Every day and never, that's how often this happens. Every day a boy hits a come-from-behind home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the World Series. And never, in 89 Fall Classics, has this actually come to pass. Of course it hasn't. Even in the big leagues, hitting a home run is called leaving the yard, and that is the only place where such a thing can happen: the backyard.
"An unbelievable dream fantasy," then, is how Blue Jay reliever Al Leiter described what happened at 11:39 on Saturday night in Toronto. "This happens in the backyard. Bottom of the ninth, down by one, and Joe pops one out of the park? You dream it all those years as a kid, and then here you are, in the World Series, and it happens?"
This is what happened in Game 6 of the 90th World Series: Joe Carter hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Jays an 8-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies and their second consecutive world championship. As Phillie reliever Mitch Williams (page 22) left the field in torment, Carter joyously triple-jumped around the base paths at the Sky Dome, bounding up and down like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Which is, in effect, who Joe Carter had just become.
He said he understood that his life had changed with that swing, that he was now a piece of history, the kind of athletic artifact that Kirk Gibson is wherever he goes. So be it. "This is like, Do you believe in miracles?" said Carter, when he had found the home team's clubhouse through tear-stung eyes. "Yes, I do believe in miracles."
Every day and never. Understand, no other man has done this. When Bill Mazeroski hit his historic home run for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 in 1960, the only other year in which a home run ended the Series, the game had been tied when he came to the plate. That isn't the way it was in Oklahoma City, where Joe Carter first left a yard. On the asphalt at his father's filling station, the boy was always clown a run when he shot rubber bands off his fingers and into the wind. He pretended they were flying baseballs. "If the rubber band landed on the roof, it was a home run," said Carter. "If it didn't land on the roof, it was a foul ball or something. Tonight, it didn't land on the roof. but over the fence was good enough."
The ball—a 2-2 fastball, down and in—landed 379 feet from home plate, in the Blue Jay bullpen behind the leftfield wall. It detonated fireworks inside the Dome and outside in the cold Canadian night, and it occasioned a string of heartbreakingly corny scenes...everywhere.
John Sullivan, the Blue Jays' 52-year-old bullpen coach, who is retiring after this season, retrieved the very baseball that ended his 34-year career in the major and minor leagues. Sully, in shower slippers and a T-shirt, would soon see Carter in the clubhouse and say, as if handing him a leftover orange, "I thought you might want this." Of course, a man from the Hall of Fame was already waiting at Carter's locker, like a grim banker come to repossess. Carter let that guy have only his bat. He had no idea where his cap was. The ball, Carter was keeping.
The hero had stepped from the thundering field into the clubhouse, where a bottle of champagne was thrust into his left hand. He had stepped from the raucous clubhouse into the corridor outside, on his way to a press conference, when a World Series program was thrust toward his right hand. Carter kept walking through the bowels of the SkyDome as he signed for a boy, maybe 10 years old, whose chin was quivering, whose eyes were watering, who looked about to burst out sobbing when he said to the departing Carter, "You're the best, Joe."
Really. The kid said that.
There was a lipstick smudge on the sleeve of Carter's T-shirt, left there by his wife, Diana. Invisible were the buss marks of his teammates, a collection of men who, on an ordinary night, make Stonehenge look expressive. These men had swallowed Carter whole at home plate. "I just went nuts," insisted Blue Jay first baseman John Olerud, who seldom goes nuts or anywhere near it. "Oh, yeah. Look at the replay. You'll see me bouncing up and clown out there."
In fact, Carter looked at the replay when the moment was but an hour old, ducking into the Blue Jays' video room to see the insanity one more time and emerging with newly moist eyes. "The fans in Philadelphia saw a great 15-14 ball game," Carter said, by way of explaining his feat. "I guess we had to give something to the fans in Toronto."
Ah. The home run, to hear Carter tell it, was only a fair exchange for the Great 15-14 Ball Game, the epic—James A. Michener's Philadelphia—which had concluded three nights earlier in the City of Brotherly Love. The Great 15-14 Ball Game was Game 4 at Veterans Stadium, the highest-scoring game in the 532-game history of the World Series. It set or tied 13 records in all. It was the longest nine-inning night game ever played in the major leagues, four hours and 14 minutes of imponderably poor pitching that some-how made for powerful entertainment. "It was," veteran Toronto scout Gordon Lakey said afterward, "the most exciting game I've ever seen."
