T he 1985 Toronto Blue Jays were trendsetters in both good and twisted ways. That talented club — built by general manager Pat Gillick and overseen at field level by manager Bobby Cox — won the Jays’ first American League East Division title, setting a franchise record of 99 wins (in just 161 games thanks to a two-day players’ strike) that still stands. It also coughed up a 3–1 American League Championship Series lead to the Kansas City Royals. The choker label first attached to the Jays that autumn hung over the organization though a monumental September collapse in 1987 and lingered in some form until Mike Timlin tossed Joe Carter the ball for the final out of the 1992 World Series.
Before there was a futuristic domed facility and back-to-back championships elation, the Blue Jays and their fans experienced the ecstatic highs and scorching lows of the first fall ride in clunky Exhibition Stadium. Toronto entered the ’85 campaign coming off consecutive 89-win seasons in an A.L. East that was baseball’s ‘Group of Death,’ having produced the past three World Series champions. Toronto nailed down its October invite in the second-last game of the season, as part of a wild 24 hours that pitted the Jays head-to-head against the second-place New York Yankees.
Thirty-five years later, this is how the members of that team, opponents and people who covered the squad recall the “The Drive of ’85” home stretch and the seven-game series with the Royals in which bliss turned to bust.
LARRY MILLSON, The Globe and Mail The enthusiasm started in ’83, because that’s when they finally got good.
LLOYD MOSEBY, Blue Jays centre fielder At that time, you had to take first place [in the division to make the playoffs]. It wasn’t none of that wild card, you slip in. None of that.
RANCE MULLINIKS, Blue Jays third baseman Earlier in September, we had a big four-game [penultimate series with the Yankees] in New York. It was huge. The first night, Thursday night, we lose that game in a tough way.
JESSE BARFIELD, Blue Jays right fielder I remember getting off the team bus and we used to have to walk through the [New York] crowd with the barriers. They did everything in their power to intimidate us. They thought they were going to intimidate us [after winning the first game of the series], but we came back and played pretty good baseball and beat them three in a row.
MOSEBY We didn’t care about being on the road.
MULLINIKS If we had any doubt in ourselves or if anybody doubted us, at that point we knew we had what it was going to take to finish the season out and win the division.
The teams met again in the final series of 1985. With a first chance to clinch the division on a Friday night, Tom Henke surrendered a home run to Butch Wynegar — the catcher’s first dinger since June — to tie the game 3–3 with two out in the ninth. Then, normally surehanded Moseby dropped a routine fly ball from league MVP Don Mattingly, handing New York the decisive run in a 4–3 win.
MOSEBY I remember dropping a fly ball, which was crucial. The next day, I remember talking to Willie [Upshaw, the Blue Jays first baseman] saying, ‘Hey man, we’ve got to get this thing done.’
BARFIELD We got there the next day and we’re in batting practice. [Yankees right-fielder] Dave Winfield walks up, close to the cage on their side and was curling 45-pound dumbbells. I looked over at Lloyd and George [Bell, the Blue Jays left-fielder] and said, ‘You gotta be kidding me. You can’t intimidate us.’ We got pissed. I said, ‘He doesn’t know what’s about to hit them.’ Winnie and I laugh about this to this day. He says, ‘I wasn’t trying to intimidate you. I was just trying to get loose.’ Well, it didn’t help because [Yankees starter Joe Cowley] was in the shower in no time.
MOSEBY [Upshaw] hit a home run that day; I hit a home run that day. Not to be braggadocious, I think we were a better ball cub than the Yankees. I’m just happy we got a chance to do that at home, the way we did, George going to his knees [after catching the final out].
BUCK MARTINEZ, injured Blue Jays catcher Toronto had been getting better and better. It had been a short incubation period from ’77 to ’85. It was time for the team to win. Clinching that game against the Yankees; 47,000 people in Friday night and then Saturday afternoon, a cold day, there were 44,000 to watch the celebration start. For the Canadian-based team to win 99 games and clinch the division, it was like all-of-a-sudden we could play with anybody in baseball.
