The Toronto Blue Jays had made it. It was the fall of 1992, and for the first time in 89 years, Canada would be represented in the World Series. As American journalists debated the merits of multicoloured money and helped their readers locate Canada on a map, the Jays — led by future Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and Dave Winfield — had more important things to worry about.
Their opponents, the Atlanta Braves, had barely edged out the Pittsburgh Pirates with a three-run ninth-inning rally in game seven of the NLCS, but they had still turned in the best regular-season record in baseball (98-64) and would be Toronto’s toughest test of the playoffs.
ED SPRAGUE, C, 3B, 1B Getting into Atlanta on the off day, we had a video camera and we interviewed Hank Aaron.
TURNER WARD, OF I only ever went to one major league game before I stepped onto a major league field and that was at Turner Field, when Hank Aaron was closing in on the home run record. I can remember sitting out in left field as a 10-year-old kid and that’s when my dream started. So making it 20-something years later, to be on that field and have those memories — it was almost surreal to me.
DUANE WARD, RP For me it was a little bit more of a homecoming or sweet revenge kind of thing because I was drafted by and played for the Braves. There were a few guys on Atlanta I knew who were a couple years behind me in the organization. I kept telling myself, “I’m going to get a ring before they get a ring.” I don’t think we had any doubts we could beat Atlanta. Our pitching was better, our bullpen was definitely 10 times better and we had a better-hitting lineup.
TOM HENKE, RP Wins, saves, home runs — you dream of that when you’re a kid, but once you’re there it’s just about the team and winning. If you thought about personal things and the magnitude of the games, it would drive you crazy.
DAVID WELLS, RP I was more nervous going into the World Series than I’ve ever been in my entire life. You’re in the bullpen thinking, “If I get called upon, man, I do not want to be the goat.” It was so intense, you couldn’t get a greased needle up my ass.
Jack Morris took the mound in game one facing Tom Glavine. It was the first time since 1969 that two 20-win pitchers went head-to-head in the World Series. And the duel lived up to its billing through three scoreless innings, before a solo home run from Joe Carter opened the scoring in the top of the fourth.
JOE CARTER RF It was my second at-bat. Glavine could be a future Hall of Famer and he was very tough. In that type of situation you try not to get too excited. He threw me a fastball in, and when I connected, I mean, it was pretty special because it was the first run of the World Series, the first home run by a Canadian ball club in a World Series ever. I seem to be destined for all those firsts in Canadian history.
The Braves went on to win the game on a three-run shot in the sixth inning by backup catcher Damon Berryhill. Determined to even the series before heading home, the Jays went into game two on the attack. With Atlanta up 1–0 in the top of the fourth, Roberto Alomar starred in the first controversial play of the Series, attempting to steal home on a wild pitch from Braves starter John Smoltz.
ROBERTO ALOMAR, 2B I was playing aggressive. Smoltz threw a lot of sliders in the dirt. So I was thinking, “If he throws it in the dirt, I am going.” Those are decisions that you have to take in split seconds. And I knew I could make it. Against Atlanta and that pitching staff, every mistake counted. For them to call me out when I was clearly safe, it was frustrating.
The Jays were still down a run in the top of the ninth when Derek Bell, pinch-hitting for shortstop Manuel Lee, drew a walk with the bases empty. Representing the go-ahead run, Ed Sprague faced Braves closer Jeff Reardon.
ED SPRAGUE Cito gave me plenty of time, which I think was probably the biggest key. He told me I would be hitting for Ward in the ninth, which gave me an opportunity to talk to Rance Mulliniks about Reardon coming in.
RANCE MULLINIKS, 3B I had faced Reardon on a number of occasions. [Sprague] came down and asked me, “What do you look for?” What Reardon tries to do is get you out with the fastball. He was very adept at throwing that fastball letter-high. As a hitter, you see that very well and think you can be on top of it. You either swing through it, foul it off or fly out. I said, “Spraguey, if he flips you a little breaking ball early in the count, don’t let that get in your head because that’s not what he wants to get you out with. He’s going to show that to you to put that pitch in your mind. What he wants to get you out with is his fastball up in the strike zone. Stay with the fastball no matter what and think belt or down.”
ED SPRAGUE I was able to go underneath and take some swings on the tee and try to get my mind right. I was thinking about taking the first pitch, to be honest, and I remember at some point, somewhere in my career, someone told me, when you come off the bench, you gotta be prepared to swing the bat. So I said, “Screw it, I’m not going to take the first pitch.”
JERRY HOWARTH, RADIO Sure enough he got a fastball up and he hit it over the left-centre field wall. A rookie.
