Ranking the Jacks

TORONTO (Oct. 23) — With the Blue Jays still alive in the American League playoffs on the 22nd anniversary of Joe Carter’s “touch–’em–all” home run (God bless you, Tom Cheek), there may be no better time to rank the five most important “jacks” in franchise history. As of now, the Jays have not yet succumbed to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx — appearing (below) on the Oct. 12 playoff preview issue. Among the reasons: Jose Bautista’s “bat–flip” jack against Texas in the decisive game of the American League Division Series.

RSCN1396edited-XAs I proceed with this subjective and rather superfluous exercise (sports should be fun, right?), note the word “important.” There is no question that Carter’s home run off Mitch Williams of Philadelphia 22 years ago tonight remains the most enthralling moment in Blue Jays history. After all, how can a walk–off jack that wins the World Series be topped for sheer excitement? The feat has been accomplished only twice in the past 55 years: first by Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960… then by Carter. Joe’s memorable blast to left field at SkyDome was not, however, the most significant home run in Blue Jays history. The team had already qualified for — and won — the World Series in 1992. This was mere icing on the cake, as Toronto became the first team since the 1977–1978 New York Yankees to repeat as baseball champion.

In the realm of importance, here are my Top 5 home runs in Blue Jays history:

EK–STATIC

OAKLAND COLISEUM — Oct. 11, 1992

FSCN1429edited-XYou will get no argument from veteran Blue Jays followers — or from the most integral figures in franchise history to this point: Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick — that Roberto Alomar’s solo shot to right–field off Dennis Eckersley in Game 4 of the 1992 American League Championship Series remains the most significant moment for the Blue Jays. It brought Toronto all the way back from a 6–1 deficit against the Major League’s most–automatic closer and put a 3–1 stranglehold on the best–of–seven affair.

You must remember (or learn) that the Blue Jays were in the playoffs for the fourth time in eight years, having lost the ALCS to Kansas City (in 1985), Oakland (1989) and Minnesota (1991). Jobs were squarely on the line in ’92. Had Alomar not taken Eckersley deep, the Blue Jays would have been life–and–death to get to the World Series, as the A’s won Game 5 at home. A series loss would have spelled the end for manager Cito Gaston, and who’s to say if general manager Gillick might have survived another playoff defeat? Joe Carter would almost certainly have left for his home town of Kansas City as a free agent in December 1992 (he came close to signing, as it were, with the Royals). And Paul Molitor would likely not have joined the Blue Jays in free agency and become most valuable player of the 1993 World Series.

Alomar finally put the Blue Jays over the top with his homer against Eckersley and continues, therefore, to hold the distinction of providing the most important jack — and moment — in franchise history.

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ED IN A PINCH

ATLANTA FULTON–COUNTY STADIUM — Oct. 18, 1992

FSCN1439edited-XForget about suggesting. Without a two–run, pinch–hit homer by Ed Sprague off Jeff Reardon — merely the all–time saves leader at the time in Major League Baseball — the Blue Jays would not have won the 1992 World Series. It occurred in the ninth inning of Game 2 and the Braves poised to take a 2–0 lead in the best–of–seven clash. The Jays trailed, 3–2, when Cito Gaston chose Sprague to hit in the pitcher’s spot in the rotation (National League rules prevailed in Atlanta). After a Derek Bell walk to begin the ninth inning, Sprague took Reardon over the left–field wall in old Fulton–County Stadium. To this day, and while covering the game for The FAN–1430 (as it was then known), I remember hearing nothing in that giant ballpark except the Blue Jay wives screaming wildly in their section behind home plate.

Without the Sprague homer, the Jays almost certainly lose to Atlanta. Carter probably signs with Kansas City and neither Molitor nor pitcher Dave Stewart are certain to arrive as free agents for 1993. As such, this continues to rank as the second–most important home run — and moment — in franchise history.

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JOSE FLIPS OUT

ROGERS CENTRE — Oct. 14, 2015

FSCN1451edited-XThe defining moment for today’s new generation of Blue Jays fans — either not–yet born or too young to remember 1992 and 1993 — occurred just nine days ago here in town and ranks No. 3 on my list of most important home runs. Capping off arguably the most wacky inning in Blue Jays history (the 53–minute seventh), Jose Bautista decided Game 5 of the American League Division Series with a three–run blast to left off Texas Rangers relief–pitcher Sam Dyson, busting open a 3–3 tie. After hitting the ball — a no–doubter that traveled 442 feet into the second deck of seats — Bautista stood for a moment at home plate and then flipped his bat demonstrably to the right. The moment was caught by numerous photographers at field–level and has become the image, to this point, of the 2015 Major League playoffs.

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SHAKER’S POKE

EXHIBITION STADIUM — Oct. 5, 1985

FSCN1456edited-XAfter a chaotic, seesaw battle through September and early–October of 1985 with the storied New York Yankees, the Blue Jays finally made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history on the penultimate day of the regular season. The Jays held a slim, 1–0 lead in the third inning before 44,608 fans on a cold, wind–swept afternoon at old Exhibition Stadium. That’s when center–fielder Lloyd Moseby stepped up and cranked a solo shot over the right–field wall off New York starter Joe Cowley. It provided Toronto the winning run in a 5–1 victory and redeemed Moseby after he had dropped a fly ball in the rain the previous night — his error leading to a gut–wrenching Yankees triumph in the ninth inning that delayed the playoff push. Those who remember Oct. 5, 1985 usually talk about the pitching gem provided the Blue Jays by veteran Doyle Alexander (now 65). But, it was “Shaker” Moseby’s home run that put the club ahead to stay.

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“TOUCH ‘EM ALL JOE…”

SKYDOME — Oct. 23, 1993

FSCN1417edited-XJoe Carter’s three–run homer to left field off Mitch Williams of the Philadelphia Phillies 22 years ago tonight remains the most breathtaking moment in Blue Jays history, for it enabled the club to repeat as World Series champion. But, important? Meh. What followed was a 20–season playoff drought (the 1994 playoffs and World Series were canceled by a labor dispute) for the Blue Jays — the longest of any team in the four major North American professional sports. Had the Jays lost to Philadelphia, there was still the 1992 championship to fall back on. Fans of that era had been there and done that.

It was, however, the most significant moment of Tom Cheek’s long and wonderful career as original voice–of–the–Blue Jays. I wrote a book with Tom after the ’92 World Series and I’ll always remember how disappointed he was in his call of the final out at Atlanta Fulton–County Stadium. I was standing directly in back of Tom and Jerry Howarth in the visitors’ radio booth when pitcher Mike Timlin fielded a bunt by Otis Nixon and flipped to Carter for the final out. Announced Cheek: “Timlin… to Carter… and the Blue Jays win it! The Blue Jays win it! The Blue Jays are World Series champions!” Direct and to the point, but nothing that would land Tom in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Then came Carter and Mitch Williams:

“Carter… a swing AND A BELT! Way back! The Blue Jays win it! The Blue Jays are World Series champions! Touch ’em all, Joe… you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

I can confidently tell you that ol’ Tom had a smile on his face for the rest of his life — which ended prematurely as the result of brain cancer on Oct. 9, 2005.

FSCN1422edited-XEMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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