MOSEBY The city was on fire way before that, but it really went to a different level.
MILLSON The Star was putting out a [special] section every day for the last few weeks of the regular season, it seemed like. They were counting down the magic number [to clinch the division] in early September. We used to joke about it.
MULLINIKS We were second in the league in attendance that year [behind the California Angels] and we would have been tops if we had been in a ballpark you could legitimately put 50,000 to 52,000 people in; the old Ex, you couldn’t really do that. The support was just incredible.
MILLSON There had never been a World Series in Canada. The Expos came close [losing a decisive Game 5 to the L.A. Dodgers in the 1981 NLCS]. It’s one of those rare cases in which I think a whole country got involved. I know the Expos got to within a Rick Monday home run of the World Series, but I just felt the Blue Jays had more of a presence in Canada. They had [an affiliate] in Medicine Hat, Alta.; Gillick was so good at always going around the country and promoting [the team], the Blue Jays would always play an exhibition game in a Canadian city. Being in Toronto, you’re probably Toronto-centric, but [I had] a sense there was a huge national interest. They were really a good team.
ERNIE WHITT, Blue Jays catcher The buzz of the city made everyone excited and anxious to get the series with Kansas City started.
MARTINEZ That was the first year they went from [best of] five to [best of] seven games in the [ALCS].
MARK GUBICZA, Royals starter We were given zero chance to win our division that year even though we won it the year before. The [previous] year, we lose to the Tigers [the eventual 1984 World Series champions] in three games and then they expanded the ALCS to seven games that year.
MULLINIKS The Royals were a very good team [with a 91–71 record]. In particular, they had some good left-handed pitching and we struggled just a little bit [against lefties]. [But] they did not have our record and, in all honesty, they were not as talented as we were.
GUBICZA [The Blue Jays] were as talented as any team we saw. We all felt they were more talented than us. We had clutch hitting; we certainly didn’t dominate on the offensive side, but we didn’t make mistakes in the field and we pitched well. And we stayed healthy.
DAVE PERKINS, Toronto Star [The Royals] were not worried about the Blue Jays because they had good lefthanders and the Jays had trouble with left-handed pitching [24-26 versus lefties in the regular season]. I remember sending in a preview in which I suggested the Royals would win this and, oh my God, people went nuts: ‘How can you pick against the Blue Jays? They won 99 games!’
The first two games were scheduled for Exhibition Stadium on October 8 and 9. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a Montrealer and Expos fan, threw out the first pitch from his box seat. Jim Smith, a 37-year-old ticket-holder, told the Toronto Star the team’s first playoff game was, “More historic than Confederation, more historic than the Magna Carta.” While Game 1 didn’t quite live up to that billing, it was a great 6–1 win for the Jays behind Dave Stieb’s eight-inning, three-hit performance. Game 2 was wild. The Blue Jays went ahead 4–3 in the bottom of the eighth, hitting against lights-out closer Dan Quisenberry, before Pat Sheridan tied it with a home run off Tom Henke in the ninth.
MARTINEZ Down the stretch, [Henke] had been touched up for a couple of key home runs. That’s just the way it goes with a closer; you’re a hero most days and every once in a while you’re going to be a goat.
BARFIELD Tom had a great fastball. Straight as an arrow, but it was a great fastball and his splitfinger was unfair. When you’re a power pitcher, you’re going to get beat on your best pitch sometimes, and that’s what happened. We let Henke know right away, ‘Hey man, don’t you dare hang your head because without you, we wouldn’t even be here.’
In the top of the 10th, Royals second baseman Frank White hit a blooper to centre that Moseby charged and believed he caught with the tip of his glove. Right-field umpire Dave Phillips disagreed and the call allowed Willie Wilson to bolt home from second base to score the go-ahead run. The play is still the subject of debate.
