now, but in the moment it was agonizing.

Even after the heart of the Jays’ order put two on the board in the 11th (in an inning where Jimmy Key led off, no less) the bottom of the inning was again an unbearable mess of balls in play and runners on base. Mike Timlin fielding Otis Nixon’s bunt, and shovelling off to Joe Carter at first doesn’t have the same pyrotechnics as a walk-off win, but every movement in that play still feels fraught and anxious to this day.

In some ways, it feels like the subsequent year’s win receives more glory, and the 1993 team may be the apex of the franchise. But no week in the history of the Blue Jays transformed the team and their fans as much as that one week, 25 years ago.

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