SPORTS

THERE IS JOY IN HOGTOWN

AT THE DOME AND IN DIXIE, THE JAYS GIVE THEIR FANS A THRILL-AMINUTE VICTORY

November 2 1992
SPORTS

THERE IS JOY IN HOGTOWN

AT THE DOME AND IN DIXIE, THE JAYS GIVE THEIR FANS A THRILL-AMINUTE VICTORY

November 2 1992

THERE IS JOY IN HOGTOWN

AT THE DOME AND IN DIXIE, THE JAYS GIVE THEIR FANS A THRILL-AMINUTE VICTORY

SPORTS

It was, to say the least, a momentous week of baseball. But Canada's first World Series triumph was also a tale of two cities, two countries and two groups of devoted fans. Maclean’s Associate Editor James Deacon, working with Senior Editor Bob Levin and Associate Editor Mary Nemeth, compiled a diary of a remarkable event. Their report:

OCT. 17, GAME 1: THE CHOP

In Atlanta, self-proclaimed capital of the New South, the natives are bustling to a rythmic Seminole drum beat. Tomahawks are plastered to buses, taxis and store windows;

they perch atop office buildings and adorn the porches of stately homes. Hours before the prime-time start of Game 1, blue-uniformed security guards at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium discuss strategy in the sun-bathed rightfield bleachers. They need not worry: any fans who obediently gather 30 minutes before the first pitch to warm up the Tomahawk Chop are not likely to require supervision. Even the native Indians outside the stadium, objecting to the team calling itself the Braves, demonstrate quietly within a cordoned-off area.

The biggest stir is caused by a rhinestoned Elvis impersonator who parades through the Saturday throng.

Inside the ballpark, while his team works out, Toronto manager Cito Gaston reminisces with members of the Braves grounds crew who remember him from his days as a Braves player and, later, batting instructor. In the company of old friends, Gaston is relaxed and smiling, momentarily distracted from the weight of Toronto fans’ great expectations. Atlantans, of course, have high hopes of their own for the

Series. To Canadian visitors, The Atlanta Constitution newspaper offers a blunt message: “This is OUR game.”

But in the fourth inning, Joe Carter gives the Jays a 1-0 lead with a solo home run, a blow that temporarily silences the chanting Braves fans. Their anxiety fades as quickly as Jack Morris’ supposed dominance over Atlanta. Morris, who pitched for the Minnesota Twins last year, went 10 innings to win the seventh game of the 1991 World Series, denying the Braves a world championship. What a difference a year makes. As Braves owner Ted Turner and wife Jane Fonda look on approvingly, Toronto hitters fail to solve

Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, while Morris walks five batters and twice narrowly escapes jams with inning-ending strikeouts. Finally, with two runners on base in the sixth inning, Braves catcher Damon Berryhill drives a badly thrown Morris pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run homer. That proves to be the decisive

An Atlanta newspaper bluntly told Canadians ‘This is OUR game.’

blow as the Braves go on to win the game 3-1.

At Manuel’s Tavern, a packed Atlanta hangout, Ted Bazemore, a 27-year-old banquet worker at a hotel, greets the Jays’ final out with a piercing rebel yell. “I love it!” he shouts. Danny Jones, the bearded, 45-year-old bartender, leans over towards a visitor from Toronto. “Good game tonight,” he says with a chuckle. “For us, eh?”

OCT. 18, GAME 2: ‘WHAT’S A SPRAGUE?’

It is a beautiful day in Dixie, a perfect afternoon for baseball. But this is a night game, thanks to the prime-time demands of television, and the temperature drops into the single digits Celsius. Out in the left-field bleachers, a small but vocal Jays contingent is wrapped in blue against the cold. Among them are a happy dozen from Louisville, Ky., who all claim to be Jays fans. “We got the tickets from a Blue Jays scout,” admits one, laughing, “and we cheer for whoever gives us the tickets.”

At first, things do not go the Jay way. During the pre-game singing of the national anthems,

the U.S. Marine color guard carries the Canadian flag upside-down; the immediate apology does not prevent incensed Canadians from ringing up talk shows from Halifax to Vancouver. Just as appalling is an umpire’s call at home plate in the fourth inning. With the Braves ahead 1-0 against Jays pitcher David Cone, Roberto Alomar races home from third on a wild pitch, apparently tying the contest—until umpire Mike Reilly signals him out. The video replays prove Reilly wrong, and some Canadian fans mutter darkly of a conspiracy against their country’s first team to crash the premier event of America’s national pastime.