BARFIELD We saw the replay and, I’m telling you, Mo caught that ball.
MARTINEZ Davey Phillips was the right-field umpire who came running in waving safe. That’s a very vivid image I have. He trapped it; we saw [that] later, of course. But it was a very controversial and momentum-changing play. Lloyd was a terrific outfielder; just a do-or-die play, he couldn’t catch it, but he was trying to sell it to the umpire.
MILLSON The guy who should have made the call [second-base umpire Ted Hendry] was out of position. [Moseby] is carrying the ball — like showing it — like an ice-cream cone as he’s running in. Then they called [White] safe and [Moseby] went nuts. He threw the ball in — he had the presence of mind to throw the ball in — then he just went berserk.
MOSEBY It was certainly a catch. If I envy anything about the new era, I envy the instant replay. If we would have had replay, that would have been justified easily. I mean, damn, I caught the ball. But you can’t blame the human eye.
MILLSON When we saw the replay we thought he’d caught it, but barely. You could see it was a tough call, even with replay.
BARFIELD We used to wear white wristbands, but after that play, [MLB] banned white wristbands because [the umpire] couldn’t tell if it was a baseball or his wristband.
Moseby remained in the middle of the action when the Jays came to bat against Quisenberry. With Tony Fernandez standing on second, Moseby singled to right, allowing Toronto’s young shortstop to blow through Jimmy Williams’s stop sign at third base and score the tying run. Then, it was time for Al ‘Scoop’ Oliver to make the first of his key contributions in the series. The veteran — picked up from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July — singled to left to cash Moseby for the winning run.
MOSEBY Tony going through a stop sign is about as normal as a little-leaguer [doing it]. When Tony runs, he never stops, he never looks, he just keeps going. We loved that kid for that. It was beautiful.
MARTINEZ Moseby was picked off at first base and [Royals first baseman Steve] Balboni missed the [throw from Quisenberry] and that opened up the gates [allowing Moseby to advance to second].
MOSEBY I’m the kind of guy who, you put some lights on, I can go to another level. I loved to be in those situations.
MARTINEZ You could get to [Quisenberry] on the first pitch. The first pitch he’d throw over, then he’d work to the corners. ‘Scoop’ came over after I broke my leg. He was a pro. He got the big hit to beat Quisenberry. There was a crack and the hit by Oliver kicked the door wide open and we were able to go up 2–0.
BARFIELD When Oliver hit that ball, we knew [Moseby] had a chance to score. I almost hit my head in the dugout jumping up and down. It was like, ‘Man, we’re going to do this.’
The series shifted to Kansas City, home for a Royals team that appeared to be nearing the end of an impressive-yet-unsatisfying era. White, George Brett and Hal McRae had all been on teams that lost the ALCS three straight years to the powerhouse Yankees of the late ’70s. In 1980, they dropped a six-game World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Royals, an expansion team in 1969, made the playoffs for the first time in their eighth season and Gillick acknowledged their ground-up approach was a template for the Blue Jays. Now, Toronto could all but end Kansas City’s championship aspirations with a win in Game 3. In search of that victory was Doyle Alexander, who — six days earlier — had twirled a complete-game gem against the Yankees to clinch the division.
MILLSON George Brett had a huge game.
MULLINIKS We were up and jumped all over [Royals starter] Bret Saberhagen and had a lead in that ball game [5–2 after the top of the fifth] — a lead that, most of the time, we would have went on to win that game. Doyle Alexander was our starter and we had discussed, ironically, we’re not going to let Brett beat us. We’re not going to pitch to him unless we absolutely have to.
MOSEBY He wasn’t under the radar. Obviously in the meetings [we’d say], over and over again, ‘Don’t let George Brett beat you.’ You don’t need to be a scientist to understand [our approach].