ED SPRAGUE I literally didn’t think about it being my first World Series at-bat, game on the line; I was just trying to hit the ball hard.
RANCE MULLINIKS He did the hard part — in that situation, for an experienced veteran it would have been difficult to stick with your plan.
BUCK MARTINEZ, TV He had one home run all year long.
DUANE WARD Jokingly, I like to tell people that was my home run because he pinch-hit for me.
DARREN KRITZER, BAT BOY I can still feel the high-five. I’m right there, he high-fives Alomar and then all of a sudden he comes up to me and the power of this high-five was unbelievable. He was just raging.
CITO GASTON, MANAGER The funny thing is, Reardon was with Cincinnati the next year. They opened their ballpark down in Plant City, Fla., and the first time he faced Reardon over there, Sprague hit the ball off the top of the wall. He almost hit it out of the ballpark again. First pitch.
TOM HENKE Everybody remembers Ed’s homer, but giving a walk up to Derek in that situation — up a run in the ninth of the most important game of the year — that’s not as dynamic or memorable, but it was an important sign that maybe they were going to have trouble in the bullpen. They didn’t have the luxury of being able to look at someone else in their bullpen, the way we did if I didn’t perform. They had to go with Reardon. It had to get in their heads.
A hit batter, a stolen base and a walk threatened the lead in the bottom of the ninth, but Tom Henke escaped the frame without sacrificing a run to secure the save.
RANCE MULLINIKS If we’d have lost, Atlanta was such a great ball club it would have been difficult to overcome. Instead, we go back to Toronto tied 1-1.
DAVID WELLS Home-field advantage means a lot because you’ve got that Indian calling there, people doing the “ohh, ohh, ohh,” all that crap, trying to get in your head. You’re more comfortable in your own ballpark.
ED SPRAGUE After game two we had a plane malfunction. We had two planes, one for the front office, and one plane broke down. We were probably delayed three or four hours. I don’t think we got back to Toronto until 5:00 a.m.
In game three, Juan Guzmán ran into trouble in the fourth inning with runners on first and second and David Justice at the plate. Fortunately for Guzmán — and the Jays — Devon White bailed him out with a defensive masterpiece that came to be known as “The Catch.”
KELLY GRUBER, 3B Deion Sanders is on second, Terry Pendleton is on first and Justice hits a rocket to centre. Devon White chases it down.
CITO GASTON You could see it all the way. There weren’t too many balls — unless they were hit out of the ballpark — that Devo wasn’t going to run down. When he starts to go, if he’s still looking and running, you know he has a chance to make a play. I can still see his jump up on the wall to catch that ball.
DEVON WHITE, CF I knew Justice was a gap hitter. He usually hit it either to left-centre or right-centre and being a lefty, the ball was more likely to go to left-centre. So I got into the right position and, if you watch the play, I make the catch at the exact moment I hit the wall.
DAVE WINFIELD, DH White made maybe the best catch I’ve ever seen — definitely the most important — running face first into the fence. Not just face first, he went all fours into the fence. When you see that sort of thing, you start to think that something bigger is happening.
PAT HENTGEN, SP [White] made plays that were nicer than that during the year. That was just a World Series catch. He never dove. His read off the bat, good jumps; he was scary.
ROBERTO ALOMAR That was the greatest catch that I’ve ever seen personally.
CITO GASTON Right away Devo’s throw was back to second base. That’s just the play he should be making, right there. If the runner has to be tagging up from second, he could probably tag up and go to third. But Devon was hoping to keep that double play in order by going to second base.
DEVON WHITE I made a good throw, we got two outs and then Gruber chased down Sanders.
KELLY GRUBER We got five outs, we’d have settled for three, and they only gave us two. [White] comes down and throws it in. Pendleton comes off of first, crosses second and crosses Sanders [on the bases, an automatic out]. That’s out No. 2. Sanders grabs him and pushes him back. The throw comes in from Devon, Alomar throws it over to Olerud and we get Pendleton out another time. He’s out twice, so that’s three. [Olerud’s] throw comes across to me and Sanders is running. I dive and hit him [on the outside of his foot] and my momentum carried through and I hit him [on the inside of his other foot]. Five outs.
CITO GASTON It was a triple play. Unfortunately, the umpire missed the call going back to second base. It could’ve gone into the record book, Hall of Fame. We could’ve walked off the field right there as opposed to staying out there and trying to get another out. But it was a heck of a play, got us out of trouble.
JERRY HOWARTH Bob Davidson at second base made the call and then later reviewed the video and said, “I made a mistake.”
