By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 21) – Frankly, it is difficult to include the baseball Blue Jays as part of the now-famed “Toronto Collapse.”
After all, the team provided our city its most exhilarating moments of the past 50 years – vaulting into contention in the 1985 season and winning consecutive World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. Given baseball’s global appeal – and especially its label as the “American Pastime” – these championships were the most significant ever north of the border. Paradoxically, the Blue Jays contributed a pratfall to which all others in Toronto must be measured and one that stands alongside any late-season nose-dive in the history of professional sport.
ERNIE WHITT’S LOOK SAYS IT ALL AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF 1987.
It occurred between Sep. 27 and Oct. 4, 1987 and continues to somehow appropriate the baseball glory that followed – much in the manner that Leon McQuay’s legendary fumble in the 1971 Grey Cup persists with old-time Argonaut fans even after the Canadian Football triumphs of 1983-91-96-97 2004 and 2012. Only once in this city have I observed such trivial anguish as that which followed the Blue Jays 1-0 loss to Detroit at old Tiger Stadium on the final Sunday of the ’87 Major League season (I say “trivial” because nothing in professional sport should ever be compared to tragedy in life). The lone comparison – relative though it was – occurred after the Maple Leafs playoff meltdown at Boston 14 months ago. We’ll examine that in Part 4 of my trilogy.
The Blue titillated our city with their original collapse. Knocking off the Yankees to make the playoffs in 1985 for the first time in franchise history, the Jays took a 3-1 lead over Kansas City in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series only to lose the final three matches. They simply could not slow the bat of future Hall-of-Famer George Brett – even walking him three or four times to put K.C. runners in scoring position. Brett wouldn’t allow the Royals to lose and Kansas City went on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
A TRIP TO THE 1985 WORLD SERIES LOOKED GOOD FOR THE BLUE JAYS AFTER DEFEATING KANSAS CITY IN GAMES 1 AND 2 OF THE ALCS AT EXHIBITION STADIUM.
On Sep. 24, 1987, Detroit came to Exhibition Stadium trailing the Blue Jays by one-half game in the American League East. There were no wild card teams back then – the winners of the East and West divisions would play in the League championship series and the survivors would meet in the World Series. On that penultimate weekend of the ’87 season, the Blue Jays won the first three games against Detroit to grab a 3½-game lead with seven games to play. Toronto would host Milwaukee and the Tigers would host Baltimore – each for three games – before a Toronto at Detroit three-game set on the final weekend. Ominously, as it turned out, the Jays lost star shortstop Tony Fernandez for the rest of the season with a fractured elbow in the series opener at home against the Tigers. Another key injury would follow.
Sadly for the Blue Jays, they were unable to complete a sweep of Detroit at Exhibition Stadium, even with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th inning. Tigers got a run in the top of the 13th and prevailed 3-2, cutting the Jays lead to 2½ games. I kept a scrapbook of the ’87 Blue Jays season and the final-week meltdown remains the standard bearer for Toronto pro sport collapses. Here is a visual, game-by-game review:
SEP. 27: DETROIT 3 at TORONTO 2
SEP. 28: MILWAUKEE 6 at TORONTO 4 (Baltimore 3 at Detroit 0)
SEP 30: MILWAUKEE 5 at TORONTO 3 (Baltimore 1 at Detroit 10)
SEP. 30: MILWAUKEE 5 at TORONTO 2 (Baltimore 7 at Detroit 3)
OCT 2: TORONTO 3 at DETROIT 4
OCT 3: TORONTO 2 at DETROIT 3
OCT 4: TORONTO 0 at DETROIT 1
Though it stands as a Toronto symbol, the Blue Jays collapse of 1987 echoed what is still known in Philadelphia as “The Phold” – the Phillies coughing up a 6½-game lead to Cincinnati with 12 games left in the 1964 season. The 2007 New York Mets pulled off a doozie as well, going 5-12 in their final 17 games to blow a seven-game lead over Philadelphia. But, the now-famed “Toronto Collapse” was never-more personified than by the 1987 Blue Jays – a blight that has endured for an entire generation. At least, the Jays provided a happy ending:
OCTOBER 25, 1992 – ATLANTA
END OF PART 3
PART 1: http://bit.ly/1oS4O3M
PART 2: http://bit.ly/1wMrBCr
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