BARFIELD I think we underestimated George Brett. Doyle was pitching and he’s a finesse pitcher. George is not stupid; he knows [Alexander] is not going to beat him inside. He’d try to flip a change-up, he’d try to trick him with other pitches and [Brett] was on everything. He just sat back and used the whole field.
MILLSON Brett struggled through most of September, but the last week he got hot again and that’s when they put Hal McRae behind him [in the lineup]. The problem is if you pitch around Brett, you’ve got a pretty good hitter behind him.
MOSEBY [Cox] was a very fair guy. He had reason not to truly believe in the bullpen. Bobby trusted Doyle and Doyle was a veteran, outstanding for us, he knew how to pitch out of the strike zone. And when [Cox] went out to talk to Doyle, he gave Doyle a real chance because he knew Doyle wouldn’t lie to him as far as, ‘Can you do it?’”
The answer was tough for Toronto to swallow. Brett finished the game with two homers off Alexander, the second of which was a two-run blast that tied the game 5–5 in the sixth. Brett — who went 4-for-4 — singled against Jim Clancy to lead off the eighth and came around to score the winning run. Still, the Jays were up 2–1 in the series with ace Dave Stieb slated to take the bump on three days rest for Game 4.
MARTINEZ Stieb was so dominant; two hits into the seventh.
GUBICZA His slider was unreal. But the slider he threw — which you rarely see these days — he would throw it right at a right-handed batter and bring it back on the inside corner. I would never do that because I felt, if I missed and it drifted over the inside part of the plate, it would be hit a mile. But he had a lot of guts to be able to do that. He was also incredibly competitive, vicious, mean — which I liked about him. He didn’t want anybody to get a foul ball off him, let alone a hit.
WHITT It was the best right-handed slider I ever caught and a number of hitters would say it was the best slider they’d ever seen.
MARTINEZ Again, Moseby and Oliver were involved [in a late-inning win]. They walked [Damaso Garcia] to start the [ninth] inning [in which K.C. had a 1–0 lead] and Moseby knocks [Charlie] Leibrandt out of the game and Scoop had to pinch hit for [DH platoon partner] Cliff Johnson. We had both Cliff Johnson [righty] and Al Oliver [lefty] to go back-and-forth as the DH or to pinch hit and they were both so good. Scoop came up with another big hit [a double] and drives home two. That was the difference: three runs in the ninth.
If the Jays were smarting after blowing a lead in Game 3, they were soaring following the 3–1 come-from-behind victory in Game 4 that gave them a series lead of the same margin. Game 5 could have been the contest that saw a Canadian team clinch the league pennant for the first time. Instead, the Royals won 2–0 as lefty starter Danny Jackson went the distance and was just a bit better than fellow southpaw Jimmy Key. The noise coming out of the game, however, centred on bias, not pitching. After being called out while trying to go first-to-third on a fourth-inning single, Bell — who was objectively the victim of a bad call by Vic Voltaggio — angrily huffed that the Jays’ Canuck roots were working against them.
GEORGE BELL, speaking to reporters at the time If our club was American, we’d have won it by now. If the umpires were Canadians, I’d be happy. I don’t say the umpires don’t want the World Series in Canada, but you can show them the tapes and tell them they’re horseshit.
VIC VOLTAGGIO, speaking to reporters at the time George Bell has a lot of talent. He’s going to be a great player. But he has a nickel head on his shoulder. He’s got a lot of growing up to do.
BOBBY COX, speaking to reporters at the time I would never think that [the umpires are biased], though I am at the point where I’d like to see some of these calls even out.
MILLSON Moseby was there saying, ‘Be careful, George; they’re [writing this].’ The next day, on the off-day, [the media] was around George and he said, ‘I didn’t say the umpires [were against us], I just said they. None of his teammates would back him up on that because they didn’t want to create controversy. That was a big story. [But the Jays] were very confident they would come back and still win. I remember going to Jesse Barfield and [him] saying, ‘If we can’t win one of two at home, we don’t deserve it.’