Guzmán struck out Lonnie Smith to strand Sanders and bring up the heart of the Jays’ order. After Alomar grounded out, the bats delivered. Like the first run of the Series, the first ever World Series run on Canadian soil came off a solo shot from the bat of Joe Carter.
JOE CARTER I hit it in front of the hometown fans off Steve Avery. I always said, there’s 28 teams at home that would love to be where we’re at. That’s the fun part of the World Series. You’ve worked hard all summer, all spring. You’ve played 162 ball games, you’ve played more games in the ALCS to get to the World Series. Now you can relax a little bit and have fun and enjoy the time because you’re where everyone else is trying to get.
After committing an error in the top of the eighth that allowed Otis Nixon to score from third, Kelly Gruber made up for his mistake in the bottom of the frame, tying the game with a home run to left.
KELLY GRUBER When I dove for Sanders on the triple play, I blew up my shoulder. So now I can’t lift my arm and I’m on deck in the eighth inning. I couldn’t separate my arms to hit. Avery gave me a changeup high and inside. It was the only pitch I could have hit and I didn’t miss it.
With the game tied in the ninth, Duane Ward replaced Guzmán and gave up a single to Sid Bream. Braves manager Bobby Cox swapped Bream for the much faster Brian Hunter and, on a 2-2 pitch to Jeff Blauser, Hunter took off for second and was gunned down by Pat Borders. An appeal from Borders and Manuel Lee got Blauser called out swinging to complete the double play. Furious at the call, Cox threw a helmet out of the dugout and was ejected.
CITO GASTON I wish I had the money that Bobby spent getting thrown out of games. Bobby and I go back to winning a double-A championship in the Texas league. We played together in the Texas league and winter ball in Venezuela. Also, Bobby was responsible for me coming over to the Blue Jays. I was a coach in the Braves organization and he brought me over as his hitting coach. So, it didn’t surprise me that he was going to get run out of that game.
The game was still tied in the bottom of the ninth when Winfield came to the plate with Carter and Alomar on first and second and nobody out.
DAVE WINFIELD They didn’t give me the signal to bunt. I was taught the game of baseball very well at a young age. If you couldn’t bunt then you couldn’t play for the team I played for growing up. After this game, I called my old coach in Minnesota; his name was Bill Peterson. We used to have to bunt with the end of the bat. That’s how he trained us. I called him and I said, “How did you like that bunt?” I would venture to say that most big hitters in the leagues can’t bunt. But for me, it’s a skill you’ve got to have. You’ve got to advance those runners to third. You can score nine different ways from third but you can’t from second. I had no problem sacrificing and letting Candy do what he needed to do. That’s baseball, man.
BUCK MARTINEZ Sprague got walked intentionally as a pinch-hitter after Winfield bunted. He’d already hit the home run, so they walk him.
ED SPRAGUE I pinch-hit for Olerud. I’m like, “I’ve got an opportunity to win two World Series games in a row.” Now it was home and it was much harder to control my emotions. Of course, they intentionally walked me, and I kept on looking back — they’re walking me, walking me, walking me — I didn’t want to get surprised. In that case, they probably would have had more success throwing to me because I had a really hard time controlling my adrenalin.
The intentional walk brought Candy Maldonado, hitless in three at-bats on the day, to the plate with the bases loaded. After falling behind in the count 0-2, he came through, driving a ball over the head of Otis Nixon in centre to bring in Alomar.
CANDY MALDONADO, LF Earlier in the game, Cito told me that if guys get on base, Winny is going to bunt, they’re going to walk Olerud and you’re going to win the game for us. My first two swings, knowing they were going to throw me sliders, I over-swung. Then I said to myself, “Well, they got me on two strikes, so just get down and put the ball in play — that’s all you need.” I come from a little island called Puerto Rico and I’m the one to get the winning hit in the first game ever played in Canada. And my fellow countryman, Robbie, scored the winning run from third. It was very special.
The Jays stayed hot in game four with Jimmy Key retiring 18 of the 19 batters he faced between the second and seventh en route to a 2–1 win and a 3-1 series lead. Game five would be less special as the Jays looked to close out the World Series at home. On the mound, Gaston stuck with Jack Morris. Unfortunately, Morris’s playoff struggles continued: He was rocked for five runs in the fifth, capped by a Lonnie Smith grand slam, and left the game to boos, sporting an ERA of 8.44 for the series. David Wells, Mike Timlin and Mark Eichhorn all pitched well in relief, but the Jays couldn’t climb back, losing 7–2.
JOHN OLERUD, 1B [We went] to Atlanta and had a day off the next day. It just dragged it out. It’s just another two days to have it weighing on your mind. I wanted to get out there and get going.