The Blue Jays led the series 2-1 when Game 4 began in a relentless drizzle. Major League Baseball officials sat morosely in a roofless Plexiglas box behind home plate, each one of them looking like a man in a dunk tank, as untold indignities were visited upon their pastime. In the top of the first, Phillie starter Tommy Greene walked in the first Blue Jay run. In the bottom of the first, Toronto starter Todd Stottlemyre walked in the first Phillie run. All told, there were six walks in the first inning, at the end of which the score was Philadelphia 4, Toronto 3.
If Carter's home run was the enduring heroic image of this Fall Classic, then a Classic Pratfall in the second inning of Game 4 was a slapstick memory that also will remain: Stottlemyre inexplicably attempting to go from first to third on a single by Roberto Alomar; Stottlemyre sliding face-first as if he were sniffing for truffles around third base; Stottlemyre being thrown out, improbably, 8 to 6 to 5; and Stottlemyre, his chin bloodied, being asked by trainer Tommy Craig to read the unfathomable scoreboard (of all things) to prove his coherence.
After three innings of this nonsense, the Blue Jays led 7-6. In the fifth, Jay reliever Leiter, one bead in a very long necklace of relievers who would pitch on this night, was contemplating his first major league at bat. "See how this feels," teammate Ed Sprague suggested, offering one of his bats.
"I don't give a——-how it feels," said a laughing Leiter, whose last hit came for Central Regional High in Bayville, N.J., where he batted .220 in 1984. He wasn't going up there to hit, for Pete's sake. And yet Leiter immediately doubled to leftfield and felt a little silly afterward for worrying about one little AB.
After all..."What's the worst thing that can happen?" Phillie centerfielder Lenny Dykstra had asked last week, apropos of playing in the World Series, before answering his own question. "You can become a hero." That's the worst thing that can happen to you in the World Series.
So Dykstra became a hero in Game 4, hitting two home runs, missing a third by two feet and driving in four runs altogether. The Phils drove Leiter out of the game in the fifth inning, when they scored five times to take a 12-7 lead. Then, and only then, did all hell break loose.
Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston had called for reliever Tony Castillo to come in from the bullpen to replace Leiter. But the bullpen phone didn't work. It kept ringing and ringing but—Great Cito's Ghost!—there was never a voice at the other end. And no one was eager to answer the bell, anyway. As Leiter would note of the bullpen phone on this October evening of carnage, "You just say, I hope it's not for me." So Mark Eichhorn, a righthander, had mistakenly come in from the pen to relieve Leiter, and Cito wanted to know why Castillo, a southpaw, wasn't there instead.
Well, 23 people eventually congregated in the infield during this pitching change: There were guys in business suits, umpires, players, the Vet grounds crew spreading water-absorbent kitty litter around the bases and the batter's box...there were clowns juggling, men on unicycles spinning plates (or so it seemed, anyway). From overhead the game looked like an Esther Williams routine. Cito was given walkie-talkies to communicate with his relievers, but they didn't work either, and he eventually made do with human carrier pigeons running back and forth between the dugout and the bullpen.
In the sixth inning, in a game in which 19 runs had already been scored, Phillie manager Jim Fregosi, whose phone, alas, was working just fine, brought in reliever David West. Entering the game West had a World Series earned run average of infinity: He had faced eight batters, and eight batters had reached base against him. As did the first two batters on this night. When, finally, Carter flied out to right, West had reduced his lifetime Series ERA to 162.00.
It was unimaginable, then, and downright unheroic, when the Jays gave up in the seventh inning. Down 13-9, Gaston sent his pitcher, Castillo, to the plate to lead off the inning. "——-," said Dykstra little more than an hour later, recalling the moment in disbelief. "They gave up."
They gave up in a World Series game; and what's more, in the bottom of the seventh inning, Castillo hit Phillie catcher Darren Daulton with the bases loaded. For the love of god, Castillo HBP'd in a run, making the score 14-9. You don't see that often in the World Series, but then, you don't see this often either: The Blue Jays scored six runs in the top of the eighth off Phillie relievers Larry Andersen and Williams, run after run lapping up at home plate. The Blue Jays gave up, but Phillie pitchers gave in, and Toronto won the Great 15-14 Ball Game, 15-14.
