TORONTO (Oct. 16) — This is a cautionary blog for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays.
While the events of 30 years ago this month bear no relation to today, there is remarkable synonymy in the fact the Jays are playing Kansas City for the American League Championship. As in 1985, this is the first–such episode for an entire generation of Toronto baseball fans — either not–yet born or too young to remember the club’s inaugural playoff appearance. It was a seven–game marathon that featured incredible highs and the lowest of lows, as the Blue Jays won the first two matches at old Exhibition Stadium; split Games 3 and 4 at what was then Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium… and then couldn’t slam the door.
The famed “Toronto Collapse” wasn’t born with the ’85 Blue Jays — heaven knows the football Argonauts had long–before mastered the art of snatching defeat from certain victory — but it impacted the largest collection of sports rooters in his city. A loss in Game 5 at Kansas City appeared to be no big deal. The Jays still had a 3–2 series lead and were coming home with consecutive opportunities to eliminate the Royals.
That’s when George Brett and Jim Sundberg — players who would never otherwise be mentioned in the same sentence — conspired to destroy Toronto’s World Series dream. Brett, the Hall–of–Fame batsman and third–baseman, was so hot at the plate that Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox took to walking him in any situation other than with the bases loaded. And, Sundberg, the light–hitting catcher, lofted a Dave Stieb pitch into the wind at the CNE in Game 7 that kept carrying… and carrying… and carrying… until it bounced off the top of the right–field fence for a bases–clearing triple that blew the lid off the decisive match.
Stunningly, the Blue Jays lost three games in a span of four days and watched Kansas City defeat St. Louis for the 1985 Major League championship. It was that close to being a Toronto–St. Louis World Series.
All things being equal, this scenario should not repeat itself in the second Toronto–Kansas City match–up. The playoff–hardened Royals — who came within 90 feet of tying Game 7 of the World Series last October before losing to San Francisco — will either master the Blue Jays with the savvy that kept them atop the American League virtually all season. Or, the brazen, cheeky Torontonians will annihilate another opponent with their scorching bats. It is nearly impossible to envision the Blue Jays coughing up a 3–1 series lead, ala their 1985 ancestor. That club went ice–cold at the plate. This club has too much of a killer instinct.
But, you never know. Right? That’s why they play the games.
The visual part of this cautionary tale comes from the pages of my 1985 playoff scrapbook — coverage in the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and the Globe and Mail. My ol’ pal, Ken Fidlin, is still fiddlin’ around at the Sun. Larry Millson of the Globe covers the Jays for the wire services on a freelance basis. Others have either moved on, retired or passed away. Here is a review of Games 5, 6 and 7 in the 1985 ALCS. And, the remarkable ride that ended so suddenly for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays:
GAME 5 — TORONTO at KANSAS CITY — Sunday, Oct. 13
YES, CANADIAN PARANOIA WAS ALIVE AND WELL 30 YEARS AGO — EVEN RAILING ON TONY KUBEK, THE PAT TABLER OF HIS ERA, WHO CALLED BLUE JAYS TV GAMES AS AN ANALYST ALONGSIDE EITHER FERGIE OLVER OR THE LATE DON CHEVRIER. AN ALL–STAR SHORTSTOP WITH THE EARLY–60’s NEW YORK YANKEES, KUBEK WAS THE LEAD ANALYST ON THE NBC SATURDAY GAME–OF–THE–WEEK. THE JAYS BROUGHT HIM TO TOWN FOR LOCAL TELECASTS TO ADD CREDIBILITY IN THEIR EARLY YEARS.
PLAY THAT ENDED THE BLUE JAYS WORLD SERIES DREAM IN 1985 — 30 YEARS AGO TONIGHT — AS JIM SUNDBERG’S WIND-ASSISTED TRIPLE BOUNCES OFF THE TOP OF THE RIGHT–FIELD FENCE OVER A LEAPING JESSE BARFIELD IN THE TOP OF THE SIXTH INNING. IT CLEARED THE BASES FOR THREE RUNS AND PUT THE ROYALS IN FRONT TO STAY, 6–1.