SPORTS

What a blast!

The Jays and Phils produce an explosive Series

JAMES DEACON,SEAN McCLUSKEY November 1 1993
SPORTS

What a blast!

The Jays and Phils produce an explosive Series

JAMES DEACON,SEAN McCLUSKEY November 1 1993

What a blast!

The Jays and Phils produce an explosive Series

JAMES DEACON

Neither Paul Beeston nor Pat Gillick are in the clubhouse when the corks are fired. The president and general manager, respectively, of the Toronto Blue Jays let their players celebrate the team’s second straight World Series championship in the usual champagnespraying fashion. Veterans of victory, Gillick and Beeston have no interest in sticky hair and stinging eyes and, instead, savor the triumph in a private box until the storm has passed. By then, thousands of SkyDome faithful have taken their party to the streets. And by then, the clubhouse crush has eased enough that the two executives can congratulate the players individually. Gillick, shy and reserved, shakes their hands. Beeston, a man of the

Gillick and Beeston. “As long as those two guys have something to do with it, this will always be a winning organization,” says Ed Sprague, the team’s third baseman. After losing 12 players off the 1992 roster, the Jays’ odd couple gave top off-season priority to signing slugging outfielder Joe Carter and free agents Dave Stewart, a pitcher, and Paul Molitor, a Milwaukee Brewers star who longed for a World Series championship. When Toronto beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 to win the Series last Saturday, Stewart was the Jays’ starting pitcher, Carter hit the game-winning home run and Molitor won the most valuable player award. Chalk one up for the front office. But, as Beeston and Gillick point out, the old cliché still applies: the game is won between the white lines, where nothing can be taken for granted. Or, in the words of Jays’ managplayers, exchanges jokes and hugs. Though both have been with the club for all of its 17 seasons, neither will accept credit for what has just occurred. "It’s the players,” Beeston insists. ‘They are the ones who have to go out there and win the thing.” Despite their denials, the Jays would hardly have become baseball’s winningest franchise without

er Cito Gaston, the man whose calm hand steered the team day to day, “This game will jump up and bite you if you plan too far ahead."

Preparing for the opening game of the Fall Classic on Oct. 16, Toronto gets all dressed up. Blue Jay paraphernalia decorates anything big enough to bear a “Go Jays Go” poster. The underground concourse outside the Jays’ clubhouse is festooned with paper banners from grade schools around the country: one child, whose affection for the team outstrips his spelling, writes, “Go Joe Carder.” On the eve of the Series, the club throws a gala party at the Ontario Science Centre where local politicians and celebrities mingle at the buffets with baseball insiders from around the league. The players, as usual, stay away: an autograph-seeker, even in black tie, is still an autograph-seeker. Around town, visiting Phillies’ fans speak well of their reception—or most do. On game day, two men in red Philly caps, parking in a lot across from SkyDome, are puzzled by the price. “What do you mean, $25?” one demands. “The sign says $5.” The proprietor, unapologetic, says simply, “This is the World Series.” Toronto the Not-So-Good.

As the two teams gather, media attention focuses on their contrasting images—the buttoned-down, businesslike Blue Jays versus the bad-boy Phils. The embodiment of the latter is bulky, bearded first baseman John Kruk, who tosses off colorful quotes like he swings a bat: unorthodox but effective. Caught smoking by a woman who said an athlete should know better, Kruk provided a credo for his entire team. “Lady,” he replied, “I ain’t no athlete, I’m a ball player.” But while hand-drawn banners at SkyDome describe the Phillies as Phat and Philthy, a more accurate description would be Phabulous. The truth is, the Phillies' beards and girth disguise the depth and talent that took them from worst to first in one season, and that beat Atlanta for the National League pennant.

On field, the buzz is palpable. Long before his scheduled workout, Philly reliever Mitch Williams, known as “The Wild Thing,” paces by his dugout, rhythmically tossing a ball into his glove. Nervous, Mitch? “Nah,” he says. “Just getting warmed up.” Rickey Henderson, the Jays’ late-season conscript, works with batting coach Larry Hisle in an attempt to recover his missing stroke. Henderson’s problems at the plate have turned attention to his shaky fielding. Yet he stays in the lineup be cause, according to Hisle, “his importance in the Series could be immeasurable—he can dominate a game when he’s on.” Watching nearby, Rich Hacker talks about his role with the Jays. Hacker, the team’s thirdbase coach, was nearly killed in a horrible car wreck last summer, but he is in uniform, if not in his old job, for the Series. In a sport where superstition reigns, Hacker has been given the task of filling out the lineup card because, when he did so in two playoff games against the Chicago White Sox, the Jays won. “Hey, I’m going for three in a row,” he says.