The hired gun, David Cone, proved his worth with a strong start in game six. Cone held the Braves to a single run through six, handing a 2–1 lead over to a bullpen that hadn’t blown a save since July 24.
DAVID WELLS David Cone, he was our saviour. He comes in and pitches the game of a lifetime.
JERRY HOWARTH In the final game, the Jays used four starters. David Cone started that game and then later, Todd Stottlemyre pitched in relief. Late in the game, with Otis Nixon’s speed at first, Cito brought in left-handed starter David Wells and sure enough Pat Borders threw Nixon out trying to steal second. And then he finished up with Jimmy Key in the 10th, relieved by Mike Timlin. That points out again what Gillick was looking for: depth in the starting rotation.
DUANE WARD I went out there and breezed through the eighth and turned the ball over to Tom. That’s what we had done all year long and we were going to die by it. It just happened that Tom gave up a tying run and we ended up going to the bullpen with Jimmy Key and Mike Timlin.
TOM HENKE I pitched in three games in the World Series. The first two came out on the good end; last one they tied the game on me. Otis Nixon hits that 24-hopper through the infield, we’re playing in and if I get that out, that’s my third save of the series. Candy Maldonado got the ball in left and threw it up on the screen.
CITO GASTON Candy had a great arm out there. He only made one bad throw for us.
TOM HENKE If he makes even a decent throw Blauser is out at home plate by 20 feet. [Blauser] ran through a stop sign.
The game was still tied 2–2 heading into the 11th. Braves reliever Charlie Leibrandt hit Devon White and gave up a single to Alomar before getting Carter to fly out for the second out. With the game on the line, Winfield came to the plate.
DAVE WINFIELD I thought they were going to bring in the right-handed pitcher, Reardon, but for some reason they didn’t. Instead, they kept Charlie Leibrandt in there. Put a lefty against me and I said, “Well, I think that gives me an advantage.”
ROBERTO ALOMAR As soon as I saw that they left Leibrandt in there, I knew that Winfield was going to take him.
DAVE WINFIELD Everything goes through your mind in that moment, you see the people with their eyes on you. They start watching you the moment you get into the on-deck circle. And people are wondering. Oh, 10–11 years ago he was in a pressure situation and we know how that ended. [As a member of the Yankees in the 1981 World Series, Winfield went 1-22 at the plate with five walks.] We’re in Atlanta this time and people are thinking “Ah man, Winfield’s coming up.”
On a 3-2 pitch, Winfield came through with a double down the third base line.
ROBERTO ALOMAR As soon as he doubled I was running. When I touched the plate, Devon White was there, waiting for me. We were celebrating that I had scored but we knew that we still had three more outs to go.
DAVE WINFIELD I remember getting the hit and the ball rattling around the corner and being on second base. That was as good, if not better, than hitting a home run. The only thing I was thinking that could have made it sweeter would have been being at home, but it felt like I just put a dagger in the opposition and I’m standing in the middle of the stadium with 50,000 people looking down on me. There was maybe a pocket or two of Blue Jays fans standing on their feet jumping, but it was a stadium that was hushed and in shock.
That is how we used to end all of our practices, on an empty schoolyard. In your mind, you’re always up to bat, men on base, last hit, last inning. It’s up to you. You didn’t finish practice with a strikeout or a broken bat; you got a hit and then you went home feeling good. Instead of running around the bases and celebrating in the dugout like I’d always dreamed of, suddenly I’m standing in the middle of the stadium and I’m thinking, “Yeah! How ’bout that?!” That is still the highlight from my entire career.
Up 4–2, the Blue Jays made things interesting in the 11th, allowing Atlanta to score a quick unearned run. With John Smoltz on third and two out, Otis Nixon approached the plate looking to even the game a second time.
JOE CARTER I’m looking down and I’m thinking, “I’m at first base in game six of the World Series, one of the most important games in all of baseball, especially in Canada, and here I am an outfielder and I’m playing first base.” Here I am playing a position I’ve only played maybe 40 times in my career. It was kind of an out-of-body experience.
JERRY HOWARTH Jimmy Key was pitching. There was one out to go and Nixon came up. Cito went out to the mound and Jimmy was the one who suggested to Cito, “Maybe Mike Timlin would be a little better here because of Nixon’s ability to bunt. With me being left-handed and falling a little bit toward the third-base side, Mike Timlin might have a better chance if that’s what they might be thinking.” Cito said, “Jimmy, thank you. I appreciate that.”
