TORONTO (Oct. 5) — The moments are beginning to pile up for second–generation fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. Primarily, the Millennials that experienced an initial pennant race and playoff run by the long–dormant club last Autumn. Such first–generation observers as myself can recall episodes that occurred in the inaugural 17 years of the franchise — culminating with the World Series championships of 1992 and 1993.
Now, the baseball newbies in this region are having their day.
Example No. 1 occurred at Rogers Centre last Oct. 14 when Jose Bautista bat–flipped to immortality in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against Texas. Example No. 2, every bit as dramatic, took place on Tuesday night — same venue — when Edwin Encarnacion walked off the Baltimore Orioles with a mammoth three–run homer in the 11th inning that decided the American League Wild Card game. We will soon know whether a third–such moment is on the horizon, as the Blue Jays prepare for an ALDS rematch with the Rangers, and then perhaps a date with Boston or Cleveland in the American League Championship Series.
TODAY’S TORONTO SUN (ABOVE AND BELOW) HIGHLIGHTED THE MOST RECENT BLUE JAYS MOMENT.
Given that Bautista and Encarnacion are unrestricted free agents after this season, one might advise the Blue Jays to author further memories rather quickly. Both players will not return in 2017, and it’s even–money at best right now whether the franchise can retain one or the other — almost surely Encarnacion… if he’s willing and the club is able. The window of opportunity wasn’t quite so narrow when the Blue Jays crafted their first three foundation moments. They occurred in a span of one year and 12 days, between Oct. 11, 1992 and Oct. 23, 1993. The players involved — Roberto Alomar, Ed Sprague and Joe Carter — were under contract beyond the following season. As it were, nothing of particular note happened between the unforgettable conclusion to the ’93 World Series and the beginning of August 2015. For much of that span, the Blue Jays wallowed in mediocrity and played before comparatively sparse audiences at the Dome.
Tuesday night’s winner–take–all showdown against Baltimore was the 53rd playoff game in franchise history. The wild card triumph lifted the Blue Jays above the .500 mark with an all–time record of 27–26. It was 31 years ago this afternoon — Oct. 5, 1985 — that the Jays clinched their first division title and playoff berth with a victory over the Yankees at Exhibition Stadium on the penultimate day of the schedule.
A torturous 5–12 mark followed in three post–season failures:
1985: Kansas City defeated Toronto 4–3 in games of a best–of–seven ALCS.
1989: Oakland defeated Toronto 4–1 in games of a best–of–seven ALCS.
1991: Minnesota defeated Toronto 4–1 in games of a best–of–seven ALCS.
The inaugural foundation moment remains, unarguably, the most important in Blue Jay annals. I was fortunate to be in the Oakland Coliseum as a reporter for The FAN–1430 (later The FAN–590) when Alomar took Dennis Eckersley deep in Game 4 of the ’92 American League championship. In fact, I watched the play unfold from roughly 30 feet to the right of the Hall–of–Fame second baseman, whose solo home run knotted a match the visitors would ultimately win. I’ll never forget standing next to Jerry Howarth beside the Blue Jays dugout as Alomar thoroughly rescued a fourth consecutive playoff flop. Toronto would neither have rebounded from a 3–1 deficit against Oakland nor played in the ’92 World Series against Atlanta.
Foundation moment No. 2 occurred at Fulton–County Stadium, home of the Braves, exactly one week later (Oct. 18). Again, I was in attendance for The FAN when pinch–hitter Sprague launched a ninth-inning solo shot off ace closer Jeff Reardon to prevent the Jays from falling into a 2–0 World Series quagmire. It rescued the championship round and Toronto went on to defeat the Braves at the old Atlanta ballpark in Game 6.
THE 1992 ALOMAR AND SPRAGUE MOMENTS ON COVERS OF THE TORONTO SUN.
When Carter — 364 nights after recording the final out of the ’92 World Series — ended the ’93 Major League season with his “touch ’em all” home run against Philadelphia at SkyDome, it appeared as if the Blue Jays would author perennial images of triumph. Which merely confirms how fleeting these moments truly are. A full 22 years, 11 months and three weeks passed before Bautista’s legendary bat–flip against Texas.
It is therefore hardly a slam–dunk that the current Blue Jays will build upon the Bautista and Encarnacion front–page images, though opportunity, as mentioned, follows in the 2016 ALDS. Since Toronto joined the American League for the 1977 season, only eight playoff series have been decided by walk–off home runs. The Jays are now responsible for two–such moments (Encarnacion joining Carter) and the decisive blast on Tuesday was the first in wild card competition. The last–such home run came off the bat of San Francisco’s Travis Ishikawa, who eliminated St. Louis in Game 5 of the 2014 National League Division Series at AT&T Park. The Giants went on to defeat Kansas City for their third World Series title in five years.
JOE CARTER TOUCHES ‘EM ALL IN ’93 AND JOEY BATTS FLIPS OUT LAST OCTOBER.