MARTINEZ We just felt, flying home, we all felt like we get them back in our place and we’ll be fine. We’ll win one of the next two and everything will be cool.
GUBICZA We had to win two games up in Toronto. It was so cold, too. That ballpark is built perfectly for them. That gale-force wind is blowing out to right field; with the guys they have, we’re in trouble. There are a lot of great outfields now, but at that point, I’d never seen a better outfield [than Toronto had]. They did everything well.
BARFIELD I remember, looking over at Lloyd and George [in the field, during opponents’ at-bats]. If that hitter was ahead in the count, you’re taught to shift [like he might pull the ball] a step or two. And if the hitter is behind, depending on the hitter, you typically shift to the opposite field a couple steps. I never, not one time, looked over [at Moseby and Bell] and [saw] those guys looking down, worrying about their hitting. We all shifted together like synchronized swimmers.
MARTINEZ I think everybody was confident. We didn’t like the fact we got shutout [in Game 5], but at the same time we had the lead [in the series]. We were confident. We felt like, ‘we’re going to go home now; we beat them twice up here, we can do the same thing.’ We had Alexander going again [in Game 6].
GUBICZA When [Royals manager] Dick Howser brought me in the office and said, ‘You’re starting Game 6,’ I was like ‘Wow.’ I didn’t know what to say. [Brett] pulled me aside as soon as I got out of the office [and said], ‘Two things man: either we’re playing golf the next day or we’re playing Game 7, so just have fun.’
Gubicza pitched into the sixth inning. The second-last batter he faced was Mulliniks, who — with his team trailing by three and Moseby on first base — crushed a ball to centre field that, even into a strong wind, appeared to have a chance before it landed in Wilson’s glove. Toronto scored one run in the inning and got runners on base in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth, but couldn’t push any more across. After Kansas City’s 5–3 triumph, the winner-take-all Game 7 saw both teams send their best guy to the hill.
MOSEBY Game 6, we just didn’t get it done. But when you’ve got Stieb pitching Game 7, you can still have some sunflower seeds, have a good dinner, you can laugh on the phone with your parents and it’s all good.
MULLINIKS We were still confident. We had Stieb going to the mound, they were going to throw Saberhagen at us. Throughout the year and even in the playoffs, we had some pretty good success against Bret Saberhagen. We weren’t worried, there was no panic.
GUBICZA [We had] a 22-year-old starting Game 6 and a 21-year-old starting Game 7. When Sabes got knocked out early in Game 7 [his pitching hand was struck by an Upshaw comebacker and he was forced to leave after three innings] and Charlie Leibrandt comes in in relief, he had already lost two games. We’re thinking, ‘Jeez. He pitched well [in the previous games], it was just one of those things where he wasn’t going to win.’
The Royals had scratched out a run in the second, then gone up 2–0 on a Pat Sheridan dinger in the fourth. When Stieb walked out for the top of the sixth, Toronto was trailing just 2–1. He got Wilson to fly out before walking Brett and hitting McRae with a pitch. A two-out walk loaded the bases for right-handed catcher Jim Sundberg.
MILLSON I think Stieb’s elbow was probably barking a little bit. [He] had elbow problems the whole year. Nothing [that would] stop him from pitching; he had eight complete games and two shutouts. When that inning came up, it looked like he was starting to lose it a little bit. He’s going on three days’ rest again; two [games] in a row. They did that a little more in those days, but it still wasn’t [what pitchers were used to.] I think that had an effect. I don’t know what he said to Cox at the time. He was flipping the ball around on the mound. When you look at body language, it looked like he maybe felt like he wanted to come out. Maybe his elbow was getting a little sore.
BARFIELD Jim Sundberg, he had power, but he didn’t have opposite-field power.
MOSEBY When Sunny went oppo on Stieb like that and the wind is just [blowing it], you could see the Baseball Gods saying, ‘Not today, guys.’
