TORONTO – It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold and one would think that 30 years is a solid cooling-off period.
The Toronto Blue Jays have their backs to the proverbial wall once again, trailing the Kansas City Royals three games to one in the American League Championship Series with things looking bleak as they head into Game 5 needing a win to send the series back to Missouri, where they would then need two straight wins to move on to the World Series.
It’s been a mirror image of Toronto’s first post-season trip, the 1985 ALCS, in which the Blue Jays held the same seeming stranglehold and had it slip away.
Back then, the Royals overcame 3-1 deficits against both the Blue Jays and against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for the first and so far only championship in franchise history.
Back in 1985, the Blue Jays started the ALCS at home and simply overwhelmed the Royals in the series opener. Dave Stieb threw eight innings of three-hit shutout in a 6-1 win.
In Game 2, the Royals took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning, but the Blue Jays tied it up on a two-out, two-run single by Jesse Barfield and took the lead on a George Bell sac fly off closer Dan Quisenberry in the eighth.
Kansas City came back to tie the game in the ninth on Pat Sheridan’s leadoff homer off Tom Henke, and took the lead in the 10th on Frank White’s two-out RBI single.
With the visitors poised to take the series back to K.C. with a split, the Blue Jays broke the Royals’ hearts with a two-run rally in the bottom of the 10th, walking it off on Al Oliver’s two-out RBI single.
The series shifted venues with the Blue Jays in command, but the Royals came back from 5-2 down in the fifth inning, tying the game on a two-run homer by George Brett in the sixth and scoring the winning run in the eighth on Steve Balboni’s two-out RBI single off Jim Clancy.
With the “momentum” on their side, the Royals looked to pull even in the series in Game 4 and even carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning with Charlie Leibrandt spinning a four-hit shutout through eight. In the ninth, the Blue Jays rallied for three runs to win it, the comeback capped by a two-run pinch-hit double by Oliver.
It’s hard to imagine a team being as down as the Royals were at that point — facing elimination, trailing 3-1, having blown late leads in two of the three losses and up against the team that finished with the best record in the American League, the 99-62 Blue Jays.
Sonnets were being written and epic tales scripted about the Royals’ shortcomings and the Blue Jays’ impending trip to the Fall Classic, but they got up off the mat.
Danny Jackson threw a complete-game shutout in Game 5 to send the series back to Toronto where the Royals tied the series with a 5-3 win in Game 6, George Brett going deep to break a 2-2 tie in the fifth. That set the stage for Jim Sundberg’s wind-blown triple off the top of the right-field fence that sealed the deal in Game 7.
So the 2015 Blue Jays find themselves in exactly the same position the Royals were 30 years ago, needing three straight wins, the last two of which will have to come in the home ballpark of the team that had the best record in the league.
It should be noted that the last team to come back from a 3-1 deficit was the 2012 San Francisco Giants. They also happen to have been the last team to come back from a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-five. Until the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays did it.
By no means is a comeback going to be easy, but an ALCS win was never going to be, anyway. All is not lost, though, as history clearly shows.