TORONTO — There’s a chapter in my 2016 book The Big 50: Toronto Blue Jays entitled ‘The Bat Flip and Holy Trinity of Blue Jays Home Runs.’
It’s a bit clunky, largely because Jose Bautista’s epic drive in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series forced a near-deadline rewrite. About six months after the book came out, Edwin Encarnacion delivered his wild-card walkoff against the Baltimore Orioles, another homer that sailed directly into franchise lore.
Not sure what I would have named the chapter after that one, but it’s among the five home runs in club history that are clearly more significant than any others.
Regardless, a fun debate then, when I first wrote the section, and now, with a little bit more perspective as time has passed, is over which homer is the most important in Blue Jays history.
For some it’s clearly Joe Carter’s walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6 off Mitch Williams to beat the Philadelphia Phillies and clinch the World Series, because, duh, it won a title. That’s a pretty strong case. Underappreciated is Ed Sprague’s ninth-inning, pinch-hit drive off Jeff Reardon in Game 2 that probably saved Toronto in the 1992 World Series against the Atlanta Braves.
But, to me, Roberto Alomar’s two-run homer off fellow Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 1992 American League Championship Series, is without question the most pivotal swing in franchise history.
(Watch it Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet’s Blue Jays Classics to judge for yourself).
I’ll grant you that no homer was as emotionally charged as Bautista’s bat flip laser, and no homer as celebrated as Carter’s shot. But Alomar’s stroke singlehandedly vanquished the ghosts of past failures the Blue Jays had carried since 1985, when they blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals, and that’s what makes it such a transformative moment.
Maybe the Blue Jays still would have won the ALCS that year and advanced to the World Series for the first time had they lost that game and allowed the Athletics to even the series, 2-2. But when they rallied to win 7-6 in 11 innings — after trailing 6-1 through seven, Alomar’s homer making Eckersley pay for his over-the-top taunts at the end of the eighth inning, there was an air of inevitability to their ascension.
Psychologically, it pushed them past the failures of ’85, ’87, ’89 and ’91, and eradicated the derisive Blow Jays moniker.
“Without Robbie hitting that home run we don’t make it,” former manager Cito Gaston told me in an interview for the book. “It got us over the hump where we’d been trying to get for years. We were close in ‘87 and ’85, which really, I spent a week in my basement, I wouldn’t come out I was so depressed.”
Alomar kept that from happening again in hella dramatic fashion.
The Blue Jays began to rally in the eighth and scored three times before Eckersley struck out Sprague to end the inning. Afterwards, he did this, enraging the Blue Jays dugout.
“We were yelling stuff like you would never believe,” said teammate Pat Tabler. “I was making up stuff to yell at him.”
Vengeance came in the ninth when Devon White opened the inning with a single and reached third on an error, bringing up Alomar as the tying run.
He turned on a 2-2 offering and ripped it over the wall in right to tie the game, an exuberant celebration helping chase Eckersley’s taunts.
“There were a lot of shadows, it was fun and (scary) at the same time. It was real difficult to see the ball,” Alomar said. “I was looking for a fastball that I can drive and I was looking up to get a pitch in the inside part of the plate. I took my good swing and it went over the fence.
“You know, it was a big hit for us. … It turned around the series and from that point on we were a different ball club.”
A Pat Borders sacrifice fly in the 11th capped the 7-6 win and the Blue Jays lost Game 5 before clinching at home with a 9-2 win in Game 6, setting the stage for the first of two consecutive World Series titles. There had been so much success from the first AL East crown in 1985 onward, and to that point, so much heartache as well.
Alomar’s home run provided an exclamation point in the way Bautista’s bat flip homer did after two decades out of the post-season. Both bubbled up from a wild cauldron of emotion — that Game 5 versus the Texas Rangers is an all-time baseball classic — which is why they’re such memorable, iconic moments.
“My reaction was emotion, I wasn’t showing anyone up, I just raised my hands up,” Alomar said. “Bautista was emotion, too. When you’re into the game in a big game like that, sometimes you do things you normally wouldn’t do.”
Those types of homers, especially, deserve to be celebrated (players should enjoy every dinger they hit and baseball’s fun-police needs to get over themselves), as swings worthy of a franchise’s all-time highlight reel are few and far between.
Bautista won a series and extended the playoff run of 2015. Alomar won a game and changed the trajectory of the Blue Jays in the process, which is why if you’re searching for the most important home run in club history, you needn’t look any further.