CITO GASTON I went to the mound to talk to Jimmy, he was very honest to me, he said, “You know what, Cito? I haven’t had a lot of luck with this guy.” As soon as he said that I said, “Give me Timlin.” One other thing happened on that mound before I walked away: Joe Carter was playing first base and we started to break up at the mound and walk away and then Joe turned around and said, “Oh yeah, let’s look out for the bunt. Watch out for the bunt.”
JOE CARTER I was a roommate of Otis Nixon’s in Cleveland so I got a chance to tell Timlin, “Hey, this guy’s gonna bunt,” because he couldn’t catch up to his fastball.
PAT HENTGEN Apparently, Cito handed him the ball and said, “Heads up for the bunt.” Then Gruber came over from third and said, “Watch out, he might bunt.” And then Carter at first came over and said, “Hey man, make sure you watch out — he might bunt.”
JOE CARTER Timlin threw the first pitch, strike, and the next pitch I reminded him to get ready for the bunt.
PAT HENTGEN When Mike Timlin tells the story, he’s like, “Man, when I got on the mound, I was like, ‘He’s going to bunt!’ And s–t, he did.
JOHN OLERUD From a pitcher’s standpoint, that’s not that easy of a play with that kind of pressure.
CITO GASTON He almost beat it out. It felt like the ball was never going to get to first base.
JOE CARTER It seemed like it took about 10 minutes for the ball to get there.
CITO GASTON Timlin, I don’t think he fielded that cleanly. He got it, but he was a little shaky with it. It’s kind of hard to throw that over there when you know, hey, you’re the world champions if you can get the ball to first base. I didn’t look, but I would’ve loved to see the look on Bobby’s face when the guy bunted the ball. I don’t know if he was expecting it. I’ve never had the guts to go up and ask him that.
JOE CARTER I think I jumped about 30 times before I reached the pile. That’s where everybody came up with “Jumping with Joe.”
PAT HENTGEN It was just a melee. I’m kind of claustrophobic. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be trampled, I don’t want to end up on the bottom of the pile.” I was on the outside of the circle, I didn’t want to get too into it.
TOMMY CRAIG, TRAINER We took off for the field like everybody else and jumped on the pile. When it all ended I had Galen Cisco and Henke stacked on top of me. That’s probably about 230 plus 250 lb.
PAUL BEESTON, PRESIDENT Wayne Gretzky came and watched the game with us in a suite. We got the call from the prime minister and then Wayne went down in the clubhouse. He was fantastic, he did the whole thing. It was special. You had this iconic hockey player with the baseball team.
PAT TABLER, 1B I remember taking my jersey off and saying, “I don’t know if I want to play baseball anymore.” I was 35, I had 17 years professionally, I remember looking at my bag and thinking, that’s probably the last time I’m going to wear a major league uniform. It doesn’t get any better than that.
JOE CARTER We went back to our hotel and we had the downstairs all to ourselves — all this food, the families were there, the players, we had live music. If you can imagine guys like John Olerud and Dave Winfield going down the soul train line, dancing, that’s what we were doing. I think we had a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call and no one went to bed.
The Jays were welcomed in grand fashion upon their return to Toronto, with a victory parade attended by more than 250,000 screaming fans.
BUCK MARTINEZ This was the greatest sports celebration that the country had ever seen.
TOM HENKE The parade was one of the most amazing things I ever saw — over a million people, no trouble. I felt amazing satisfaction to be able to bring that city [a championship]. I felt a part of it having been there for seven years.
PAUL BEESTON Of the 25 players who spoke, 25 people started out by thanking Cito and saying how happy they were for him. He was the first African-American [manager] who won; he treated these guys all like gentlemen.
CITO GASTON Everybody had signs — but there were a couple of guys with cardboard signs. One of them read: “First we beat them and then we took their toy.” The other guy had a hatchet, a tomahawk. I thought it was really nice, probably the nicest sign I’d seen through the whole parade.
ROBERTO ALOMAR I was happiest for [Winfield]. To see him get the ring after 20 years.
DAVE WINFIELD When we won, it wasn’t just for a city or for a region. It was for a whole country. It was for Canada, coast to coast. The times I’ve been back to Toronto, especially the first couple of years, I said “Man, I don’t need no passport to come back up.” They say, “Welcome! Come on up, brother.” It feels like I made a country of friends for life.
With files from Ryan Dixon, Dafna Izenberg, Gare Joyce, Brett Popplewell, Shannon Proudfoot, Dan Robson, Kristina Rutherford, Adam Elliott Segal and Dave Zarum.
Inside the '92 ALCS that redefined the Toronto Blue Jays
Seven years after choking away a 3–1 ALCS lead, the Blue Jays found redemption. This is the story of the series that finally got them over the hump.