And so, after Toronto centerfielder Devon White tripled in the last two of the half-dozen runs and then in the ninth caught a fly ball for the final out of the game, Blue Jay pitcher Dave Stewart, who played his first professional game in 1975, was asked for perspective. "Never seen one like it," said Stew. Not in spring training. Not in high school. Not in high school football, he said. "Two touchdowns," said Stewart, "is usually safe."
So how can it be that the next night, in Game 5, all the Phillies needed was a safety in Curt Schilling's hellacious 2-0 complete-game win over the Blue Jays? "Why do you have steak one night," asked Alomar, "and chicken the next?" A good question. And speaking of food, a fan in Philadelphia held a sign during Thursday night's game that read, WILL PITCH MIDDLE RELIEF FOR FOOD. As the team flied to Toronto for Game 6 on Saturday, trailing in the Series 3-2, things were that bad for the Phils' bullpen.
Of course, few people knew that the Phillies had received two calls from some yahoos threatening the life of Williams on Thursday night, and it would have been forgivable if Game 6 were not the foremost thing on his mind on Saturday. That night, behind the 37-year-old Series MVP Paul Molitor (page 28) and the four-hit pitching of Stewart, the Blue Jays led 5-1 after six innings. But the Phillies threw up a ridiculous five-spot in the seventh inning—three of the runs coming on Dykstra's sixth home run of the postseason—and took a 6-5 lead into the eighth, when the Jays failed to score with the bases loaded. Thus, the one-run lead remained in the ninth, when Williams entered.
On this night Toronto leadoff hitter Rickey Henderson walked on four pitches. White flied out to leftfield, but Molitor singled. And then Carter came to the plate and was served that fastball down and in. "Ninety-nine times out of 100," Carter said later, "I hook that pitch way foul. I don't know why, but thank god this one stayed fair."
The ball stayed fair, but Carter lost it in the lights. He didn't pick it up again until he neared first base, heard the tinnitus-inducing din and began his jubilant romp. He still isn't sure if he touched second base—"I hope they don't appeal," he said—on his way to third, where he turned the corner and fought his way through a gantlet of delirious teammates. When he stepped on home plate, the Blue Jays officially became the first team to repeat as champions since the 1978 New York Yankees.
Every day and never. Carter always dreamed of hitting the home run to win the big game, of course. Who hasn't? But in 11 seasons in the big leagues, Carter had hit only one ninth-inning, game-winning home run, period: Against Dan Quisenberry of Kansas City in a meaningless game, seven years ago. But now....
Now, he said, children will emulate his trip around the bases after he hit the come-from-behind home run to win the World Series. Carter has three children of his own, and when he returns to his home in Kansas City, he likes to play ball with kids in the neighborhood. Kids for whom the neighbor's fence is the leftfield fence at the SkyDome. What would he say to those children who may still have been awake at 11:39 on Saturday night?
"Don't be afraid to live out your dreams," said Carter. "Don't be afraid of failure, either. If you fail, so what? If I was out in the ninth inning, there was another guy coming up behind me."
In other words, what's the worst thing that can happen when you dream?
You can become a hero.
A Series Of Footnotes
Thirteen World Series records were set or tied when the Blue Jays and the Phillies combined for 29 runs in Game 4. But as the score book marginalia show, not all of the magic moments in this game were historic in nature
After Williams came on, the Jays got three hits and a walk and plated five runs.
Two batters into his latest appearance, West still had a career World Series ERA of infinity.
Gaston wanted the lefthander Castillo, but the righthander Eichhorn showed up.
Stottlemyre nearly knocked himself out when he slid chin-first into third base.
It seemed as if the Blue Jays were giving up when they let Castillo bat for himself.
Six batters walked in the first inning, with Stottlemyre issuing four of the passes.
The longest nine-inning night game in major league history filially ended at 12:28 a.m.
One run even scored when a batter, Daulton, was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The tobacco-spewing Dykstra nearly duplicated Reggie's three-homer Series game.
Mike Timlin struck out both batters he faced—no mean feat in this game—but still got the hook.