To live up to the lofty expectations they had set for themselves, the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays would not be satisfied with simply making the playoffs — they would have to make it over a hump that had been growing ever since they’d choked away a 3–1 series lead to George Brett and the Royals in the 1985 ALCS.
Standing in between them and the World Series? The Oakland Athletics, who’d tied them for the best regular-season record in the American League, at 96–66, and were similar to Toronto in many ways: speed at the top of the order with Rickey Henderson, power from the Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, and a strong bullpen helmed by the best closer in baseball, AL MVP Dennis Eckersley.
Unlike prior years, though, the Jays entered the post-season brimming with confidence.
PAUL BEESTON, President We didn’t go into that series like we did, perhaps, in 1989—when we lost to Oakland—thinking they were a better team. I don’t think Cito thought that, I don’t think Pat thought that, I don’t think the players thought that.
TURNER WARD, OF The first thing Cito said going into that series was, “We’re going to have fun. This needs to be the time of your life.”
DUANE WARD, RP They had a great-hitting ball club, they had some good pitching, their defence was pretty stellar and they had the greatest leadoff man to ever play the game in Rickey Henderson.
TOM HENKE, RP There was a lot of animosity between the teams.
Through the first two games in Toronto, the teams proved as evenly matched as their regular-season records indicated. Oakland took Game 1, 4–3, despite a complete game, six-hit performance from Jack Morris. In Game 2, the Jays rallied behind David Cone, who delivered eight scoreless innings in a 3–1 win.
The floodgates finally opened when the series moved to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for Game 3, with Winfield bookending a 7–5 Jays victory — scoring on an RBI single by Candy Maldonado in the second and driving in Manuel Lee for insurance off Eckersley in the ninth.
DAVE WINFIELD, DH It was just one of those things — you hit a ball that you think should be a hit anyway and you run. I’m used to running hard, playing hard. They should have gotten me out with a good throw. But they didn’t.
Game 4 in Oakland produced the biggest moment of the ’92 season — and Blue Jays franchise history to that point. The Jays struck first — a solo shot from John Olerud in the second — but Morris, starting his second game in four days, was absolutely crushed in the third inning, with the A’s tagging him for five runs. Rubén Sierra extended Oakland’s lead with a double to score Henderson in the sixth.
ROBERTO ALOMAR, 2B We were losing that game 6–1 in the eighth inning. [Bob] Welch was pitching a great game, but I led off with a double, [knocking] him out of the game.
JERRY HOWARTH, Radio Oakland brought in Dennis Eckersley. Normally, Dennis would come in in the ninth, but here he came in in the eighth.
PAT HENTGEN, SP When a guy like Eckersley’s coming in, the morale in the dugout is not great. You feel almost beat before you go out there.
HOWARTH The Jays had a couple on, they had a chance to get back into the game, and Eckersley struck out Ed Sprague to finish [the eighth]. As he did so, he looked right at the Blue Jays’ dugout with a clenched fist — right in the face of those Blue Jays watching from the dugout.
ED SPRAGUE, C, 3B, 1B That got the dugout all riled up and the bench started yelling.
PAT TABLER, 1B How dare you do that to one of our players?
HOWARTH That’s probably, in hindsight, the worst thing that Dennis could have done. With a Hall of Fame team like that, so many great players, they said, “Okay, you want us? You can have us.”
Eckersley’s theatrics came despite the fact that the A’s had allowed three runs in the eighth. After Devon White singled to lead off the top of the ninth, Alomar came to the plate representing the tying run.
CITO GASTON, Manager Tony [LaRussa] very seldom let his lefty, [Rick] Honeycutt, face a right-hander or “Eck” face a left-hander. To me, Robbie’s a good hitter on both sides, but I like him more on his left side for power. I’m pretty sure [LaRussa] would’ve turned him around if he could.
ALOMAR I had a two-and-two count. I was dealing with sun and shadows. I could barely see the ball. I was only looking for an area. If he threw a slider it was very tough to see. I was only concentrating on one little area and I lucked out, I got that pitch.
TOMMY CRAIG, Trainer I was standing right on the rail; it was almost like a plywood fence that separated the walkway from the clubhouse and the on-deck circle. It was hit on a line, so it got out of there in a hurry. There was never any doubt.
ALOMAR I knew it was gone. Maybe Joe Carter didn’t think it was gone. He said, “Robbie! Run!”
HOWARTH He threw his hands up into the air; he knew when he hit it that it was gone. That tied the game, and then the Blue jays won it in extra innings. At that particular point, there was a little bit of a choker label put on the Blue Jays — they couldn’t win the big one — but that got them past that particular label and on their way toward greatness.
WARD After that home run, we were in the clubhouse basically saying, “We can beat these guys, hands down. Eckersley can be hit.” Throughout the whole year, Eckersley was virtually untouchable. That was the deciding moment in the playoffs — we knew we could beat them.
Even with a 3–1 series lead, facing Dave Stewart proved to be too much for the Jays as Oakland took game five 6–2. The Jays were dealt a second blow before game six, when Devon White was involved in a car crash, totalling a $140,000 Mercedes.
DEVON WHITE, CF I was test-driving cars. I was in the car with my wife. Fortunately, we weren’t badly hurt — a few bumps and bruises — but the car certainly was. Cito wanted to sit me the next day and I had to tell him that I was able to play.
White made it into the lineup, but Game 6 belonged to Candy Maldonado, who hit a three-run shot to put the game out of reach and caught a Rubén Sierra fly ball to shallow left field to end the game and the ALCS.
GASTON When Candy caught that ball, it was a relief for everybody. We finally got over the hump.
JOHN OLERUD, 1B [We were] fighting the stigma that the Jays aren’t able to win the big game. Even when things were going good or you had a big lead in a series, fans still didn’t want to get their hopes up because they didn’t want to get their hearts broken again.
HENKE It was a special moment to be on the mound when we clinched the ALCS. A reporter came up to me after and asked about all the pressure. I told him, “That’s not pressure. My dad had 11 kids and was making 10K and had to put food on the table. That’s pressure.”
With files from Ryan Dixon, Gare Joyce, Brett Popplewell, Adam Elliott Segal and Dave Zarum.
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