MILLSON That ball looked like a fly ball when he hit it. It was opposite field. It got up in the wind current and just kept carrying.
GUBICZA Jesse Barfield is the best outfielder I’ve ever seen in my life in right field.
BARFIELD When he hit that ball, I thought right away, I’ve got a chance to catch this. So I got back to the fence as quick as I could — that thing just kept carrying. Those fences were tall [there was a chain-link fence on top of the standard padded wall]. I mean, I can jump, but I can’t jump that high.
MILLSON It hit the top bar of the wall and bounced back in.
GUBICZA It bounces off that crazy fence and kicks away from him and three runs score.
MILLSON To do it over again, [Cox] might have replaced Stieb. Although, it’s hard to bring a guy in with the bases loaded. I think he took a chance with one more batter and that was it. The thing is, the inning before, Sundberg had bounced a harmless grounder back to Stieb.
BARFIELD When that thing hit the top of the fence, I was just like, ‘Wow. This did not just happen.’ And it did.
Jim Acker replaced Stieb and immediately surrendered a single to White, cashing Sundberg. Suddenly, it was a 6–1 ball game. Leibrandt — who’d started and lost Games 1 and 4 — got the Royals within two outs of the finish line before Quisenberry did the rest. Kansas City’s 6–2 win capped an incredible series comeback and placed an excruciating period on Toronto’s first postseason appearance.
MARTINEZ It was just a great series. It went down to Game 7. We had chances to win it and put it away, but it just wasn’t to be.
PERKINS Everybody spent the next several years whining about Jim Sundberg’s wind-blown fly ball. Gimme a break. The wind blows for both teams. Nobody says, ‘How’d they blow a 3–1 lead?’ Then the other whine was, ‘In previous years, it was best three-out-of-five and they just wanted to stretch it out to beat the Canadian team.’
MULLINIKS If I could pick one game that changed that series, it would be Game 3.
MARTINEZ We’d had a talk about Brett before the game and Bobby Cox was adamant, saying we can’t let Brett beat us. Well, he hit two home runs. We were teammates and roommates for years [in Kansas City]. I knew how good he was. We kept talking about him and I said, ‘He’s going to get any kind of hits he can to beat us’ and he had two home runs and a double off Doyle Alexander [in Game 3]. He was a one-man wrecking crew [earning ALCS MVP honours] and got the Royals back into the series with that game. Everybody said we can’t let George Brett beat us and he did.
GEORGE BRETT, speaking to ESPN in 2015 Probably the best game I ever played in a meaningful situation. You have better games in the regular season, but not when you’re down 2–0 in a best-of-seven series. If we don’t win that game, we’re down 0–3, and it’s not looking good.
BARFIELD We didn’t close it out and George Brett got us. I can’t believe we pitched to that guy.
WHITT He was going to find a way. I remember him hitting some balls that were 10 inches off the plate. No other person could hit it, but he was just in a zone.
PERKINS It was pretty hard to get out George Brett. It doesn’t matter who you are.
GUBICZA He did the same thing when we were down 3–1 against St. Louis [in the World Series]. After that Game 4, he was like, ‘We’ve got them right where we want them fellas. There’s no problem whatsoever.’ We were like, ‘What? We’re done. We got lucky last series.’ [But] he was being honest. He didn’t laugh or joke. He went, popped open a Budweiser and low and behold we came back.
WHITT I look at Kansas City, they were down 3–1 to us, came back and won; they were down 3–1 to St. Louis and they came back and won the World Series. We lost to a team that won the World Series, so if there’s anything that makes you feel better, I guess that must be it.
MOSEBY It was baseball. You hate to say it like that, but it was baseball. Of course, I’ve been to a lot of therapists since then.
MILLSON I think [Toronto] would have won the World Series, too.
BARFIELD Every time I see George Brett I say, ‘How’s our ring?’ and he just smiles and shows it to me.
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