The Phillies plan to beat Toronto with patience and hustle. Their scheme is to avoid swinging at bad balls and force the Jays’ starting pitchers, particularly Juan Guzman and Dave Stewart, to throw strikes. Following the blueprint, Lenny Dykstra, the overmuscled Phillies’ lead-off man, earns a walk off Guzman, steals second and scores on a single by Kruk. Kruk, who moves to second when Dave Hollins gets another walk off Guzman, scores on a single by catcher Darren Daulton. Patience and hustle.

But the best-laid plans are not enough against the Jays this night. The Phillies’ Curt Schilling falls into the habit of starting each batter with off-speed pitches, and John Olerud, the Jays’ smooth-swinging first baseman, takes note. When he steps to the plate with the teams tied 4-4 in the sixth inning, Olerud wallops a Schilling first-pitch change-up over the rightfield fence. The Jays go on to win 8-5. The next day in practice, Schilling seeks out Olerud. “I only throw that pitch maybe four times a year,” Schilling says. “That’s about as good as it gets.” Olerud, ever-quiet, grins sheepishly, as if to say “Just lucky, I guess.” Some of the Jays’ faithful, though, are leaving

nothing to luck. That Sunday morning at suburban Etobicoke’s Nativity of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church, Father

Reg Whelan ends the 11:30 mass by leading his parishioners in a rousing cheer for the Jays, then high-fiving his way down the aisle. Fans at SkyDome that night are having similar thoughts: in the upper deck, a banner dubs the stadium “My Blue Heaven.” But Stewart is less than heavenly, and a pitcher struggling for control against the major leagues’ most prolific hitting team might as well be bleeding in a pool of piranha. Spectacular fielding plays by Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar keep the score close, but in the third inning, down 2-0, Stewart faces Jim Eisenreich. The Phillies outfielder suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a disease that, without proper medication, occasionally renders him unable to control his movements. Released last winter by Kansas City, Eisenreich, like so many Phillies, found a new baseball home in the City of Brotherly Love. “You always think that if you stay healthy and play good fundamental ball, you have a chance to get to the Series,” Eisenreich said. “But the longer I was in the game, the more it seemed like that wasn’t going to be the case.” Against Stewart, Eisenreich makes good on his Series chance, hammering a three-run homer to give Philly a 64 win. Toronto fans, however, are consoled by their

first sight of Williams in action. He does finally get the save, but only just. “He’s not called the Wild Thing for nothing,” Eisenreich says afterwards. In Etobicoke, Father Reg still doesn’t think the Phillies have a prayer of taking the Series. “It’s going to be the Jays in six,” he predicts.

With one victory in hand, Philly Phans go home confident, if somewhat quizzical. “You really notice a difference in Toronto,” says Steve Argentina, a Philly season’s ticket-holder who saw both Toronto games. “I mean, we were up there two days, wearing our team jackets and cheering for the Phillies, and nobody bothered us. People were asking us if we were having a nice time. That would never happen in Philly.” Argentina and brother Perry both sport new beards in unity

with their team. In fact, beards are as ubiquitous as red ball caps in Philly. “I started growing this during the stretch drive,” says the driver of an airport-hotel shuttle, stroking the still-unfamiliar growth on his face. “I’m not shaving until they win.”

The night before Game 3, Phils owner Bill Giles throws a party for visitors and natives that, in the notably penurious owner’s view cost “enough to add another ballplayer to the club.” Some partygoers suggest it would have to have been a minor-league ballplayer. In the next morning’s Philadelphia Daily News, columnist Bill Conlin belittles Toronto and makes disparaging remarks about singer Rita MacNeil’s weight. Conlin, it should be noted, weighs 290 lb.

