THE Greatest Moment

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 11) – Twenty years ago today. Unbelievable!

As long as I’m alive – and have my faculties – I’ll remember exactly where I was in the late-afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 11, 1992. Even if I lose my faculties, video affirmation of my whereabouts will exist.

For posterity, I was standing at field level in the Oakland Coliseum – next to the visitors’ dugout – roughly 30 feet to the right of home-plate. It was Game 4 of the 1992 American League Championship Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland A’s – top of the ninth inning; Blue Jays leading the best-of-seven series, 2-1, but trailing in the game, 6-4.

Covering the ALCS as a reporter for The Fan-590, Canada’s first all-sports radio station, I had watched 7½ innings from the auxiliary press box in the upper-deck of the Coliseum, slightly down the third-base line. In the bottom of the eighth, I made my way to the media lounge between the clubhouses. For whatever reason, I chose to leave the lounge and descend a long stairwell that led to a fenced-in walkway between the dugouts. I turned right and parked myself next to Blue Jays’ radio analyst Jerry Howarth.

From that perch, Jerry and I witnessed the single-most dazzling moment in the 36-year history of the Blue Jays.    

ROBERTO ALOMAR CELEBRATES THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PLAY IN TORONTO BASEBALL HISTORY – AT THE OAKLAND COLISEUM – SUNDAY, OCT. 11, 1992.

The situation appeared all but hopeless for the visitors: down by two runs and facing the most dominant pitcher I’ve ever seen.

During the late-’80s and early-’90s, Dennis Eckersley was about the surest thing in baseball. When he appeared in a save situation, Oakland almost never lost. His fastball and pin-point control were deadly. A’s captured the American League pennant in 1988-89-90 and 1992; they won the ’89 World Series over San Francisco – its opener at Candlestick Park famously postponed after the Bay Area was rocked by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake.

Eckersley had angered the Blue Jays when he pumped his fist at the visitors’ dugout after striking out third-baseman Ed Sprague to end the top of the eighth inning. Jays center-fielder Devon White led off the ninth with a single to left and moved to third on an error by Rickey Henderson.

That’s when Toronto second-baseman Roberto Alomar – the best player at any position in franchise history – stepped to the plate.

Alomar hammered an Eckersley pitch into the right-field bleachers to promptly tie the game (Oakland had earlier built a 6-1 lead). As soon as he dropped his bat, Alomar thrust both arms into the air and let out a whoop. He began to jog toward first base as the ball cleared the fence. The sound I’ll never forget came from my immediate right – in the visitors’ dugout.

Remembering how Eckersley had shown them up with the fist-pump five minutes earlier, the Blue Jays unleashed a verbal attack on the Oakland pitcher that would have embarrassed a sailor.

Never before had I been party to such raw invective.

ROBERTO ALOMAR BEGINS HIS TRIUMPHANT JOG TOWARD FIRST BASE AFTER SLUGGING THE MOST IMPORTANT HOME RUN IN BLUE JAYS HISTORY.

In the top of the 11th inning, Pat Borders brought home Derek Bell with a sacrifice fly for the decisive run. Blue Jays held on to win the game, 7-6, and grab a 3-1 stranglehold on the ALCS. Three days later – at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) – Toronto baseball fans celebrated the Blue Jays’ long-sought American League pennant. Jays went on to beat the Atlanta Braves for their first of consecutive World Series triumphs.

TELEVISION SEQUENCE OF ALOMAR HOME RUN

ECKERSLEY DELIVERS PITCH (ABOVE) TO ALOMAR, WHO HAMMERS THE BALL OVER THE FENCE IN RIGHT FIELD AND THROWS ARMS IN THE AIR…

JUBILANT ALOMAR (ABOVE) BEGINS HOME-RUN TROT.

AND I SAW IT ALL, UP CLOSE

YOU CAN SEE ME STANDING AT FIELD LEVEL IN THESE SHOTS FROM THE CENTER-FIELD CAMERA; I BEGIN TO COME INTO VIEW AT FAR-LEFT AND EMERGE FROM BEHIND A PHOTOGRAPHER WEARING WHITE SHIRT…

ALOMAR PASSES 20 FEET IN FRONT OF ME AND MY BUSHY MUSTACHE (ABOVE) – I WAS 33 YEARS OLD – ON HIS WAY TO FIRST BASE…

AND LEAVES ME BEHIND (ABOVE) AS SUN GLEAMS OFF BATTING HELMET.

NEWSPAPER COVERAGE OF ALOMAR MOMENT

FROM MY LARGE, HEAVY-BOUND SCRAPBOOK OF THE 1992 ALCS…

      

      

BASEBALL FANS AT OAKLAND COLISEUM WAVED THIS CARDBOARD BANNER THROUGHOUT GAME 4 OF THE ALCS, 20 YEARS AGO THIS AFTERNOON.

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