The missed call looms large as Atlanta carries a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning. In the leftfield stands, Braves fans taunt the visitors with chants of “Choke! Choke! Choke!” But Toronto rookie Derek Bell outlasts reliever Jeff Reardon for a walk, and Gaston sends in backup catcher Ed Sprague to pinch-hit. “What’s a Sprague?” a stadium usher asks with a derisive laugh. Not five seconds later, Sprague answers

by slamming a first-pitch fastball right into the heart of the left-field enclave of Toronto fans. “This is beautiful,” declares visitor Mario Coutinho, the manager of game operations at SkyDome. When Jays reliever Tom Henke chokes off a final Braves rally, Toronto has a stunning 5-4 victory to even the series.

Later, in the clubhouse, Sprague admits that he had playfully fantasized about hitting a game-winning World Series home run earlier in the day. “I did it in batting practice,” he says. “I had one pitch, bottom of the ninth, Game 7,

all the other stuff. Every kid does that.” What happened to the one in batting practice? “I popped it up.”

OCT. 20, GAME 3: UP AGAINST THE WALL

As the Series moves north to Toronto, some fans descend upon SkyDome sporting hastily printed T-shirts showing an upside-down American flag and the words, “Sorry, eh?” With no real rancor to report, journalists search anxiously for other pre-game prey. A local TV broadcaster, looking for out-oftowners to interview, approaches other reporters, asking, “You foreign?”

Tomahawks at the ready, Atlantans Julie

Koers and Ann Hollingsworth find their way to their bleacher seats. Koers, an investment analyst, and Hollingsworth, an official of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in Atlanta, each paid $750 to fly that afternoon to Toronto, have dinner, see the game, and fly home right afterwards. They were not alone: their group filled eight planes. “It’s fun for us to be here to support the Braves,” Koers says, “and it’s a historic event—the first World Series game ever outside the United States.”

The game starts tentatively. Lefty Steve

Avery of the Braves frustrates the Jays, while fireballer Juan Guzman flirts with disaster. Atlanta threatens to break the scoreless tie in the fourth when, with runners on first and second and nobody out, rightfielder David Justice bashes a Guzman pitch deep to centre field. Devon White sprints back and, with an otherworldly leap, snares the ball just before smashing into the padded fence. The catch is so unlikely that Braves baseninner Terry Pendleton passes another runner on base ahead of him, Deion Sanders, and is automatically called out. White, meanwhile, springs off the wall and throws back to the infield where third baseman Kelly Gruber tags out Sanders as he scrambles

back to second base. It would be the second triple play ever in a World Series—except that umpire Bob Davidson calls Sanders safe. The next day, looking at pictures of the play, Davidson would admit his error.

In any case, in the fourth inning Carter hits a solo home run to give Toronto the lead. Atlanta retaliates with runs in the sixth and eighth, only to have Gruber break a record 0-for-23 slump in the eighth with a solo homer. Then, in dramatic fashion, leftfielder Candy Maldonado singles to centre in the ninth to bring home

Alomar, giving reliever Duane Ward his second win of the Series: Toronto 3, Atlanta 2.

OCT. 21, GAME 4: THE KEY TO VICTORY

As today’s Jays pitcher walks from the bullpen to the bench before the game, a few fans along the left-field line begin to applaud. Others join in. By the time Jimmy Key reaches the infield, he is the focus of a long standing ovation. The lefty, after an up-and-down year, has been inserted into the starting rotation because Morris and Cone did not pitch well on three days’ rest in the American League championship series against Oakland; besides, Key was outstanding in the last weeks of the regular

season. The ovation is a sweet thank-you to a nine-year veteran who started with the Jays' rookie league team in Medicine Hat, Alta., but who will be a free agent this winter and may not return.

Key struggles at first, then settles into top form, shutting out the Braves through seven innings. His counterpart, Glavine, looks equally tough except for a solo homer by Jays catcher Pat Borders. Near SkyDome, at the Meteor bar and restaurant (where the menu board reads: “Don’t need to be Brave to eat here”), 34-year-old Joseph McIntyre watches the game on TV with friends.

“The Blue Jays have been missing one thing since 1985, and his name is Dave Winfield,” says McIntyre, who works at the General Motors plant in Oshawa. “He doesn’t have to do it in the field, he does it in the clubhouse. He’s brought the whole team together.”

