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.
Final score: Blue Jays 4, Braves 3 (11 innings)
Blue Jays win series 4-2
Fittingly, for a series that featured so much pitching talent, Game 6 was another low-scoring game. David Cone made up for a lacklustre Game 2 performance and Steve Avery allowed little more than a Candy Maldonado home run.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen continued its stellar relief work, and Atlanta countered with Pete Smith, who pitched three scoreless innings of his own. Entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Blue Jays had a one-run lead with Tom Henke on the mound. Considering Henke’s track record—34 saves and a 2.26 ERA in the regular season, six consecutive scoreless outings in the playoffs—the Braves’ chances looked slim.
Jeff Blauser singled and the Braves bunted him to second, but once Francisco Cabrera lined out and Otis Nixon fell behind 0-2, the Blue Jays were one strike away from winning it all. Unfazed, Nixon singled Blauser home to tie the game and extend the Braves’ season. Game 6 was going to extra innings.
The 10th passed without incident, but the Blue Jays rallied in the top of the 11th, providing Dave Winfield with the chance to prove that George Steinbrenner was wrong to call him Mr. May. Winfield made the most of it, hitting a line drive down the third base line a two-run double—his first career World Series extra-base hit.
The Blue Jays were now ahead by two, but they still had three outs to record and they had already burned their setup man and closer. Jimmy Key got two outs while allowing a run to score, bringing the score to 4-3. With Nixon due up and the tying run on third base, the Blue Jays called on sophomore reliever Mike Timlin. Nixon bunted, Timlin flipped to Joe Carter and the Blue Jays had won it all.
How it looked on Toronto TV in 1992
City Toronto’s post-game highlight pack from Oct. 24, 1992:
City Toronto’s post-game report on the clubhouse celebrations from Oct. 24, 1992:
City Toronto’s post-game report on celebrations in the street from Oct. 24, 1992:
Toronto Star Game 6 headline from 1992:
Conventional-then-but-controversial-now managerial move:
At first, I was tempted to suggest that the Braves shouldn’t have let Charlie Leibrandt face Dave Winfield in the 11th. The resulting two-run double put the game out of reach and you could make the argument that the Braves should have foreseen trouble. After all, in 58 career plate appearances against the left-handed Leibrandt, Winfield had a .302/.362/.566 batting line with four homers.
Ultimately, though, I think the decision was justifiable if not ideal. The Braves had already burned Mark Wohlers and Pete Smith, their preferred right-handers. Someone had to pitch to Winfield and Leibrandt was a capable starter who posted a 3.36 ERA in 193 innings that season. They could have done worse.
More puzzling was the decision to have Rafael Belliard bunt in the bottom of the 11th. At this point the Braves had runners on the corners with nobody out. Their season would end unless they could score two runs before the Blue Jays recorded three outs, and yet the Braves gave up one of those valuable outs for the smallest of possible gains: pinch runner John Smoltz advanced from first to second while Jeff Blauser remained at third.
By the numbers we can now say the Braves hurt their chances with that move, reducing their expected run output for the inning. To be fair, they had already burned their best pinch-hit options in Ron Gant, Lonnie Smith, Jeff Treadway and Francisco Cabrera. They’d need Brian Hunter in the same capacity for Leibrandt’s spot one hitter later. There goes your bench.
Belliard, meanwhile, was easily the weakest hitter in the Braves’ lineup, an all-glove infielder who dropped down 13 sacrifices during the regular season. But even if those sacrifices were all justified, this one wasn’t.
It’s Game 6 of the World Series and your team’s in desperate need of runs. Anything goes, even pinch hitting with a pitcher like, say, Tom Glavine, who collected 36 hits for a .238 average from 1991-92. Or hey, just let Belliard hit. He hit .211 during the regular season, so it’s not like he’s a complete zero.
Instead, the Braves spend an out for the chance to advance a runner 90 feet and are left wondering what might have been.
Game 6 Boxscore (via Baseball Almanac)