Around town, everyone is aflutter about the Phils. One local TV station devotes all but a few minutes of its 11 p.m. newscast to pregame stories—including strategies on where to park. World Series mania nearly obscures the fact that pop diva Madonna is playing the Spectrum across the street from Veterans Stadium on the night of the game. It is not difficult to spot the concertgoers, in their leather bustiers, fishnet stockings and riding crops, among the red-clad Phillies fans. Meanwhile, back in Toronto, fans in sports bars and nightclubs have warmed to the Phillies’ style. “I mean, how can you hate a guy like John Kruk?” asks 29-year-old musician Jim Casson. “A friend of mine was saying that he likes the Phillies because it gives a guy hope that, with physiques like theirs, anybody can play baseball." Most of the chatter in Toronto and in Philly, however, is about Gaston's decision to use Molitor at first base in place of Olerud. Olerud is the American League batting champion, but Gaston wants right-handed-hitting Molitor against left-handed pitcher Danny Jackson. Ever-gracious, Olerud takes his extra ordinary benching in stride. "It probably makes sense to put Paul out there in his most comfortable position," he says.

“There is already a lot of pressure to play well without worrying about playing an unfamiliar position.”

Molitor vows that he will do everything he can to make Gaston’s decision work—and he proves to be a man of his word. Not long after the tarpaulins are pulled off the field following an hourlong rain delay, Molitor smacks a two-run triple into right-centre field. He tops that in the third inning, slamming a solo home run that nearly hits the 1980 World Series decal hanging beyond the left-field fence. “It looks like Cito made the right decision tonight,” Phillies’ manager Jim Fregosi says later. The major beneficiary is Pat Hentgen, the Jays’ 24-year-old starting pitcher who keeps the Phillies off balance and wins a crucial game.

The next day dawns rainy and foggy, obscuring the giant red Phillies cap that a daredevil fan has placed on the head of William Penn, whose statue sits atop the city’s beautiful old city hall. From there, Broad Street bisects blue-collar South Philly, home of circular Veterans Stadium. At the ball park, players speculate about the effect of the incessant rain on the thin and uneven artificial turf that is difficult to play on in good conditions. Reporters, meanwhile, scramble to book alternative flights in case of a rain out.

The game starts on time in conditions befitting a horror movie: call it Nightmare on Broad Street. With a thick paste of

mist and drizzle swirling over the playing surface, neither team is able to conduct batting practice before the game. So they turn the strange contest itself into batting practice of a sort. In its slow and often brutal progress, the game takes on a savage beauty, with two granite-jawed heavyweights slugging away relentlessly, too proud to go down, too slow to deflect the repeated attacks. Toronto pounds out three runs in the first—take that. Philadelphia responds with a vicious, four-run uppercut in its half of the inning—take THAT. With Toronto starter Todd Stottlemyre’s chin already bleeding after a second-inning base-running mishap, Philly strikes again, punching

across two more runs in their second at-bat. On and on it goes. Stottlemyre does not even take the mound in the third inning; the Phils’ Tommy Greene does and is pummelled for four more runs. Inning after inning, defenceless defenders scurry across the rain-slick carpet chasing a barrage of base hits. Dykstra, the lifeblood of the Phillies, hits two huge homers and comes within a foot of a third. Relievers come, relievers go. For the Jays, the game seems out of reach when the Phils take a 14-9 lead in the seventh. But in the eighth inning, two remarkable things happen. The Jays hammer the Philly relief corps—including Williams—for

six runs, the last two on a seeing-eye triple by centre-fielder Devon White. And the relief combination of Mike Timlin and Duane Ward actually get some batters out. Toronto survives, 15-14.

When it finally ends, Game 4 sets the World Series record for runs in one game, ties the record for hits (32) and blows away the record for the longest nine-inning game (4 hours and 14 minutes). And after all the stories about how different the teams are, Game 4 reveals

them to be fundamentally similar—powerful hitting clubs that are pitching-weak, particularly in middle relief. “That was a war out there,” says an incredulous Stewart. “It didn’t look like any of the pitchers could get anyone out.” But in the Philly clubhouse, there is only remorse over losing a five-run lead. “What can I say, we let it get away,” Dykstra says. “You don’t have to be a baseball genius to know that we should have won that game.”

Still, Philadelphians retain at least a gallows sense of humor. At the Vet the next night, a scraggly-looking man carries a cardboard sign that reads: “Will pitch middle relief for food.” But what a difference a

day makes. Far from a slugfest, Game 5 offers two dominating pitchers—Guzman and Schilling—a couple of scratched-out Philly runs and some missed scoring opportunities by Toronto. The valiant Schilling is helped by swirling winds that forbid anything less than a cannon shot to qualify for a home run. One smash by Olerud, Dykstra says later, should have reached the upper deck but instead fell benignly into his glove. Facing elimination, the crowd rises anxiously with each close play or noisily to taunt Guzman or boo the umpires. Even between innings, the stadium is abuzz with the antics of the Philly Phanatic, surely sport’s best sideline performer. And when Molitor flies to centre, completing Schilling’s shutout, the 62,706 at the Vet erupt in a long, ringing cheer that follows the players as they disappear into the clubhouse.