“You could say it was pitching,” says Janice Hubbard, 28, a linguistics student at York University. “And some would argue that it might be Robbie Alomar. And Borders has certainly improved from last season. The whole team, everyone plays his part.”

“Yeah,” replies McIntyre, “but when you’re a kid like some of these guys are, and you see a guy like Winfield, 41 years old and putting out 120 per cent, day in, day out— well, if that doesn’t motivate you, you don’t have a pulse.”

But this day belongs to Key. And after White singles to score Gruber, who executes a painful home-plate dive to avoid the tag that never comes, the Jays hurler gives way to Ward in

the eighth and Henke mops up. Afterwards, both teams credit Key for the 2-1 win. “He looked every bit as good tonight as he did years ago,” says Bobby Cox, the Braves skipper who used to manage the Jays. The pitcher talks about the crowd’s reaction when he left the game. “As I was walking off the field, it did occur to me that this might be my last game here,” he says. “That’s why I tipped my hat. I don’t usually do that, but it was a special moment for me and I’ll never forget it.” His win gives Toronto a three-games-to-one Series lead, but he warns: “The last win is always the toughest to get, just like the last out.”

OCT. 22, GAME 5: ‘SQUISH’

In the lobby of the Toronto hotel where the Braves are staying, four bulletin boards bear faxes and signs from supporters. “We still believe in you Braves,” says one, “so squish the Jays tonight.” Among those milling about are Turner Broadcasting System executives wearing rhinestone-studded BRAVES brooches, while Carl Cobb, a 62-year-old retired engineer and the father-in-law of Atlanta first baseman Sid Bream, offers a firm prediction: “The Jays are going to lose tonight, no doubt about it.”

At SkyDome, Joe Carter is excited. The 32-year-old veteran of eight campaigns with such non-starters as the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres is perhaps only nine innings away from a World Series championship, and he cannot contain himself. Around the batting cage before the game, he uses his bat as a goal stick, trying to stop White’s practice bunts.

He waves to friends in the

stands. He dances as the piped-in music system belts out “Black Magic Woman.” Meanwhile, in the Atlanta dugout, manager Cox performs damage control: Justice and Bream have told reporters that the Braves lack focus and intensity. But Toronto has helped out in that department: the city's ill-timed pre-game announcement of a victory parade route cannot help but fire up the Atlantans. And although the Jays stay close until the fifth inning, the last of Jack Morris’s wobbly wheels finally falls off.

Rallying with two outs, the Braves score one run, then load the bases. Up steps designated hitter Lonnie Smith, the goat of the 1991

Series for a baserunning error that cost Atlanta the championship. Gaston decides to stick with Morris, who promptly gives up a grand slam to Smith. The crowd, once bursting with anticipation of an imminent victory party, vents its wrath on Gaston and Morris in a chorus of boos. After Atlanta’s 7-2 victory, the Jays must return to Georgia. Their fans fill radio call-in shows with the sounds of panic.

OCT. 24, GAME 6: BEDLAM

It is gorgeous in Atlanta, 20-odd degrees and sunny, perfect for sipping the afternoon away on the terrace outside B-Champs sports bar

near the stadium. Into the bar walk four fans in blue—sitting ducks for friendly Braves supporters busy warming up their stomachs for the big game. Harold and Faye McAdam, and Steve and Susan Scherer, all from Heidelberg, Ont., west of Toronto, are well warmed up themselves and, before long, they are posing for photos with tomahawkers and trading friendly taunts. "I think winning Game 5 in Toronto really gave them a lift,” Harold says.

Back in Canada, where Jays fans crowd into bars across the country, the biggest gathering is at SkyDome. There, more than 45,000 people congregate to watch the game on the

giant Jumbotron. The place is awash in Blue Jays banners and Canadian flags, and once the game begins the noise is deafening. “The whole atmosphere is unbelievable,” says Liana Ward, a 19-year-old student from Ottawa with a Jays logo painted on one cheek and “World Series Champs” on the other.

“There are 45,000 people watching TV, but it’s wonderful. Everyone feels that tonight’s the night.”

In Atlanta, the Jays jump out to a 1-0 lead against Avery in the first. The Braves retaliate with a run against Cone in the third. The Jays have many chances, but only a solo home run by Maldonado gives them a 2-1 lead going into the ninth.

The Braves fans rise to encourage Jeff Blauser, the first batter to face Henke, and erupt when he knocks a single to left. Smith walks and, with two out and two strikes on Otis Nixon—one strike away from a Jays championship—

Nixon slaps a single to left to score Blauser. Pandemonium.

In the stands, Braves fan Tom Fink says: “It’s moments like this that make sports— they’ve got two nations sitting on the edge of their seats.”

Back at SkyDome, there is

sudden silence. “We should have been celebrating,” moans 36-year-old tile setter Joe Visicale. “What a sinking feeling.” Tina Cohen, 34, a restaurant manager, is literally wringing her hands. “This is too tense,” she says, “my heart’s pounding.”

Henke escapes further damage in the ninth and the game goes to extra innings. Finally, in the 11th, the Jays reap this season’s last and best reward for signing Winfield: a two-run double to score White and Alomar. But the Braves, facing Key, strike back on a single, a Jays error and a groundout that drives in Blauser. That leaves two out and the tying run at third base, the score 4-3. Mike Timlin, a second-year reliever, comes on to pitch. Then, in perhaps the Series’ boldest move, the

speedy Nixon drops a bunt down the first-base line. Timlin, cat-quick, springs off the mound, gathers in the ball—and throws to Carter at first for the final, merciful out.

There is tradition in winning the World Series. It starts with a lot of leaping about and jumping on one another that usually results in near-hospitalization of whoever is at the bottom of the pile. It degenerates into champagne spraying, beer-dousing and yelling. The Jays do all of that, and then, faces dripping, they try to express how it feels to win. They fail. “I can’t describe the feeling,” says infielder Ranee

Mulliniks, the longest-serving Jay. “It’s fabulous, just unbelievable.” The players credit their organization and, especially, the muchmaligned Gaston. “Give the man his due,” says Winfield. “He worked these guys, he knew who to play and when to play them, he kept them in check. He’s the first black man to manage in a World Series, and I’m happy for him. Now they can put that kind of statistic aside. He’s just a great manager, a great guy.”

Emotionally and physically spent, some players collapse. Alomar, his uniform pants tom and dirty, slumps on the floor against a locker, holding a two-thirds-empty bottle of champagne. Borders, whose catching and .450 batting average won him the Most Valuable Player award in the Series, stands by a locker

surrounded by reporters. His T-shirt masks a torso bruised from blocking so many pitches that hit the dirt before they got to his glove. Winning the MVP, he says, was a complete shock. “I wouldn’t even dream of winning something like that,” he says. “My dream was just to get to the big leagues.”

The Blue Jays shower and, with their wives and girlfriends, head for a victory party. But they leave behind a sense of uncertainty in the littered, empty clubhouse. Key, Cone, Henke, Carter, Mulliniks and Maldonado are among the free agents on the team, and others, including Winfield, could become free agents unless

they are offered arbitration. Others may leave via next month’s expansion draft that stocks the new franchises in Miami and Denver. Winfield is cagey about his plans, but his vafe, Tonya, says coming to Toronto “has been a wonderful experience—we hope it lasts a lot longer.” Carter promises that, for Jay fans, the sweet feeling of victory will last at least a little while. “We are going to share this together,” he says. “I’m kind of upset that we didn’t win it at home so they could have celebrated with us, but it’s going to be some great day tomorrow in Canada when we get back.”

In fact, the celebration in Canada is already in full swing. When the Jays clinched the title at last, the SkyDome fans erupted into full-blown bedlam. They whooped and hollered, jumped and danced, dashed wildly across the field. Eventually, they join the rest of the revellers centred on Yonge Street, 500,000 strong, a sea of honking, high-fiving, flag-waving humanity. “Na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey, good-bye,” they sing to the departing Braves deep into Sunday morning.

But, this being a Canadian crowd, they are also law-abiding, even generous: Carman Lacourse, 28, a homeless panhandler with a box of change at his feet and a Jays pennant in his lap, slaps hands with passersby and stuffs $2 bills into his bulging back pocket. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to Canada,” gushes 22-year-old Brock McKergow, carrying a Canadian flag. “Anything that brings together a city like this, every creed, race, religion, all in one—I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

By the victory parade through downtown Toronto on Monday, culminating at an againdelirious SkyDome, the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans have sent a message of their own: This is OUR game, too. □