Wrapped in a full-arm ice pack, Schilling meets Fregosi

by the interview room beneath the stands. Fregosi gently pats his pitcher’s shoulder and says, “Thanks.” Robin Roberts, the 67-year-old Phillie Hall of Famer who threw out the game’s first pitch, leans in and adds: “That was great, just great.” Not to Toronto fans, 36,302 of whom gathered at SkyDome to watch the game on the Jumbotron. Among the sea of Canadian flags, Jays banners and painted faces, 16-year-old Meaghan Eley is philosophical. “I personally want them to win at home,” she says. “And on Saturday night we could party.” Nor is the game a total loss in Butlerville, the Newfoundland town that is the ancestral home of Jays’ back-up outfielder Rob Butler. The 23-year-old Butler, who grew up in Toronto, delivered a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning that left his grandmother, Mildred Butler, “tickled pink.” Although the Series sometimes keeps the townspeople awake until two or three in the morning, “I’ve watched every second of every game,” says Rob’s uncle, John Butler. “It’s unreal—the town’s gone right mad.”

Toronto is beside itself with excitement at the prospect of a World Series clinching game on Canadian turf. With their team leading three games to two, callers to radio phone-in

shows vacillate between confidence and insecurity. That wedge of doubt, however, is seemingly eased when the Jays take their first lick at Terry Mulholland, the Phils’ Game 6 starter. The Jays have had trouble hitting left-handers, but Mulholland holds no mystery to the top of the order. Molitor’s triple scores one run, and Carter and Alomar drive in another pair before the inning ends. The Phils reply with a single run in the fourth, but Toronto comes back with runs in both the fourth and fifth to go up 5-1.

But the Phillies did not beat Atlanta with mirrors. Unfazed by the deficit much less the rabid SkyDome crowd, the scrappy Phils beat up Stewart and reliever Danny Cox in a seventh inning highlighted by the dynamic Dykstra’s fourth homer of the Series. The visitors pull ahead 6-5—and Toronto’s doubts are back, only deeper.

The Jays’ half of the seventh and eighth innings pass without a run. Reliever Ward holds the Phils at bay, setting the stage for a classic bottom-of-the-ninth confrontation: the top of the Jays’ order against the Wild Thing. Williams walks Henderson. He gets White to fly out, but then gives up a solid single to Molitor. Carter, hitless in three atbats, steps up. On a 2-2 count, Williams throws one low and hard— and Carter, who feasts on low pitches, reaches out and swats a low line drive over the left-field fence.

The crowd reacts slowly—things like this only happen in movies.

But the homer is real enough, and the 52,195 fans explode like the SkyDome fireworks. Carter, romping around the bases, is eventually entombed in a pile of bodies, but later says he didn’t mind. “Everyone who has ever played baseball has probably dreamed of hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth to win a World Series,” he says long after the final crack of his bat. “I can’t tell you what it feels like to actually do it. It’s incredible—really incredible.” Darnell Coles, a Jays’ reserve who was preparing to pinch-hit for lighthitting Alfredo Griffin when Carter’s ball left the yard, says simply: “That might be the happiest time in my life that I didn’t get to come to bat.” And so it is two in a row. The players and their fans, fighting hangovers, will celebrate the next day with a raucous victory parade. But the achievement of back-to-back championships will take longer to sink in. Certainly, the Jays have plenty of money, but that is not the whole story of their success. “If that’s what it took, the New York Mets and California Angels would have won a few,” says Tim McCarver, the former catcher who is CBS’s baseball analyst on Series broadcasts. The Jays also have an all-star cast of I players, but the 1988-1990 Oakland A’s had a ^ similarly gifted lineup and won only one title. It § all comes back to the organization, one that, by ° reputation, will do anything for its players—with-

in reason. During the clubhouse celebrations, rookie pitcher Scott Brow tries to douse Beeston with a well-shaken can of beer. The team’s president, however, grabs the beer away and hands Brow an empty. Without missing a beat, Beeston says: “I was wondering when someone was going to bring me a beer.” With that, he laughs and takes a big swig.

With SHARON DOYLE-DR1EDGER and SEAN McCLUSKEY in Toronto